Weird food: Pigeon
I’M WALKING through Trafalgar Square as flocks of pigeons swoop onto unsuspecting tourists, flapping their green-grey tinged wings as though they’re auditioning for a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds.
Defecating on the cobbled streets with gusto or sitting on the fourth plinth like ugly bits of found art, these flying pests are associated with London as much as red buses, the royal family or rain.
While I don’t bear these feathered rascals a grudge, I don’t hold them in affection either so when I’m given the opportunity to sample pigeon at The Hayward, the restaurant at The Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury, I jump at the chance. Weird food number 16, here I come.
Shrewsbury, the birthplace of Charles Darwin, is a quaint medieval town with a castle, the world-famous Abbey, home to the fictional Brother Cadfael, and tudor-effect timber houses lining its cobbled streets.
It feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square and The Hayward, set out like an exquisite 1920s drawing room with green embossed wallpaper, lime green and gold trimmed Art Deco lamps, white starched linen table cloths, gleaming cutlery and a chandelier, is an oasis of calm. Almost.
Sadly, the tinkling piano music drifting into the high-ceilinged dining room is interrupted by renditions of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You sung by a band in an adjoining room and despite being a Saturday night there are only five other diners.
It’s a crying shame because executive chef Paul Maders has crafted some culinary masterpieces. Formerly a food photographer, in 2004 Maders turned chef, working his way up at some of Manchester’s top restaurants.
His mission: to bring back forgotten foods while keeping menus as seasonal and local as possible.
We begin with melt-in-your mouth scallops atop soft potato fondants, crowned with crispy pancetta and served with brushstrokes of chervil puree on a slate board that looks like something you’d find in the Tate Modern.
Next is crispy-skinned hake drizzled with a salty foam like mermaid’s breath, succulent cherry tomatoes scattered on the plate like blooming flowers, and a bit of naughtiness – lightly, battered tempura mussels. Another dish of locally sourced lamb is served with a colourful medley of greens and carrots, served on silky, mashed potato.
The roast pigeon, derived from a classic pigeon and peas dish, has a livery taste like the Guillemot. But Maders softens the rich flavour with a drizzle of prune puree, inspired after using the combination to balance a duck dish at ABode in Manchester.
The gamey meat is softened with the apple-sauce slicked crushed peas and caramelised pickled onions add texture and acidity.
Served as a starter, the pigeon is filling but lean and, with treble the iron content of beef, it’s healthy too.
The food at The Hayward was beautifully presented and the service attentive. The only dampener on the evening was the lack of atmosphere but with a few more diners that would be rectified. After my successful foray into pigeon I’ll never look at those pests in Trafalgar Square in the same way again.
The Hayward, The Lion Hotel, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 1UY, 01743 353107