It isn't every day that you see squirrel on a restaurant menu. But that's what the chefs were serving up at River Cottage Canteen in Plymouth last night, tenderly braised in a tomato and red wine sauce, writes Sarah Pitt.
The grey squirrels, shot at River Cottage HQ at Park Farm on the Devon-Dorset border, were prepared by sous-chef Andy Richardson, who describes the meat as having a gamey flavour similar to rabbit.
The appearance on dinner plates of a creature more associated with children's bedtime stories, fits in with River Cottage founder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's keenness to promote wild food from sustainable sources. Grey squirrel is plentiful – and widely regarded as a pest by both farmers and growers and conservationists – but it has yet to catch on as a delicacy among foodies.
"It will be interesting to see how the guests react to it, because it is nice for us to offer something different," said front of house manager Marie Mitchell.
It took Andy an hour and a half to butcher the seven squirrels, yielding a modest amount of meat. "You'd need one and a half squirrels for a main course. That's why we are serving it as starters," he said.
But squirrels could feature on the menu again in the autumn, when they are plumper. "That is when they are at their heaviest, after they have been eating nuts and fruit all summer," said Andy.