It’s all go at Tap Social’s new pub The White House on Oxford’s Abingdon Road when I arrived to interview the team last week.
New bars are being erected upstairs and down, walls are being painted, the kitchens are a hive of activity, bright paintings from HMP Huntercombe are being put on the walls, outside new tables, chairs and awnings are being erected and there’s a wonderful sense of excitement and anticipation in the air.
Because today The White House opens for the first time, albeit only outside, and with a stunning new menu, top chef, fantastic team, social ethos, community slant and central location, this Oxford pub is back on the map.
Masterminded by Tap Social’s CEO and founder Tess Taylor, it’s been an ongoing project for over a year now. Originally intended to open in spring 2020, the pandemic set the project back a year, but with the doors finally open we were allowed in for a peek.
What the team has achieved already is incredible. What was a fairly dilapidated pub has been given a new lease of life. The function room upstairs is now a huge, colourful bar area with revealed fireplaces and gleaming wooden floorboards, in addition to the huge bar space downstairs.
Outside, what was a massive car park has been turned into a charming pub garden where the colourful benches, tables and chairs are made from recycled plastic and a huge cycle stand spans the length of the garden to encourage its customers to cycle or walk.
Its location across from Oxford University’s playing fields means that in the summer you can walk there through the fields from the city centre.
In short, the new look White House is a revelation. Throw in head chef Frideswide O’Neill who worked at The Mash Inn in Bucks until the pandemic, and is now heading up the brand new state-of-the-art kitchen and you’re onto a winning combination.
Frides’ new menu is just as exciting – sharing plates of babaganoush, hummus, minted pea ricotta with seed crackers, ham croquettes and seasonal crudités, grilled mackerel with tahini verde, miso and spring greens, the equally enticing gnocchi, courgette, pistou and hazelnut, or just chips, herb mayo and Comte. Plus, of course, doughnuts for pudding (Frides started off the highly successful Patron doughnuts in lockdown). I for one CANNOT wait.
Exciting times then? “We were finally able to get the crew onsite in August and they’ve been really busy,” Tess agrees. “We’ve exposed all the original floorboards, taken down walls, added a new kitchen and office, an upstairs bar, two additional fireplaces which were boarded up, exposed the brickwork, added a service bar, replastered, added a new cellar and storage unit, redone the toilets, opened up the boarded windows, put in new lighting, the list goes on and on.
“It’s such a big space and now that we’ve converted the car park into a garden with a big marquee, planters and plants, there is seating for 200 outside and 150 inside.”
As for appointing Frides, Tess says: “She has been an added bonus, because we don’t come from a culinary background, drinks is what we know, so we not only needed an incredible head chef but someone who could steer us in the right direction in terms of training, menus, equipment, everything really and we couldn’t have done this without Frides.”
As for the menu Frides says: “I wanted it to be relaxed but delicious. Small plates are exciting and affordable and the price point was really important to us, so it’s like British tapas I suppose without the vegan and vegetarian options being an afterthought.
The White House will be partly staffed by day release and ex offenders, mainly from Springhill Prison near Aylesbury, as part of Tap’s rehabilitation programme, which is the ethos behind the whole company.
For those who haven’t been, Tap Social also owns a large brewery, warehouse and bar on the Botley Industrial Estate, set up to rehabilitate offenders by giving them jobs.
All The White House needs now are some customers, but having opened the Horsebox cafe onsite over lockdown, Tess and her team have been keen to integrate themselves into the local community. “We have met so many locals during lockdown who have been so supportive that we are confident in our clientele already,” Tess says.
“Of course when we do open it will be a steep learning curve because our numbers capacity is huge, but I’m ready,” Tess grins. “We can’t wait.”
Also recruiting Rob Cunningham as GM of both sites, who formerly headed up The Bicycle Shed in Summertown, and they really are onto a winning team.
The Whitehouse by Tap Social is open MONDAY-THURSDAY: 8:30am-1pm, FRIDAY: 8:30am-3pm (lunch served 11am-3pm), SATURDAY & SUNDAY: 9:30am-3pm (lunch served 11am-3pm).