Design Focus: White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar

When it comes to direction, Mark Fraser and Michael Spink of The Compass Group don’t seem to have any problem working out which way they are headed – and it’s very much on the up.

Hot on the heels of their popular Chop House Bar & Butchery brand – with two restaurants in Leith and Edinburgh’s Old Town already – comes their brilliant seafood offering, the White Horse Oyster & Seafood Bar, which is sure to be a recipe for success.

The venue is on the site of the original White Horse Bar, established in 1742 and the oldest inn on the capital’s iconic Royal Mile. Compass’s White Horse opened last month after a complete refurbishment of the building, which has created an intimate dining room, with additional covers in luxurious booth seating and more seating available in the bar area.

One of the key features is a spectacular lobster tank, recessed into the wall, which not only looks impressive but also means that diners can select their own fresh British lobster at varying weights. Customers can also enjoy fresh oysters and cocktails alongside an all-day menu of small dishes such as crab fries and sesame tuna at the bar.

The idea behind the interior design was to create a refined dining space that still had a casual, approachable feel to it – and that certainly comes through. The subtle colour palette, exposed brick-work and dark-stained wood brings a nautical quality to the space while the use of materials like velvet and leather on the seating bring a sense of luxury.

This is somewhere that customers can enjoy a dining experience focused on fresh seafood and shellfish – without feeling outside their comfort zone.

The bar is also something of a feature – the top was custom-made in green marble while the front of it has been covered in simple wooden cladding which has been stained grey. Behind it, the backdrop of the exposed brick wall lends warm, earthy tones. Bottles of wine, Champagne and spirits are stored neatly on timber shelves, also stained a dark colour and subtly backlit to showcase the contents.

It looks high-end but the natural tones make the space feel welcoming – and definitely not somewhere customers will feel like fish out of water.

The bar stools have a slightly industrial look but are topped with solid, contoured seats – built for comfort as much as style – and the bar-height table opposite is perfect for groups of friends.

The banquette seating, which was produced by local upholsterer Holster Edinburgh, combines a mixture of rich navy leather in the bar and booth areas before switching to a luxurious soft velvet in the dining room. Holster also upholstered the restaurant seats and bar stools, so they are completely bespoke and tie in with the rest of the interior. The polished concrete floor in the bar area bounces light back into the building and a clever roof light above the dining area to the rear of the restaurant also floods the space with natural light.

Classic Farrow & Ball paint tones have been used to create atmosphere while decorative effects, which include a pair of ancient-looking propellers on one wall, have been kept to a minimum, so the space feels very clean. Statement lighting from various independent suppliers – including four large glass ball-shaped lamps above the bar – adds to the sophisticated look of the restaurant. Parquet-style flooring in the dining room delineates the area and gives it a feeling of being slightly separate from the rest of the venue.

Wooden table tops have been etched with the WH logo and infilled with brass resin and the same green marble which is on the bar top has also been used on table tops in the dining room. Outside, the venue’s frontage has a distressed look to it – off-set beautifully by the bespoke oyster sign created by a local craftsman. He also made the exterior menu box and the mild steel oyster station that stands on the bar when you head inside.

Mark Fraser, Managing Director of The Compass Group, says it was all about going back to basics – as well as sourcing high quality ingredients. He says, “We wanted to go back to basics and create a classic and relaxed offering where the ingredients take centre stage, so sourcing the very best seafood is crucial for us at White Horse.”

Sharing platters of shellfish including lobsters, scallops and crab are a key part of the offering and a range of oysters from across the UK, including Lindisfarne, Carlingford, Loch Fyne and Caledonian, are also available – shucked on the bar in full view of the customers.

The menu is designed to showcase the best of British shellfish and seafood in a collection of dishes which can be shared by the whole table. In addition, a selection of stand-alone dishes like monkfish curry, lobster and fries, crab linguine and whole lemon sole are also available. Mark adds, “Shellfish is often considered a luxury ingredient and seafood restaurants as formal and expensive. Whilst the focus of White Horse will always be on the quality of the ingredients we source, we are very excited to introduce a new and relaxed way to enjoy seafood in the capital.” Their suppliers include Edinburgh-based Welch Fishmongers, Mara Seaweed and Cornish sustainable fishing specialists Wild Harbour.

The restaurant also offers a bespoke cocktail menu, drawing on classic influences. The list incorporates seasonal ingredients, boutique spirits and seaside influences to create a fresh, vibrant range of signature drinks. Restaurateurs Mark Fraser and Michael Spink formed their business partnership in 2004 and have established a reputation as one of the leading independent hospitality groups in Edinburgh. They launched the Chop House brand in Leith two years ago and opened a second offering last year at the New Waverley Arches development. The group also operates Monteiths, Sygn – the capital’s first independent style bar – and gastropub The WestRoom, all in Edinburgh.

If the success of other Compass Group venues is anything to go by, the White Horse should be right on the money.

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Upper Floor Finnieston House 1 The Stables Yard 1103 Argyle Street Glasgow G3 8ND
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