Behind the scenes at Bonnie & Wild

When Bonnie & Wild asked if I’d come and work some shifts in their kitchen, I jumped at the chance. Firstly, I could do with the extra cash (sadly blogs don’t pay…and the magazine industry barely does). Also, it’s a great restaurant with a lovely chef, and (most of all) it was a chance for me to play about with game.

And that’s the thing—I barely ever get to cook with game—which is sad because it’s one of my favourite ingredients.
It’s hard to come by in London, and when I do stumble across it, I struggle with the whacked up price—it’s hard to part with too much money for a rabbit when I know that my boyfriend’s parents would happily give me the bunnies that strayed into their veggie patch for nothing (my parents aren’t quite as happy wielding a shotgun, so it’s usually up to their considerably more aggressive spoodle —spaniel cross poodle—to guard the veggies—but she has a tendency of mauling and eating her kill before I can put it in a pie).

Parents' vicious spoodle (left) fending off a golden retriever

I digress.

Andy Waugh was also brought up in the middle of nowhere—north Scotland where the deer and haggis roam free (…or at least they do until his family who’ve run a game-butchering business for 30 years get hold of them).

He came to London to do a sensible-sounding, money-making job—but somewhere along the way jacked it in, and decided to set up The Wild Game Co instead. The idea is that Andy, Ruaridh and Ruaridh (as if to prove that it is a genuine Scottish company run by genuine Scots) ship good quality game from the Highlands to sell it to Londoners via their market stall, restaurant or website.

Andy from the Wild Game Co

The company has a stall at White Cross Market from Monday to Friday where they persuade ham-sandwich-eating punters to gorge themselves on pigeon chorizo rolls and venison fillet sandwiches instead. On Saturdays they migrate east to Broadway Market to sell whatever game is in season—perhaps the wittily named ‘have you met my mate stu?’ stewing meat, or the ‘nice baps’ burgers.

On Friday and Saturday evenings Bonnie & Wild kicks off—and that’s a different story altogether. It starts round lunchtime on Friday when Ian Sims (head chef who moved down south to work his friends’ restaurant after a six years at Edinburgh’s award winning Mussel Inn) makes his way through Chapel Market to M Manze’s eel and pie shop, where he’s charmed himself a corner of the kitchen to start prepping by the potato-mashing machine.

Alex from Bonnie Gull

The Wild Game Co have teamed up with Bonnie Gull Ltd—another young catering company which specialises in sustainable British seafood—to hire the pie shop to put on a joint set menu which showcases their wares. It’s a chilled out affair, with devastatingly charming waitresses, bring-your-own-booze and a ukulele player who occasionally turns up to serenade the diners.

One of the stumbling blocks was the fact that pie and mash don’t need sophisticated cooking equipment—but game does. In a 1905 Grade II listed shop, this could have caused a problem…until the boys put an enormous barbecue in the yard out back. This both solves the cooking issue, and also adds a great, smoky flavour to the meat which you wouldn’t get from a boring ol’ oven.

I had one of the best night’s cooking I’ve ever had, and from the look on the diners’ faces as they passed through the kitchen (to the tiny, tea-light-lit loo) they were having a great time too. If you fancy a chilled and reasonably-priced evening with friends in a restaurant run by some of the most passionate-about-food and entrepreneurial people I’ve come across, then I suggest you drop by.

The restaurant is open from 7pm every Friday and Saturday. The venue is laid out mainly in booths for 4 and 6.

To make a reservation book online here
alternatively you can send an e-mail to:bookings@bonniewild.co.uk

Please note the restaurant is CASH ONLY (£29 for three courses) & BYOB.

The Bonnie & Wild / M. Manze
74 Chapel Market, Islington, London N1 9ER

Game for it….popping up with the Queens of Cue

It’s hard to have a really epic night out in London for just £25.

You could buy three warm beers at Mahiki….or you could just about check you and your coat into Raffles. Dammit, you could put £25 on your Oyster card, and leave it on a bus.

I suppose you could just about get a calzone and bottle of house red at Pizza Express. But no matter how entertaining your fellow diners, it’s nigh on impossible to have a truly epic night in the bland surroundings of a Pizza Express at the end of your road.

And this is one of the fun things about Queen of Cue. It’s not at the end of your road. It’s not near your local tube stop. It’s not near any tube stop. It really is about as remote as you can get in this crowded capital.

Typically, Tom and I ignored the advice of getting off the tube at South Bermondsey, and decided to take a scenic route from Surrey Quays.

If I didn’t think it was a stupid idea at the time, once I’d left the safety of the East London Line, and was in the depths of gritty Southwark, I was starting to think we’d been a bit idiotic—particularly as I was wearing my new, urban-Barbour and Tom was in chinos…still insisting on stopping the most toothless, alcohol-saturated passersby for directions to Millwall Stadium. (I realise at this point that it seems like I’m lazily relying on stereotypes to tell this story-but it really was how it happened…!)

“What’re you looking for Millwall?” the first guy asked. An entirely reasonable question.

The thing is that if you’re lost and trying to find Queens of Cue, then heading to Millwall Stadium is actually the best way to get back on track.

What I didn’t know about Millwall Stadium though was that if you approach it from the wrong way then you end up in the kettling lanes running under the railway arches, which are lined with angry wire fences to prevent escape.

Fans escaping from the police, or opposition fans escaping home fans.

“Don’t worry—it’s fine round here” Tom consoled me. “Actually, I think I can smell a pig farm – bit like Suffolk.”

Not so consoling.
The last thing you want when you’re in a scene from Football Factory is to be reminded of the wisdom offered by Snatch:

“They will go through bone like butter. You need at least sixteen pigs to finish the job in one sitting, so be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm.”

I digress, but the point is that when something’s so difficult to find, it’s usually worth looking for. And Queens of Cue was no exception. Up some rickety, metal stairs lit by tea lights, on the second floor of a crumbly warehouse is an artists’ studio. When resident (glass) artist Saga decides to host a themed night, then the dining tables come out, and her friend Ruth lights up the oil-drum barbecues on the roof.

It’s ‘bring your own booze’…but when we arrived we were given a (phenomenal) complimentary cocktail to help take the edge off the journey. Past events have included ‘Fish and Seafood Feast’, ‘Celebration of the Cow’ and ‘A Pig Named Sue’, which incorporated Queens of Cue’s novel bike-chain-spit-roast-contraption…but the night we were lucky enough to be at was a ‘Game and Venison’ evening.

First thing’s first (and I’m only being completely and totally and brutally honest because I’d hate to recommend this to someone who was expecting haute cuisine), the food was a little mixed.
The venison terrine was, sadly, overpowered by the fruity damson…but then the game stew was crammed with the most delicious flavours—who knew rabbit and squirrel went so well?!

The stew was also accompanied by the creamiest, dreamiest mashed potato I’ve ever come across—particularly impressive considering the primitive cooking set-up. If I could make mash like that on a range, then I’d be thrilled—let alone on an oil drum barbecue!

Next up was an assortment of game birds—served up like an 18th century continental feast…platters of bird on the bone to pick at. Quail, then wood pigeon…designed for the most hardened meat eaters.

The meal ended with poached pears, spiced cream and coffee served in a beautiful assortment of receptacles.

Adventurous though the journey there had been, and adventurous though the meal was…we decided to rein in the intrepid events, and got a taxi back.
In conclusion, the food wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was damned exciting. It’s not a slick pop up for gastronomic perfectionists. The fact alone that it was the last pop-up of the year (due to the lack of heating in the studio) demonstrates the wonderful higgledy-piggledy nature of it all.

When I explained the concept of pop ups to my Grandad, he thought it was an excellent idea—a way for people who can’t play bridge to meet new people (‘how do you meet new people otherwise?!’). And that’s exactly what happened…lots of interesting, new people, with lots of wine and lots of game (…thankfully of the non-bridge variety!)