There’s nothing cosier than listening to rain or a storm from inside, ideally by a fire or in a bar. I find myself in the latter when Storm Isha is battering the country.
Entire travel plans abandoned, we found ourselves in Edinburgh much later (and not in our booked restaurant) on this wildest of stormy nights. Since work had taken us to the Royal Mile, we took a wander down this ancient street, past the tartan shops, to the White Horse.
Not many places are open on a Monday in Edinburgh but we’d have popped in here regardless given its warm and inviting atmosphere. It was, as you can imagine from the weather, quiet but our waiter Rob was upbeat and very helpful when it came to helping with our coats and explaining the menu.
The White Horse is one of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh as it dates back to 1742. It is on the Canongate section of the Royal Mile, at the head of a close said to have been named after Mary Queen of Scots’ favourite horse.
According to the Edinburgh Evening News, The White Horse was the scene of the “Stoppit Stravaig” in 1639 when a group of Scottish noblemen gathered at the coaching inn before setting off to negotiate with King Charles I only to be confronted by a mob of angry townsfolk who prevented them from leaving.
It stopped being a pub and was transformed into an oyster and seafood bar which opened in 2018. The White Horse last underwent a refurbishment in 2010 after landlady Kath Will called it a day after nearly 30 years. It’s now owned by the Compass Group, the people behind Edinburgh’s Monteiths and Chop House.
The back room at the pub had been a popular venue for private functions and the White House has been one of the leading “Free Fringe” venues on the Royal Mile.
It’s near here that we choose to sit, while my colleague Kelly regals me with stories of nights out she’d had in the past in the pub. Inside there’s still an old world charm but there’s nods to the seafood fare, with boat propellers on the wall, lantern-like lights and a colour palette of very dark grey, reclaimed wood and concrete flooring.
To start, Kelly ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio while I went for the non-alcoholic pineapple mocktail which included a fiery scotch bonnet cordial.
We mulled over the short menu of seafood sharing dishes over a side portion of padron peppers (£5). This tumble of bright green, slick looking peppers were fresh, with some welcome crunch and a lovely sweetness from the sherry sauce, which was further enhanced by the addition of smoked sea salt.
We then went on to order two Lindisfarne oysters (it was happy hour, which is between 4-5pm, and oysters are £2 each). Served freshly shucked and with shallot vinaigrette, lemon and Tabasco, these were creamy with a subtle sweetness and just a hint of minerality.
These were followed by a huge crab Scotch egg (£12.50), prawn and lobster toast (£13.50), monkfish satay (£13.50), beef and oysters (£16.50) and salt and pepper tempura prawns (£14.50) along with a side of hasselback potatoes (£5).
The Scotch egg, which looked like it’d be heavy and overpowering, was surprisingly light with a mix of subtle flavours that didn’t overpower the crab, all surrounding a perfectly boiled egg. It was served on a bed of pickled samphire, with seaweed salt, and a wasabi mayo.
The monkfish had a much bigger flavour thanks to the punchy, sweet satay sauce which was poured over two skewers of white, meaty fish. Despite being half bread, the prawn and lobster toast was a rather fresh dish thanks to its topping of yuzu, green apple and sea herb salad.
The beef and oysters is an ideal plate of food for anyone unsure of raw oysters and these decent sized sea critters come deep fried in tempura batter along with dry aged flat iron and a splattering of tasty chimichurri sauce. The four fat tempura prawns were served with a dish of ponzu, some more wasabi mayo, and wonderfully tart pickled ginger.
The only criticism here was that the tempura tasted very oily. The side of hasselback potatoes were crisp, and firm but fluffy and all topped with a wavy line of mustard curry sauce mayo that was reminiscent of late night chippy visits of the past. Delicious.
Despite Rob’s assurance that these were small plates, we ended up totally stuffed with no room for dessert (though a stop in at Edinburgh’s famous Fudge Kitchen had us leaving with some chocolate and salted caramel slabs to enjoy at home).
Despite its history, The Royal Mile and Canongate may not be a place non tourists venture much but the White Horse is somewhere we agreed we’d both happily visit again thanks to the good food and great service. Next time let’s hope for better weather.