AUTUMN’S the game season and this healthy, sustainable meat is guaranteed to be on the menu in the best country inns and hotels. Great places to sample it within an hour’s driving distance of Manchester include the multi-award winning Freemasons at Wiswell and Robert Owen Brown’s The Hinchliffe at Cragg Vale, while it’s good to see the new regime at The Alderley Edge Hotel hosting a five course Seasonal Game Tasting Dinner on Thursday, November 23
But the likes of partridge, pheasant, hare and even farmed venison are rarely sighted on the plate in our city centre restaurants. Even in the Chop Houses. A quick menu trawl yielded venison loin at Harvey Nichols Second Floor Brasserie and a delectable sounding dish of Cumbrian Red Deer, pickled quince, girolles and bilberries from Adam Reid at The French.
The French’s wine pairing with the latter is (sic) a Spanish red – a Pitticum Mencia from Bierzo, which coincidentally we sampled while exploring the best introduction to game dishes in Manchester, Iberica’s Winter Specials menu.
Spain and game? It’s hard to credit but it’s the European country with the greatest tradition of shooting game birds. An indigenous red-legged partridge may not be as coveted as an acorn fed pig but it is treated with reverence in Castilian kitchens.
I suspect the diced bird in my partridge pie (£10) may have come from the English grey breed; all of Iberica’s game is sourced from Lincolnshire. Basically, forward with mash and Manchego cheese it’s the Spanish comfort food equivalent of shepherd’s pie. Equally satisfying is a small plate of Morcilla de Burgos (£8), that cumin-infused, soft black pudding made with rice, here accompanied by a sharp Granny Smith puree and a confit of red pepper.
We were excited by the prospect of hare croquetas with a caper aioli (£8). The only chef we know doing wild hare, as a substantial main, is Steve Smith at the aforementioned Freemasons, a subtle expression of a challengingly rich meat. Here the treatment was low on flavour.
Compensation came from a non-game dish, but the quintessence of autumn. Earthy doesn’t do justice to a plate of foraged ceps, black trumpet and girolle mushrooms with sauteed chickpeas, all boundn together by a soft-cooked egg and garlic breadcrumbs (£9.50).
Venison loin (£16.50) is a much fussier dish – with obvious input from Michelin-starred exec chef Nacho Manzano. The meat is marinated for 24 hours with herbs spices and citrus zest then seared and served pink with a Jerusalem artichoke cnfit, pine nuts and a honey alioli.
Contrarily we preferred a tapa we tried off the main menu. Lamb sweetbreads are as rare as game on menus these days. Lightly seared and served here with a black trumpet mushroom sauce and a deep fried soft-cooked egg (£11) they were wonderfully satisfying.
Mencia aside, we drank a Terrazas de Serapia Garnacha red (£44 a bottle) from the Sierra de Gredos, a revived wine region an hour west of Madrid. When a wine list roams the lesser Spanish regions as well as Iberica’s it would be wrong not to stray off piste. Though Rioja is one of the great game wines.
Iberica, 14-15 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3HF. 0161 358 1350.