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HELLO!’s Tim Kiek spends the night at the newly renovated White Hart Inn in Essex

I stayed at Mersea Island’s latest foodie venue — here’s what happened

Mersea Island's White Hart Inn on a sunny day on the left, and boats on the sea on the right
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Up and until last year, I had lived in Essex for the best part of a decade unaware of my proximity to the most easterly island in Britain. Ignorance may be blissful in some cases, but ignorance of Mersea Island is most unfortunate. It is also becoming increasingly rare.

One man who has been awake to its charms for longer than most is the owner-operator of the newly renovated White Hart Inn in West Mersea, Piers Baker. Indeed, such is his confidence in the island, said renovation began in November 2021. Memories are apt to fade but it’s recent enough history to remember that shuttering establishments, not launching them, was the norm in the pandemic-battered hospitality sector at this time. However, after staying the night at the White Hart Inn in early September, it seems Piers' gamble is paying off.

My wife and I had spent the afternoon at nearby West Mersea beach with our children and her parents, enjoying the riotously coloured huts, crabs galore and paddling-friendly waters. Having left both younger and older generations happily ensconced in the adjacent holiday park, we embarked on the very short drive (as all drives are on the 13-mile round island) to the inn. 

Girl wearing a hat playing on pebbly beach with a pink bucket and blue spade
West Mersea's beach is a pebbly delight

Wrapped in fresh white wood and pristine red bricks, it painted a pretty picture on our arrival. A few early evening drinkers were sipping cocktails on the sun-tinged terrace (more on the drinks front later), and inside the first of the diners were settling down in the vast and pneumatic restaurant. 

White Hart Inn terrace bathed in sunlight with people drinking at wooden tables
The terrace is highly conducive to a cocktail or three

I am ill-equipped to turn this review into a Kevin McCloudesque architectural soliloquy (you can judge for yourself in the pictures). However, to my untrained eye, the inn’s refurbishment has been adroitly done. And not only is it technically proficient, it also avoids the sense of sterility that frequently accompanies renovated buildings. I am loath to deploy the ‘classic-contemporary’ epithet beloved of design agencies the world over but, in the case of the White Hart Inn, it feels apt. 

Restaurant with lots of tables and chairs, a brown floor and hanging lights
The White Hart Inn's spacious and convivial restaurant

Roomy rooms

The White Hart Inn boasts six guest rooms with names that have a connection of some sort to Mersea Island. We stayed in Strood, named after the bridge which is the only route onto the island from the mainland and which is submerged by the Strood Channel twice daily. Thankfully the same doesn’t apply to the room – although such is the excellence of its power shower, if left on, flooding likely wouldn’t take long.

Heralding from a home in which the bathroom precludes any cat swinging, the Strood’s sizeable offering was a pleasure and would likely allow for a clowder of cats to be swung (please don't test this theory if you do book to stay). And if size isn't enough, then the complimentary Bramley bath products lend a sense of luxury.

Strood bathroom with large blue-tiled walk-in shower and white sink and white towels
The bathroom won't leave you feeling claustrophobic

The room itself is also a good size and overlooks West Mersea’s quaint church and green. All six rooms come with super king beds and 4,000 pocket-sprung mattresses (whatever this means). Mattress preference is about as subjective as it gets, and I have to say I found Strood’s example to be rather too firm to allow for a comfortable night’s sleep. You, however, may love the firmness.

Strood bedroom with double bed, blue armchair and green kettle
A snug place to hunker down for the night

The homegrown approach

Mersea Island is small in circumference but big in seafood circles. Chefs of the repute of Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver have praised its oysters. Indeed, an episode of Gordon’s BBC series Future Food Stars was filmed on the island. 

With this in mind, it was probably somewhat remiss of me to eschew the White Hart Inn’s seafood offering in favour of something more earthy. Yet the succulent 250g sirloin steak I opted for instead didn’t make me regret my decision. And paired with one of the nicest Pinot Noirs I have ever quaffed, it made for a combination that wouldn’t have tasted out of place in some of London’s most esteemed steakhouses – and for a fraction of the price.

Piers Baker's Mersea Island top 5

Monkey Steps on Mersea Island with sea in the distance and bushes and and wall partially bathed in sunlight© Lilla Szanto
The Monkey Steps are an island highlight

1. Take a kayak or paddle board out from Mersea Island Watersports for a paddle around the creeks and rays (I've done once, with the tide moving, exhausting).

2. Walk along the beach from the Monkey Steps at sunset, 50 yards from the pub.

3.  Visit Richard Haward Oysters for a catch up with Tom and eat them right at source at The Company Shed.    

4. Go out on the water with James from Rib Tours – a high-speed trip down the coast to Osea Island and back up to Brightlingsea.   

5. Watch the sunset over the Strood, especially when tide is moving out, and the mud glistens.

Perhaps most impressive is the venue’s commitment to homegrown produce – with the emphasis on ‘home’. During the meal, a friendly staff member revealed that the grandparents of resident chef, Eliot Craven, frequently supply vegetables from their own garden for use in the inn’s kitchen. I could easily believe it. Eating at most pubs – even so-called gastro ones – is typically an exercise in great expense and even greater disappointment. The White Hart Inn bucks this trend. The food tastes as fresh as the homegrown mantra promises.

Get your saliva glands going and take a look at their latest food and drink offering here. For a digestif, I can highly recommend the Sunset On The Hard cocktail, a smoky rye number I retreated to the terrace to imbibe.

Final thoughts

If you are in and around an hour’s drive from Mersea Island, then it's a great option. Whether you are looking to spend time on the beach with your family, or to relax and enjoy some top notch grub with your partner, Mersea has you covered. And if the latter is your preferred option, then you can’t go wrong at the ‘inn-peccable’ White Hart Inn.

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