Perfect views from The Upper Deck | The Christchurch Harbour Hotel, 95 Mudeford, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 3NT
Let me set the scene… It was the Friday before the Wimbledon finals and set to be the hottest weekend of the year. It seemed that everyone who had a car had decided to hit the M25/M3 and head down to the Dorset coast.
So after travelling five hours for what should be a two-hour journey, we pulled up outside the typically British seaside looking Christchurch Harbour Hotel in Mudeford. You know the type, a rectangular white washed building, emblazoned with the hotel logo across the roof. To drive past you’d think it’d be full of OAP coach trip customers, thank god it wasn’t.
Inside is a totally different story, our room was modern and immaculate – a huge four-poster bed with crisp white duvets and soft grey woollen throws. A flat-screen TV, iPod dock, Nespresso coffee machine, mini fridge (no mini-bar) and free open WIFI access. The en-suite bathroom was fab too, a deep bath with a sea view (big enough for two) and a huge shower (big enough for three!) Worth a mention were the White Company toiletries, one of our favourites. Room rates are from £160 per room with breakfast included.
But that ‘oh wow’ moment was when we looked out of our fifth floor window and took in the amazing views over Mudeford Spit (infinitely more beautiful than it sounds). We excitedly freshened up and rushed down for a cooling pint of cider and to explore the hotel and its grounds. The lounge area with big comfy sofas would have been far more inviting had it not been so brightly lit. The Upper Deck restaurant and bar has just been given an overhaul, its been completely redecorated and the menu totally reinvented.
Decor wise the restaurant, actually the whole ground floor, is an art deco/nautical hybrid. There are huge arched windows and doorways with highly polished chrome lighting and period photos and artwork neatly hung on the walls. A glass top piano surrounded by stalls is a focal point as are the modern chandeliers. Some rope trimming and a few ocean liner inspired nic nacs complete the look.
Once on the terrace it hit us again just how lucky this hotel is to have such a wonderful view and setting. The hotel has a square lawn surrounded by decking and a dozen or so sun-loungers and sofas. Perfect for relaxing and soaking up the sun, drink in hand, we felt miles from home. Down on the waterfront you get a clearer view of Mudeford Spit dotted with the most expensive beach huts in England – one recently went on the market for a staggering £200,000.
The waterfront is also where residents can go to pick up the kayaks and paddle boards. Be mindful of the tide though, it’s quite easy to get caught out. If water sports are too energetic, then you’re only a few steps away from The Jetty restaurant. Perched right on the water’s edge, this award-winning restaurant serves fresh seafood, dropped off by the local fishermen on their way back to quay. We wished we were eating here, it had such a holiday feel and the dishes we saw coming out looked impressive.
Time was slipping away and we had dash back upstairs to get dressed for dinner, we had a table booked inside but decided to sit on the terrace to make the most of the evening sun. This was our first mistake of the evening. The waiting staff were a lot less attentive of those dining outside, inside was obviously the place to be. Unless you actually want to listen to Ed Sheeran’s debut album on loop that is. I enjoy ‘The A Team’ as much as the next man, but after the third airing I felt like taking a long walk of a short pier.
Nevermind, on to the pre-diner cocktails, I had a Mudeford rum punch, very strong and fruity but not overly refined – a little as if a child had mixed a very large measure of Captain Morgan’s with undiluted Kia-Ora. Luckily Saff’s Grapefruit and mint Martini was a lot more grown up, I so wish I’d ordered that. We opted out of more cocktails and went for a bottle of 42 Merlot, Blackstone, California 2010 £19.50 instead. The menu has been created by Chef Patron Alex Aitken, who has spent twenty five years cooking within the New Forest, including at his own Michelin starred restaurant - Le Poussin in Brockenhurst.
As we were on the coast, fish seemed apt and it was about time we had a break from meat. Saff went for the trio of Jumbo tiger prawns £4.25 each. Huge and perfectly grilled with a garlic butter and served with a rocket salad. I went for Scallops £11.50, three seared scallops with a slightly dry chunk of sticky pork belly. The best bit though was the cauliflower mash, although it was more of a purée to be honest.
Saff stuck with the fishy theme and picked the whole grilled sea bream £19.95, from the daily specials. She was offered the choice of having the fish filleted but she wanted it as nature intended. Again, there was nothing wrong with the way the fish was cooked, in fact it was unfaultable, but the boiled potatoes and limp wilted spinach were swimming in butter. There’s no doubting the quality of the ingredients, there just seems to be a little naivety especially with the dated presentation.
My calves liver and onions £17.50, was an improvement on Saff’s dish, the lamb was cooked medium as requested, the mash smooth and creamy. There was onion overload but I wasn’t complaining as the surplus was used to mop up the mustard gravy. We shared a side dish of asparagus £3.50. I’d love to say they were crisp and could be cut with that satisfying snap, they couldn’t, instead they were soft, bendy and drowned in yet more butter.
Dessert was either going to be this meal’s saving grace or possibly the final nail in its coffin. Saff had the Banana tart tatin with toffee ice cream £7.95. It looked wonderful but the warm caramel sauce turned out to be little more than melted butter (a slight exaggeration). I did the gentlemanly thing and offered to swap desserts despite finding it a struggle to eat myself. I ordered (and Saff ate) the Dark chocolate fondant with pistachio Ice Cream £7.95. The rich chocolate cake had that ‘always a surprise but shouldn’t be’ melting middle that oozed out and began to melt the ice cream. Finally a dish with no complaints from Saff.
As the Ed Sheeran CD clicked round to track one for the fourth time we knew it was time to retire back to our room and watch the sun set over the water. The hotel is so lucky to have these stunning views, it’s defiantly a case of location, location, location. The Upper Deck has a captive audience, the 64 rooms above provide a year-round steady flow of punters to keep their till bells ringing. Maybe that’s why they don’t have to try too hard. Alex wasn’t in the kitchen when we visited, had he been I have a feeling this review would be very different.
I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow, a testament to the comfy beds and the clean sea air. Morning came too quickly and we overslept, after a rushed cooked breakfast (our fault not the restaurants’) we decided to pop into their spa for a treatment. Saturday was fully booked and Sunday only had slots at stupid o’clock in the morning so we missed out there. The free to use pool and spa area was dark and serene, the kind of spas we love. We had a little swim, a session in the hydrotherapy pool, a quick sweat in the crystal steam room and very noisy five minutes in the salt grotto.
The rest of the afternoon was spent watching children crabbing off Mudeford quay, fisherman landing their catch and burning the top of my head. Once at the quayside hop on the ferry (£1.30 each way) over to Mudeford Spit to have lunch in the charming Beach House and find our own little stretch of private beach.
Our next destination on our whistle-stop tour of Dorset was The Kings Arms Hotel. It’s the little sister to the Harbour hotel and just a five minute drive down the road. The restaurant here is also under Alex Aitken’s umbrella, we just hoped it didn’t trade purely off its location too. To find out read our review here.
95 Mudeford, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 3NT
Upper Deck Telephone: 01202 400954
Book the Upper Deck online
Reservations: 0844 8589183
Hotel telephone: 01202 483434
For Family Rooms: 08448 589183
Opening Times: food and drinks served all day
Nearest station: Christchurch