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The Horseshoe Inn, Eddleston

by Tom Cannavan, 11/12

Please note that since this review was written, Chef Riad Peerbux has been replaced.

logo The Horseshoe Inn describes itself as a 'restaurant with rooms' rather than a 'small hotel with a restaurant.' The distinction may not be obvious at first, but it is a real one, and one that's fairly easy to understand: the principal attraction and reason for visiting this delightful little corner of the Scottish borders is for the superb food and wine offering in the restaurant. The fact that it is but a few steps from dinner table to bedroom at the end of the evening is a delicious bonus.

The Horseshoe Inn sits in a tiny village called Eddleston, five miles north of the bustling market town of Peebles in the Scottish borders and only 19 miles south of the city of Edinburgh. It is run by general manager Mark Slaney who has a lifetime of working at the five-star end of the hospitality industry, and whose CV includes Head Sommelier at the 5* Lucknam Park. He has a personal passion for wine which is celebrated in a comprehensive wine list with plenty of useful commentary and a fine array of interesting, if not downright idiosyncratic, listings - and all at prices that represent real value for this level of dining.

bar and bistro The other key member of the small and particularly welcoming team is chef Riad Peerbux (though his charming wife is also a key front of house figure). Born in Mauritius, Peerbux has had an extremely diverse and illustrious career to date that brought him from 5* resorts in the Seychelles, via stints at Rules, Le Gavroche and The Connaught in London, to this tiny but ambitious restaurant in the Scottish borders where he is cooking up a tropical storm.

Left: the bar and bistro.

Rooms and the region

This bucolic slice of Scotland is barely half an hour from Edinburgh and is within easy overnighting distance of everywhere from Aberdeen to Leeds or York. It is a also 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. There are eight rooms. My standard room was fairly small, and whilst comfortable and well-appointed, could not be described as luxurious. But then the management have really understood what matters, so there are deluxe touches including super-comfortable beds with down mattress toppers, thick and fluffy towels, Molton Brown toiletries, tea, coffee and cake in the room and free wifi too. What's more, prices are modest starting at £100 for two. Make no mistake, the accommodation is of a very good standard and the breakfast - cooked to order from an à la carte menu - is just sensational.

Dinner in the restaurant should clearly account for at least one of your nights. But if you stay for a couple of nights and don't fancy eating in the restaurant twice - or in one of the region's other restaurants - there appears to be a fine alternative: The Horsehoe Inn's separate, cosy bistro serving simpler food in more casual surroundings (pictured above). I didn't dine here, but from the menu dishes like Roast guinea fowl breast, puy lentils, savoy cabbage, Ramsay’s of Carluke bacon & wild mushrooms, or Jerusalem artichoke risotto, seasonal greens, hazelnuts and truffle oil, suggest this is a rather sophisticated take on pub grub.

The restaurant

restaurant When I had a chat to chef Riad Peerbux on the morning after a seriously good dinner - for me amongst the best food I have tasted in Scotland - he seemed a totally assured and passionate character. Taken together with the luxurious decor and friendly but professional service in the restaurant, the food and wine offering here puts it firmly in the Michelin-starred bracket for me, but Riad was fairly dismissive of that: "if it comes it comes," he told me. "I'm more interested in getting the food on the plate right, and using some of the wonderful produce around us." Indeed, over breakfast a steady stream of local farmers and artisan producers delivered fruit and vegetables, game and meat, much of which is butchered in-house: "The brigade and kitchen at the Connaught was huge, so it was a great education in butchering whole animals. We've just had some beautiful Sika deer delivered which we'll take care of, but if there's anything we don't know how to butcher our suppliers are all happy to teach us how."

Dinner commences in the lounge area, with its big comfy sofas and cosy fire, where drinks and canapés are served whilst you peruse the short menu and rather longer wine list. Dinner costs £40, but we immediately leapt on the tasting menu for just £10 more which seemed crammed full of interest. Though a wine matching service is available, we quickly settled on the 2004 Blanc from Chateau Musar at £35 (from the 'Esoteric Whites' selection) and a half bottle of full and relatively rich Fleurie Vieilles Vignes 2009 from Marcel Joubet at £15.

The canapés made for a delicious start. A little haggis bon-bon was succulent and deeply flavoured, a filo wrap of prawns was light and sweet, and a bowl of Crowdie (a Scottish cream cheese) with crunchy dipping vegetables just too moreish. Moving through to the dining room - the décor luxurious and traditional with plush carpets, deeply-padded seats and acres of starched linen and silverware - and a little amuse of a creamed cauliflower soup was rich and wholesome, some shaved white truffle and a slick of a herby, pesto-like oil adding more interest.

scallops Our first course proper (left) was plump, seared Scottish scallops with a delicious orange-caramel sauce, parsnip purée and sprinkling of bitter endive leaves. The pin-points of zingy flavour were sensational against the yielding flesh of the scallops, and caused me to ask next morning if Riad Peerbux's exotic background of growing up in Mauritius and cooking in the Seychelles had informed his cooking with these sweet and sour components. In fact he said not specifically so - explaining that these contrasts were as much part of traditional French and British cuisine.

A lovely terrine celebrated local game with wood pigeon as well as foie-gras and chicken, and a clever dressing of chestnut purée and Sherry. A quenelle of a creamy and crunchy celeriac and pear remoulade added lovely bursts of flavour contrast again.

monkfish The next course (right) was another triumph: Monkfish had been so delicately pan-fried then gently roasted, giving it a slight caramel edge on the outside but leaving the flesh outstandingly juicy, soft and sweet. Stocks and sauces are a key to Peerbux's cooking, and the little bed of Bulgar wheat (or was it Quinoa?) was moist and packed with flavour, as were tiny morsels of curried octopus and brown shrimps layered throughout.

If the fish had been all about freshness and delicacy, the meat course set a dramatic change of mood, but one that built upon the preceding flavours beautifully: a symphony of local roe deer included the loin as a meaty steak, mounds of melting braised haunch and slivers of seared liver topped with a walnut and sage crumble. The whole dish was served with a glossy, dark and superbly deep mushroom casserole sauce, thickened and sweetened by beetroot purée and a touch of yoghurt to add creamy texture and sharpness. This was yet another beautifully conceived and cooked dish that celebrated local ingredients of the season.

dessert Passing on the option of Scottish cheeses, we took a short break before heading straight for dessert. And what a dessert. The flavour-packed but gossamer-light banana soufflé might have been enough on its own (OK, along with the peanut butter ice cream) but the kitchen here likes to add value, and indeed it does so with huge style: the plate also contained a fabulously light but chewy peanut butter and strawberry jam macaroon and nicely toffeed banana crémeux. Again, the array of textures and contrasting flavours was terrific, showing a chef with a bold streak, but one informed by a mastery of both ingredients and technique.

I normally find it hard to resist coffee and home-made petit-fours, but this meal had been so satisfying and more than that - so perfectly structured and balanced - that we decided to call it a night there and then. The short stroll across a little courtyard to our bedroom really was the icing on the cake.

the low down

Reading back over my review I realise that I have been fairly gushing in my praise for The Horseshoe Inn. Of course this was my first visit, and my only experience of this long-standing operation that has been under new management for less than a year. But I have to say that based on this visit The Horseshoe Inn zooms into the top handful of dining experiences in Scotland, vying with the best restaurants and offering a superb product for the prices being asked. The rooms are very good, the area delightful, but the food and wine is what will undoubtedly draw me back again in the near future. And that is just as it should be.

The Horseshoe Inn
Eddleston
Near Peebles
EH45 8QP
Tel: +44 (0)1721 730 225