The Horseshoe Inn Eddleston, Peebles, Scotland, EH45 8QP T: 01721 730225 www.horseshoeinn.co.uk
Thirty minutes outside Edinburgh, the borders village of Eddleston is tiny and old. There’s a pretty stone church and turreted baronial homes dotted here and there, some functioning, others romantically abandoned to the rugged landscape. We arrive at 3pm, the sky already slating overhead. Like everyday of our Scotland trip there’s the threat of snow, a metallic tinge that makes the crisp air quiver.
If you were to picture the kind of country Inn you’d like to come across on a day like this, then the Horseshoe would be it. Long, low and whitewashed, its ancient form fits the landscape as though its sprung up like a mushroom. Built as a smithy and ironmongers in 1862, the apricot warmth of the interior beckons through extraordinary horseshoe-shaped windows deep-set into thick stonewalls.
An Inn by name, the Horseshoe is actually a fine dining restaurant with rooms. It’s a good concept, especially if you want to take full advantage of the jaw-dropping wine list, which offers over 300 wines arranged by grape variety. General Manager Mark Slaney is, no surprise, passionate about wine, and from the two bottles we sampled its fair to say that the man knows his grapes. You can choose to have a specially selected wine with each of the six courses of the tasting menu. I’m not too proud to admit that this would have rendered my critical faculties, not to mention every other faculty, useless Ã¢â‚¬â€œ plus I was fighting off the flu and feeling atypically delicate.
So, to those Ã¢â‚¬Å“sixÃ¢â‚¬Â courses. As with the wine list, the food at the Horseshoes is thoughtful and unafraid to go out on a limb with what it’s chosen to champion. The result is food that surprises with flavor combinations that I can still taste on my palate. The amuse bouche, sometimes a fairly pointless exercise in small food, were some of the most memorable mouthfuls I’ve eaten. Assiette of pork was a rich meaty cube of deliciousness, while a spoon full of pickled veg went pop in the mouth with just the right amount of acidity. Posh prawn crackers with caviar provided some sea-perfumed crunch.
Fist of the fish dishes brought smoked salmon and licorice Ã¢â‚¬â€œ who’d have thought? Sweet and smoky, the licorice punched up by some fennel, the fish by a sumptuous herring roe cream Ã¢â‚¬â€œ big flavours rendered subtle and intriguing alongside a lightly tropical South African Chennin Blanc. Langoustine with creamy squid ink was black on the lips and delicately savory on the palate, with just the merest suggestion of iodine. Not always the greatest lover of fishy cuisine, M nibbled some off the end of his knife, and, what do you know? Next time I looked his plate was clean as a whistle!
So far, so very very good; then we came to the mushroom (?) mouse with crunchy quinoa and a tiny rose coloured quenelle of something fruity. I didn’t get it. I’m still not even sure it was mushroom, I couldn’t quite tell, and while technically accomplished – the texture being light and creamy – the flavours didn’t gel for me. You can’t win them all. Back on safer ground, a softly melting chunk of braised Scottish beef was mighty fine. Caramelised shallot, chewy emerald kale, mushroom duxelles and sweet chestnut puree are all flavours I want with my beef, plus some dauphinoise potatoes and a lovely rich jus. A deeply savory dish that reworked classic roast beef into a refined plateful of topnotch ingredients.
When we arrived earlier there was a lot of industrious bustling around a white delivery van. Head Chef Alistair Craig scours the local Tweed Valley for the best food suppliers, and because the restaurant is relatively small, the kitchen utileses artisan suppliers who work with small batches to order, as well as welcoming doorstep deliveries from local growers of first-rate market garden produce.
An elegant dish of smoked venison haunch with sweet pear worked wonders with what can, to my mind, be a tender but rather bland piece of meat. The delicate smoking added a richness that was well balanced by the fruit and a raisiny Marlboro pinot noir. At this point we’d been eating for about two hours, but time flies when your having fun and we weren’t uncomfortably full – a good thing, as I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the fantastic Tunworth cheese made by two ladies in Hampshire. Similar to an excellent Camembert, the sweet, buttery cheese had been sliced open and filled with a layer of shaved truffle Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the kitchens’ own addition, it was sensational with some crisp ale crackers that snapped into dark caramel shards.
Warm poppy seed cake, thinly sliced with a mandarin sorbet and cream finished the show. At first I wasn’t sure I liked the cake and sorbet together, but actually I decided that it worked; the cake lightly moreish and slightly chewy against the vibrant bittersweet tang of sorbet. After nearly three hours of eating we retired to our cosy room for coffee. Housed in an adjacent building that used to be an old schoolhouse, the eight en suite bedrooms, like the dining room, are beautifully decorated. While rather gentrified, the Horseshoe isn’t at all generic, with the smallest of details thoughtfully chosen by an individual eye, so that you sometimes feel like you’re staying in someone’s very lovely home.
This was further illustrated by the charming staff, who really go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. Knowing that I wasn’t feeling very well, they were so very kind, and its this level of attention to detail that makes the Horseshoe so special. A real labor of love, with food, wine and surroundings to match any you’ll find in the city, The Horseshoe is a real gem. You might just find that its places like this, quietly but confidently doing their own thing in villages that aren’t even marked on the map, that are the ones worth finding.