Located near Portsmouth harbour, Spitbank Fort was built as a sea fort to defend the Solent in 1859. Even though it was stocked with many a weapon, it never actually ‘fired in anger’ during its eighty four year existence under military rule and it is now listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Anyway, enough of the Wiki history lesson, a company called Clarenco have since turned it into a small luxury hotel. For obvious reasons, it’s not exactly the cheapest of hotels to spend the night in but on specific dates they do open for Sunday lunch (£99 per person) so we decided to pop along and check it out.
The experience started out with tea and coffee in the departure lounge with sixty or so other people – get there early otherwise you won’t get a seat. We were then taken to the Jenny M (a boat that has seen better days) and off we set for the fort; it was all rather exciting.
A glass of fizz and canapés in the lounge area kicked things off (again there was a lack of seating) after which tours of the fort by enthusiastic guides took place. It’s a fascinating structure and once the tour had finished we were able to wander round on our own. It has managed to avoid feeling too “corporate” or naff which was a good thing.
Our lunch choices had to be pre-chosen, which usually means you’re not exactly in for a gastronomic spectacle. However the food wasn’t actually as bad as I anticipated. In the cavernous dining room we were seated at shared tables (it was a bit like a wedding) which understandably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it didn’t bother us that much.
Starters included a velouté (posh for soup) of harlequin squash which had been generously seasoned with paprika. Croquettes of confit pheasant were rich and moreish with a crispy breadcrumb coating. No dressing on the salad though! The seared South Coast mackerel was only let down by it’s cardboardy skin – not hugely pleasant! Once removed, the mackerel flesh was moist and succulent.
The main course couldn’t be faulted; rare roast sirloin of beef with all the trimmings. The Yorkshire puds were perfectly made, the vegetables and potatoes were plentiful as was the gravy. The little pot of ‘broccoli cheese’ was particularly good. The beef was rare yet not chewy like you often find with pub roast dinners; we loved it all.
For dessert, the meringue in my cherry pavlova looked and tasted shop bought which was a shame. It was also nowhere near chewy enough; something that makes for a great meringue in my book. The espresso chocolate pot was far more enjoyable however; rich enough to feel like a treat but not too sickly with it.
Spitbank Fort really was a great day out and we felt it was thoroughly worth the £99 a head price tag (plus alcohol of course) as it’s such a unique experience and a place that’s steeped in history. Phillip Schofield even spent Christmas here with his family – if it’s good enough for him….