Michael Carr new head chef at The White House with his chef de partie Alex Ireri

When Michael Carr took over from Frideswide O’Neill as head chef at Tap Social’s White House recently he knew he had big boots to fill.

Her food had wowed the critics and put the Abingdon Road pub firmly on Oxford’s culinary map.

But now that’s Frides is taking on other projects, Michael has been taken on as head chef, and is an ingenious choice.

Because not only is his CV seriously impressive and dripping with Michelin starred restaurants, but he loves the whole ethos at Tap Social and is raring to go.

Alongside new GM Guy Bell, the pair aim to make the pub more accessible with a new menu, extending and regulating its opening hours, and offering food from 12noon – 9pm.

Guy Bell and Michael Carr at The White House

So alongside the ham hock fritters with celeriac remoulade and burnt apple sauce, you will find a soup and toastie of the day, fish and chips and a house burger.

“I make everything from scratch,” Michael tells me proudly, “from the ice cream to the bread, it’s just who I am.” So Michael’s fish and chips is taken up a level with a lemon and lime battered cod, mint crusted peas with ravigote sauce and chips. And the burger will be handmade from the bun to the patty and onion rings.

Michael Carr at work in The White House making pies

And he’s loving the challenge: “Starting here at Tap Social’s White House has given me my passion back for cooking,” he says. “I had thought about leaving the profession altogether but now I feel alive again,” he says.

Michael hails from Coventry where his mum taught him how to cook at home before he began work in a professional kitchen, moving up the ranks to the likes of the Michelin starred Waterside Inn and the Latymer Restaurant in Pennyhill Park Hotel, Emily Watkins’ Kingham Plough, a stint under John Footman at Oxford Kitchen (now 215) and at world renowned The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny.

“My mum went to the market every day and cooked fresh food on a daily basis. We didn’t eat anything from frozen and she loved spices, everything had to have spices, seasoning and flavour,” Michael smiles in recollection.

“And I always love being in a professional kitchen. I love the buzz. It’s always been exciting to me from the word go,” the 39 year-old tells me.

Michael and Alex

“It is so fulfilling at this stage in my career to help change a person’s life for the better. They have made their mistakes and they want to learn. So I’m excited again about being in the kitchen. You can see it when I design the menus.”

However, after working as trouble shooter for Brakespear pubs, Michael’s love for the industry began to wane and he realised he needed a change, just when Tap Social started looking for a new head chef.

Tap Social’s The White House

“I just love the ethos here (Tap Social helps rehabilitate prisoners by teaching them hospitality skills). They really look after people, and I’m really enjoying the training side of things and helping people to learn new skills.

I bet Tap Social is too, especially as Michael is a total obsessive when it comes to cooking. Take his vegan Scotch egg recipe (pea and butterbean scotch egg with spinach dip, watercress and pickled radish salad): “It took me three months to perfect because I couldn’t get the binding right and had to do it over and over again. So now it’s perfect,” he grins.

And then he’s off to make a lobster bisque, three types of ice cream and some vegan suet pastry. Put it this way, my New Year’s resolution is to visit The White House again very soon.

The White House is at 38 Abingdon Rd, Oxford, OX1 4PD


Katherine MacAlister