Dining And Drinking At The White Inn In Mersea Island

1350 white hart mersea 0595 web

The White Hart Inn in Mersea Island has re-opened completely transformed. We meet the man behind the reincarnation

After months of work and a £1m investment, the White Hart Inn in Mersea Island opened this summer, transformed into a tasteful, contemporary and eye-catching venue minutes from the sea. It has been brought back to life by local hospitality leader, Piers Baker of Baker Hospitality, which also owns the award winning pub, restaurant and rooms The Sun Inn, Dedham and Church Street Tavern in Colchester. Absolutely spent some time with Piers to find out what to expect with his latest venture.

What was it about the White Hart Inn that inspired you to take it over?

I was approached by a local businessman, who owned the freehold of The White Hart Inn, in October 2021. He was keen to work with Baker Hospitality on the basis of our reputation and because he liked our two existing sites and thought it would be a good fit for Mersea. I could immediately see the opportunity the site offered. The White Hart Inn had huge potential and ticked all the boxes we were looking for in a third site: a beautiful location close to the sea, a village feel on the high street opposite the church green, and a great island community.

Whi Front From North
The White Hart Inn

How challenging was the renovation?

It wasn’t particularly challenging. In part because a lot of the outline plan had been done by the time I got involved and in part because of the quality of Stroods who oversaw the project. The most challenging aspect was the multitude of decisions needed to be made from paint colours, bathroom fittings, tiling, cutlery, bar counter, kitchen kit…

Before you started, what did you want to achieve with the look and feel?

I wanted the look and feel to be timeless, not trendy or faddy. Because the building was derelict and then rebuilt in part, it was tricky to get a feel for what it should be. But as each brick was put in place, it started to talk to me and I hope I have found a look and feel that respects the building and area. It’s not finished, we will continue to tweak it as we grow into it.

Do you have a favourite element of the design?

I really enjoy doing the bars because I think they set the tone. The bar at Church Street Tavern was brand new and people love it. And the bar at White Hart Inn is brand new and I spent more on it than Church Street Tavern and it benefits so much for it. I had an idea of what I wanted it to be like from a very early stage. Our floor is pretty cool too – a mix of tiles and herringbone oak.

White Hart Mersea Web
This is the third transformation of a restaurant in Essex by Piers Baker

I am a huge fan of both The Sun Inn and Church Street Tavern, so are there similarities at the White Hart Inn to those two?

Thank you! The structure of the menu is the same – we have a casual element that works well for lunchtimes and passing trade. Then we have a regularly changing main menu of seasonal dishes using lots of local produce. Our service systems are the same and the drinks lists broadly the same, except for one or two curated cocktails. The feel of the building is unique, but hopefully people who know all will see a connection to our other sites.

How great is it to have Eliot Craven as your head chef?

It really is great. I always knew what I would get with Eliot as he has worked at The Sun Inn and Church Street Tavern on an off for the past seven years and has grown each and every year. He works extremely hard and sets a high standard for all to follow. He is fantastic at teaching new, inexperienced chefs all aspects of ingredients and kitchen best practices. He brings along front of house with him. His menus are exciting and embrace the spirit of the sort of food I believe in – fresh, seasonal and delicious.

What can we expect from the food offering at the White Hart Inn?

Lots of oysters! We will always have on raw and plain so you can order as many you want. But we will also feature them in dishes. Currently on as a starter three different ways – smoked, with Rockefeller gratin and with Bloody Mary. They come from Richard Haward each day, only half a mile down the beach from us. There are two other daily fish dishes as well as three steaks: skirt, ribeye and a 900g T-Bone for two to share. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are naturally within our menu rather than after thoughts. The menu will change every six to eight weeks with minor changes in between. It will continue to evolve, be exciting and delicious!

Whi Mersea Oysters Smoked Bloody Mary Rockafella
Oysters – Smoked, Bloody Mary, Rockafella

Do you have a favourite dish right now?

I love the Smoke Eel dish with Kombu Custard and dashi broth. It is simple, but the flavours are complex, textures really interesting and is something I would order on anyone’s menu because it is different.

How did you approach the accommodation?

I used the feedback we get at The Sun Inn as a steer and also what I like in a hotel room. Massive, super comfortable beds. And equally large, powerful showers with large basins. I found a story for each room (its name) and then sought colours, fabrics and furniture I thought helped tell that story. And try to over-deliver in every area of them.

Do you see yourself as somewhere for tourists or locals, or both?

Like our other sites, I don’t really try to think of any one type of person. Pubs and restaurants are for all and I would want all to enjoy them year round. We’re doing what we love and hope those that visit from wherever and whenever will enjoy it too.

Why is Mersea Island the perfect location?

It is close enough for me to get to easily so I can spread my time equally. All our main suppliers are close to it. And we are lucky to have a lot of Mersea people as customers as our two other sites. And it’s beautiful driving over the Strood each day – lifts the soul!

What’s next?

We have a few tweaks here and there to make at The White Hart, but generally I will be working hard to enhance our training and development of our teams ensuring they have everything they need to give our guests the best possible experience when they visit. There are tough times ahead in terms of cost pressures and I want to make sure our business is equipped to deal with it. Then who knows!


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