In 2012 I wrote a rave review for a The Horseshoe Inn, a small country restaurant with rooms in the Scottish borders. Mauritius-born chef Riad Peerbux was cooking fabulous, highly flavoured and inventive food in this unexpected rural location. Fast forward 18 months, and earlier this summer I found myself back in this delightful corner of Scotland, invited to visit again by wine-mad general manager Mark Slaney. It has been all change since my previous visit, with a new chef and change of direction for the dining room. Mark was eager for me to see for myself.
The Inn sits in a tiny village called Eddleston, five miles north of the bustling market town of Peebles and only 19 miles south of the city of Edinburgh. Mark Slaney is still at the helm after a lifetime of working at the five-star end of the hospitality industry, including time as Head Sommelier at the 5* Lucknam Park. His personal passion for wine is still very much in evidence in a list with plenty of useful commentary and a fine array of interesting, if not downright idiosyncratic, wines – and all at prices that represent real value for money.
Rooms and the region
The Horsehoe is still a very welcoming place, and as we settled in to our room (right) before dinner the super-comfortable beds with down mattress toppers, coffee and cake, piles of current magazines, bottled water, plush robes and Molton Brown toiletries all said ‘5 star’, whilst prices did not – the eight rooms are available from £120 up to £165 for two, with a substantial and excellent breakfast included. I note the Horseshoe Inn website also offers a number of well-priced dinner, bed and breakfast packages.
This bucolic slice of Scotland is half an hour from Edinburgh and within easy overnighting distance of everywhere from Aberdeen to Leeds. It’s a well-heeled part of the country, with a number of top-end country house hotels, golf courses, salmon fishing on the River Tweed and other attractions – as well as mile after mile of scenic country roads and pathways. If spending a couple of nights in the area, The Horseshoe Inn could make an ideal base.
Dinner in the restaurant should clearly account for at least one of your nights. Since my first visit the separate bistro, which served simpler food in more casual surroundings, has been abandoned and the room given over to a spacious lounge for pre- and post-dinner drinks. It’s a shame this more casual option has gone in some ways, but it gives a little extra breathing space, and the main restaurant offering has been simplified too. And for those staying a couple of nights the area does have other dinner choices.
Head Chef Alistair Craig, formerly Senior Sous Chef at the Michelin Starred Montagu Arms, has taken over the kitchen. His presence is not the only change however: on my first visit the dining room was a lovely, but I guess quite formal setting, with starched white linen, huge bunches of flowers and glittering crystal and silverware as far as the eye could see. That has been paired right back, and now simple wooden tables have rustic, horn-handled cutlery and playful place mats made from the end panels of wooden wine cases from famous châteaux.
Dinner commences at one of the big, comfy sofas and cosy fire of the lounge, where drinks and canapés are served. Three à la carte courses costs £40, there’s a five course tasting menu for £50 (£85 with matching wines) and there’s also the option of a set ‘menu of the day’ at £30 for three courses. We settled on à la carte and a half bottle of Blanc de Noirs from the biodynamic Champagne house Fleury (£29) with our haggis bon-bons and flaky palmier biscuits.
Our first course proper (left) was plump, seared squat lobsters, served on braised Wye Valley asparagus with beigneits and sweet cicely – a lightly anise-flavoured herb. To be honest, this dish did not quite live up to its mouth-watering billing for me: the butter dressing was a little bit burnt, adding a slightly murky edge to what would otherwise have been such fresh and distinctive flavours. With this we drank glasses of the Raats Family Chenin Blanc from South Africa at £9 for a large glass.
Next up, the simple, more wholesome theme of the menu (compared to Riad Peerbux’s complexity) continued with braised Scottish ox cheek with smoked mashed potato and pickled red cabbage. This was a fine dish, the meat melting, tender and flirting nicely with gaminess, the smokiness not overdone and the cabbage punchy and sweet, crisp slivers of fried pancetta adding crunch and extra salt-licked flavour. This really did work well with the Rioja Reserva Especial 2001 from Viña Ardanza at £29 for the half bottle.
Passing on the option of a European cheeses, I chose a very good dessert in the shape of poached Yorkshire rhubarb served with homemade buttery shortbread and a crowdie cheese ice cream. The ice cream – made from the cottage cheese-like, creamy Scottish crowdie – was a very nice counterpoint and ended the meal with a relatively light touch.
The low down
I have to confess that the dinner did not blow me away as it had on my first visit. That may well have been me, failing to manage my own expectations, as it is obvious that the product on offer has changed. It is still an utterly food and wine focused operation, and indeed next morning Mark Slaney showed me the extensive kitchen garden they have just planted, and on a steep, south-facing slope, with fingers firmly crossed, his own small Scottish vineyard.
The bottom line is that I would return to – and highly recommend – The Horseshoe Inn. Our superior room was delightful, the area is beautiful, the staff are welcoming, Mark Slaney and his wine list are stars and the food is good. That still adds up to a persuasive package.
The Horseshoe Inn
Tel: +44 (0)1721 730 225
Please note that I was invited as a guest of the Horseshoe Inn on this occasion.