The customers were hesitant, and certainly did not wish to know the former name of their prospective dinners. But trade was booming yesterday at one of the first horse meat shops to open in Britain since the war.
A steady flow of shoppers stopped at Cheval Butchers in Smethwick in the West Midlands yesterday, where cuts of horse meat were on sale from 20 to 80p a pound. "Can you afford to miss it?" the sign read.
Bob Walker, 47, the owner, who worked in horse slaughtering for 30 years, is delighted by the initial response. He believes the horse's day has come, in the light of cheaper prices and the beef scare.
His counter was filled with one quarter of a hunting horse. The animal, which he refused to name, was shot after it broke its leg. It weighed 1,060lb and will provide one week's sales.
Mr Walker said: "I didn't think it would go this well, and I was expecting to see animal rights protesters this morning, but there weren't any. If it carries on like this I'll be very happy."
The meat, which is similar to beef, but tougher and sweeter, is popular on the Continent. The cheaper cuts have always been popular with greyhound and pet owners, according to Mr Walker, who expects trade from them.
But locals from around Smethwick are also keen to experiment in their kitchens. One nervous customer peered at the counter of dark red meat: "Ooh, I don't know, I just don't know," said Laurie Cox, 65, a housewife.
Mrs Cox eventually bought a pound of steak at a bargain price of 50p which she intended to slow roast. "I just want to try it, and if I like it I'll be back."
Other customers who had already eaten horse meat abroad said they were not squeamish about eating an animal traditionally held in such high affection by the British.
Hayden Corps, 30, a freelance lighting technician, bought 3lb of horse meat for pounds 3.50, which he said he would try frying.
"The English attitude to horses is that they're for sitting on and playing with, but I don't like them very much," he said.
"I've eaten horse meat many times abroad, in France, Spain, Russia, Mongolia. I've never liked beef because of the feeding practices, but I'm not aware they're giving horses to horses."
Mr Walker is confident his meat supply will not run out. He used to charge pounds 70 for taking dead animals to the knacker's yard. But in return for a vet's certificate that confirms the horse is fit for consumption, he will now remove it for pounds 30 or even free, to sell the meat.
As customers continued to inspect his counter in the redbrick Tollgate market, Mr Walker took further inquiries by telephone. He has received a number of calls from restaurants, and one chef bought pounds 10 worth of horse's meat yesterday.
But for most customers the biggest attraction was the low price. The Ryder family had travelled 20 miles from Nuneaton yesterday to buy a sample of horse meat.
Rob Ryder, 39, a glass fibre manufacturer, said his wife Pauline, 39, had been reluctant, but their son David, 12, was enthusiastic.
Mr Ryder said: "If it moves we'll eat it. We've tried it abroad and it's a bit adventurous cooking it at home. You're either a vegetarian or you're not. How many people eating a pork chop think about the poor little piggy?"
Take one horse, a sprig of parsley and...
Haunch of horse with creamed parsley and roasted shallots
Leave haunch of horse in cooked marinade for at least four hours . Pat meat dry, season and grill rare.
Marinade: 10 chicken wings; olive oil; carrot, celery, onion and leek (all peeled and washed); half a head of garlic; 1 bayleaf; sprig of thyme; 2 sprigs of parsley; 2 half-pints of chicken stock; 4 fl oz of double cream
1. Chop wings and cook in oil. 2. Cook vegetables and garlic separately. 3. Add stock and bring to boil. Skim. 4. Add herbs and simmer. 5. Pass through sieve. 6. Adjust seasoning and add drop of cream
Roast shallots: 20 round shallots; rock salt; 2 bayleaves, 1 sprig of thyme; 10 floz of olive oil.
1. Take root off shallots. 2. Cover tray with rock salt. Place shallots on top. Add bayleaves, thyme and olive oil. Cover with foil and cook in low oven until shallots are tender. Creamed Parsley: Equal quantities of curly parsley and flat parsley; 1 shallot;1oz parsley; 4 floz of cream.
1. Blanche parsley, squeeze and coarsely chop. 2. Sweat shallots, add cream and parsley. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 minute. Season.
This recipe was adapted from venison by Rules, the London restaurant. Rules does not have horse on its menuReuse content