“Our horse meat joke turned into reality because of the scandal,” says Fumio Tanga, one of the chefs behind Uma Uma. After a five-course horsemeat dinner (with one tofu dish halfway through) and drink matching at BrewDog in east London, we’re asking if it was just a morbid sense of humour that compelled him and his partners – Masterchef winner Tim Anderson, and Patrick Knill, head chef at Doya in Osaka – to create such a menu.
Tanga, who runs the Sho Foo Doh dinner night at the Pacific Social Club in Clapton, tells us that all three have enjoyed horsemeat sashimi, which is served as a delicacy in Japan, and often wondered how the British would react to such a dish. Weeks before the horsemeat scandal, they were all talking on Twitter about just this, so when the story broke that some processed hamburgers contained upwards of 30% horsemeat, they decided the timing was right to put this delicacy to a proper test in London. “We figured, now’s our chance,” Anderson explains. “People have been eating it anyway whether they wanted to or not, and also there was suddenly a lot of curiosity around horsemeat.”
"Horsemeat is lean, and hovers somewhere in taste between beef and venison but without any gaminess"
Using free-range meat sourced from the South of France, the three got to work on putting a Japanese horsemeat menu together. The meal started with a delicate and flavoursome horse menchi katsu, a panko-crusted mince cutlet with tartar sauce. This was followed by horse yukhoe, a Korean/kumamoto-style tenderloin tartare with shiso – here you can discern the slightly sweet flavour of horsemeat, which is lean, and hovers somewhere in taste between beef and venison but without any gaminess. The Miyazaki Nadofu – a dish of firm, freshly made tofu with veg and miso dressing, gave our palates a moment to rest, before we moved on to the horse okonomiyaki, a hearty Osaka-style pancake of cabbage with okonomi sauce (a sort of Japanese brown sauce), and the uma-don, thinly sliced horse with sweet soy sauce served with rice. Not willing to do anything by halves, even the sweet and pleasingly sticky sorbet for dessert contained horse – in the form of rendered fat.
When asked whether he will include horse on the menu at Nanban, his regional south Japanese restaurant opening later this year, Anderson said they thought about having a hidden menu – “not because it’s controversial, but because it might be unpopular.” Given that horsemeat is now being successfully served at several pubs across London, including at Borough Market, it seems the demand may actually be rising – it could be only a matter of time before this taboo meat makes its way into the popular culinary lexicon as it has in France and Japan.
Text by Ananda Pellerin