Cut of choice for customers

THE current horse meat scandal has certainly split opinion over the past few weeks.

Many people have changed the way they think about what they eat, from the place they source their meat, to whether they should be eating meat at all.

Horse meat on menu at Caddy Mann

Horse meat on menu at Caddy Mann

Others have asked, should we be eating horse meat? If not, why not? And if so, where can we do it?

When Edinburgh restaurant L’Escargot Bleu put horse on the menu three years ago, barely an eye was batted.

It takes a brave restaurateur, however, to do the same in the middle of horse country, and while the nation is still reeling from the continuing revelations.

But for Ross Horrocks, owner and whirling dervish chef at the Caddy Mann restaurant at Mounthooly, near Jedburgh, this is no publicity stunt, he’s just meeting demand.

He told us: “A customer asked us to get it in as he had tried it before and he wanted to see how we would do it.

“We were a bit undecided at first, but after asking a few other customers what their opinions were on it, we didn’t have any negative feedback at all, so we thought we’d just go for it.”

Being a lover of all things food, I agreed to try it out. My partner June Hardie and I booked a table – the last one available – for Sunday lunchtime.

And there it was, on the starter menu. Pan fried horse steak on wild garlic rosti with cracked black pepper and a horseradish salad.

Kevin Janiak about to try the horse meat.

Kevin Janiak about to try the horse meat.

But just a couple of items below this, was another dish that kind of stood out, one which proves this is not the first time Ross has gone “off-piste” with his food.

It was a fricasse of local grey squirrel, cooked in a white wine sauce, with nut crusted crispy squirrel balls and pan fried rumbledethumps (a traditional local recipe made from potato, cabbage and onion).

And a quick look at the Caddy Mann’s Facebook page shows they have, in the past, served up reindeer, kangaroo and springbok.

But for now, Ross’ customers just can’t get enough of the horse, as it’s one of his best sellers.

June Hardie with menu at Caddy Mann

June Hardie with menu at Caddy Mann

He said: “We try to source all our ingredients as locally as possible.

“We get it from a company in Duns we have dealt with in the past that specialises in exotic meats and they import it from Uruguay.

“The first things I asked them were where does it come from and how was it farmed.

“And they told me exactly what I wanted to hear, that it was humanely farmed, bred purely for food and nothing else – it’s not someone’s pet horse that has taken a wrong turn.”

I asked him at what age they were culled.

He admitted: “I never asked them that, I don’t know. But I would suppose they would be treated no differently than a cow or a sheep.”

And his wife Lynne – who manages front of house, as well as rolling the odd squirrel ball – is keen to justify its addition to the menu.

She said: “We have had some people who say they couldn’t eat the horse, but you just have to think of it as a cow.”

This was in no way about to sway June.

She said: “I chose not to eat the horse, because having worked with and known and loved a lot of horses, in my mind they are so much more than a farm animal.

“It seems hypocritical, as I eat other farm animals and it is a lean cut of meat, much healthier than the cheap meat we have maybe eaten in the past, but I just feel that we have elevated the horse to be above just a source of food, and I just couldn’t eat it.”

But June was more than pleased with what she ordered, as each dish was beautifully cooked and presented.

She added: “The Caddy Mann is a superb wee restaurant, from the lovely welcome to the beautifully cooked food.

“It’s just so nice to come to an individual little business in the Borders, and while I have my ethical and emotional reasons for not eating horse, they are bringing some clarity to the horse meat debate.

“I’m very pleased with the food, and I’m very pleased I didn’t decide to eat the horse.”

How did the horse taste? Well, it was certainly a tasty and tender cut of meat, along the lines of beef fillet steak, but with an underlying sweetness that goes incredibly well with the garlic rosti and the horseradish sauce.

And it went down extremely easily with Ross’ accompaniment of choice, a bottle of Dark Horse ale from local company The Scottish Borders Brewery.

It is yet to be seen how it will go down with the broader Borders public.

z See a video of busy chef Ross in action on our website: