By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
When the notion of visiting a Scottish restaurant is suggested, it’s virtually impossible to avoid vivid recollections of the world’s many terrible themed restaurants and pubs. Many of these monstrosities are thanks to Scottish expats that emigrate and attempt to bring a glimmer of Highlands charm to the land of our continental neighbours. As a result, many of the eating and drinking establishments set up are generally beacons of bad taste, designed solely for the purpose of attracting tourists seeking home comfort, for which tartan-clad dining spaces adorned with kilts, bagpipes, tam o’ shanter caps, and a Rod Stewart Greatest Hits soundtrack are often employed. It’s a crying shame that we’ve come to think of Scottish cuisine in such a grim light, especially considering the fact that the country is home to some of the finest produce on Earth; especially in terms of beef, game, and – of course – whisky.
Fortunately, Mac & Wild opened towards the end of last year, bringing a Scottish game restaurant to Fitzrovia, which has all of the necessary elements to finally provide a remedy to challenge the nation’s warped perception of Scottish cuisine. Set up by Scotsman Andy Waugh, the restaurant is the first permanent opening from street food stalwarts The Wild Game Co., offering a seasonal menu with all of the meat sourced from his family’s game-butchering business, while the stockists of everything else on the menu are also listed. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a very strong focus on venison at Mac & Wild, favouring roe deer which is widely available in Scotland throughout the year. One of the menu’s key game highlights includes an award winning signature Veni-Moo burger, comprising one venison and one beef patty. There’s also venison tartare, venison Scotch egg, venison steak, and a larger cut of venison chateaubriand that’s available for two to share. And, in true homage to the venue’s Scottish heritage, every dish on the menu is also joined by a suggested whisky pairing – chosen from an unbelievably vast selection of Scotch whiskies on offer, as well as some exceptional whisky-based cocktails. It’s very difficult to come here without rising to the challenge and drinking an extreme amount of alcohol.
Inside, the 70-cover space is split into two floors. On the ground floor the décor is understated yet stylish, masculine yet un-intimidating, and particularly rural inspired. Hardwood floors are joined by wooden bars and tables forged from a felled tree sourced from the owner’s parents’ estate, while butcher’s hooks and animal hides hang from the ceiling. Though perhaps not the most vegetarian-friendly restaurant in Fitzrovia, the general atmosphere is fun, casual and remarkably unpretentious. A notable mention must also go to the soundtrack of mainly 1970s disco hits played throughout a recent lunchtime visit: a welcome retreat from a symphony of bagpipes. While studying the menu, and the drinks list, we ordered snacks of breaded and deep-fried haggis pops, served with whisky Jon – a sauce made with red currants, mustard, and whisky – to cut through the richness of the enjoyable nuggets of haggis. The venison Scotch egg, on the other hand, featured an egg with a runny, orange yolk, encased in a layer of minced venison, juxtaposed to the more traditional pork. A starter of grilled mackerel featured well-cooked fish, alas was an unexciting, and unmemorable addition the the meal.
Meanwhile, a sharing-sized hunk of venison chateaubriand was served on a chopping board, as is apparently customary in this half of the decade. While the fillet is generally the least outrageously flavoursome cut of steak, the meat was delightfully tender and cooked perfectly to medium-rare, at the absolute most, much to my exultation. Well-done meat loving heathens, on the other hand will, nonetheless, be slightly less infatuated with the mauve flesh that cowers beneath the well-caramelised bark of the steak’s outer. And for what fillet steak lacks in flavour, compared with fattier cuts of meat, the addition of a rich, delightful bone marrow gravy certainly accounted for.
By the time that we’d worked through the sizeable cut of venison, we’d left no space to sample the dessert menu, ordering just a quick filter coffee (the only choice) before leaving. While the food on offer at Mac & Wild isn’t necessarily the most ground-breaking that London has to offer, the simple approach to serving very well-cooked Scotch dishes makes Mac & Wild a particularly refreshing addition to London’s restaurant scene, as well as one of the city’s finest to fly the Saltire with such pride.
Mac & Wild can be found at 65 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 7PS.