Get your game on at the Smoky Barrels virtual highland lodge

We visit the City’s most out-there offering this Christmas, and catch up with Mac & Wild’s co-founder about its significance

Confession: I’m a vegetarian. And I’m not saying that because I’m one of those vegetarians that like to guilt-trip people around the dinner table into coming over to the dark side. Although, we do have loads of vegetables and fruit… and a few cookies. But that’s by the by.

No, I’m saying it because there’s a new space in the City that I can’t shake the feeling of guilt about attending… and enjoying.

The Smoky Barrels Christmas pop-up – concepted, run and catered for by esteemed Scottish restaurant Mac & Wild – goes a step further than its not-round-for-long compadres.

Sure, there’s a bar with spirits, wine and beer galore, there's great food – the selection of hot dogs, burgers (including a vegan one that will have meat-eaters wanting more) and Christmas cocktails is impressive – and there’s an abundance of wintery decor. (I also have it on good authority that the pheasant popcorn – think posh popcorn chicken – is exquisite.) But, and here's the twist, there's also a virtual hunting lodge. As in, lodges where you put on Barbour waistcoats and flat caps, and 'shoot' a variety of game via a kind-of-posh video game.

There I was expecting to feel uncomfortable and instead found myself enjoying every minute. Admittedly, I found the post 'shoot' analysis a bit much, particularly when the system told you that you'd successfully shot a moose in its heart. I guess the vegetarian in me couldn't quite commit. Safe to say my mate who came with me was delighted at every star and congratulations he received. 

If you aren't one to hunt – virtual or not – you can still appreciate when a potentially same-old, same-old pop-up goes a step further

Nonetheless, I can understand the appeal and saw firsthand just how enjoyable it is. "Hunting game and procuring meat the way we do is the most carbon-neutral way you can hunt," Calum McKinnon, co-founder of Mac & Wild, explained to me while I slipped into my hunting attire (provided in each hunting lodge for all players to wear).

"It's also the most ethical way to eat meat. The issue is cost – not everyone can afford to satisfy their meat cravings at the prices specialist butchers charge," McKinnon said.

It seems the pop-up is doing well, as it will soon make the move across the Atlantic with branches set to open in Virginia Beach and Chicago. It's not hard to see why: this really does take experiential fun to the next level. 

And even if like me you aren't one to hunt – virtual or not – you can still appreciate when a potentially same-old, same-old pop-up goes a step further to create an inventive experience for people to enjoy. And serves great food, drinks and vibes alongside it. 

Mac & Wild is renowned for its award-winning game dishes, so the whole idea is in keeping with the brand, too. And in theme with going the extra mile, the team over at Smoky Barrels is catering for us non-meat eaters with a few standout dishes. The burger, mentioned above, is quite literally a game-changer.  

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