In desperate need of a break from the DIY back home, and not quite able to stretch to a cruise, we found ourselves checking into the Southampton Harbour Hotel for a couple of nights R&R.
Leaving our car with the valet, we made the dash from seat to reception desk, bracing the cold sea air coming in from the East. After a very friendly check-in in the so-new-you-can-smell-it hotel foyer, we’re shown to our room overlooking the choppy seas below.
Huge embroidered pillows decorate the giant bed, spelling out our plans for the weekend, shh shh. Resisting the urge to jump right in, we slump into the twin armchairs instead, pouring ourselves a good measure of the complimentary sherry and gin from heavy crystal decanters. We particularly appreciated the coffee table laden with vintage seafaring books. There are binoculars, too, though I’m not entirely sure what we should be looking out for – this being Titanic town, we check for icebergs on the horizon just in case. The lighting proves a little too clever for us, but we manage to dim them – more through luck than choice. After the long drive down from London, the double shower beckons and we lather up using the miniature White Company products left for us.
On our way down to the Jetty for dinner we notice various pieces of cheeky nautical art – Hello Sailor! indeed – adorning the walls. The old and new are pleasingly mixed, with neon signs placed next to wetsuits from yesteryear. They must have spent a small fortune in Taschen, given the piles of coffee table books left in every available space.
Ready for a reviving glass of champagne, we bag a spot right in front of the modern fireplace – the only place to be on this chilly winter night. Once the mercury hits the double digits we’d happily trade in the velvet sofa for a relaxation pod on the promenade deck but, for now, they are purely decorative. The atmosphere is warm and relaxing, with a quiet buzz – it’s clearly a popular spot for local landlubbers and hotel guests alike.
Moving through to the dining room we find ourselves slightly overwhelmed with menus, all of which champion the local catch of the day. The chef whets our appetite with deep-fried oysters and bread so delectable they have to refill our basket twice. We begin with ‘Tuna Tuna Tuna’ – so good they named it thrice, apparently. An Asian influence flows through each element: belly is cooked with sake, seared with ginger and chilli and accompanied with avocado ice cream in a mini cone. We’re back on British soil for our main: lemon sole, caught on the South West coast and doused with the creamiest beurre blanc sauce. We order a side of dauphinoise potatoes to further up the decadence…
Leaving our wine pairing in the very capable hands of the sommelier, we’re brought generously-filled glasses from around the world, ending with yet more sherry with dessert. Speaking of which, you really must order their signature – ‘Oops, I dropped my ice-cream’ – complete with seaweed and edible sand, it needs to be seen to be believed.
On our return the turn-down team have tidied away the blankets and pillows, leaving room for two weary sailors to hop up into the king size bed.
Breakfast is similarly theatrical, taking place in the HarBar on the sixth floor. Full-height windows seem to soak up the rays, letting in the welcome winter sun. Thinking of the bikini I’m about to spend the afternoon in, I order the avocado on toast with extra greens and a poached egg before Andy challenges me to a rousing game of table football on the vintage prop. We spy a pizza oven outside, waiting to be fired up on warmer days.
Ready to hit the spa we find thick fluffy robes in our wardrobe and slip down to the HarSpa (you’ll notice there’s a theme with the names, here). We’d pre-booked the couples treatment room and I instantly get the giggles at the sight of Andy in disposable pants. After a bit of confusion over our booking we quickly relax under the expert hands of our therapists who thoroughly pull and pummel us into oblivion. A few ooohs and aaahs escape as I’m pressed with piping hot tiger-striped clam shells sourced from the Philippines and Andy enjoys his Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage (it means ‘To work in and out, as the paws of a contented cat’ if you’re wondering).
The next few hours are happily spent moving from relaxation room to sauna, to hydrotherapy pool, stopping only for a quick smoothie in the juice bar (and pointedly avoiding the gym at all costs). It looks like we’ve found a harbour we’d be quite happily moored in for some time…