A stunning hotel in the Harbour Hotels collection and a symbol of Southampton’s sea-faring heritage, the exclusive Southampton Harbour Hotel impresses new guests and locals in equal measure. LLM travel editor Natasha Heard checks in to find out all about the fashionable waterside establishment.
The five-star hotel is shaped like the front of a luxury cruise liner to celebrate its location on Ocean Village Marina and the close proximity to those departing ships. In fact, many a guest will use the hotel as a base before they begin their lavish voyages on ocean and sea, and I couldn’t think of a better way to begin a luxury cruise than with a stay here.
The sleek, modern, and unique design allows guests to enjoy sprawling views of the marina, Solent and the Isle of Wight while dining or drinking at HarBar on 6th, from their suites and rooms, while celebrating in the large event space or while dining at The Jetty, the ground floor, 2AA Rosette-awarded restaurant which impresses with fine cuisine.
As you step inside the plush hotel you are greeted by the friendly concierge who takes your luggage and assists you with a temperature check via the electronic, hands-free face scanner. Once you’re confirmed as having a safe temperature you can check in and let your luxurious stay begin. Other current Covid-safe measures in place include only using the lifts in your household group, bookings for the bar, restaurant, breakfast and spa facilities; time limits on dining and bar tables, though I never felt rushed when dining and drinking, while there is sanitiser everywhere and rooms are deep cleaned before arrival.
Whizzing up in the lift towards the fifth floor and my suite was, as it always is, a moment of eagerness as to what I would discover, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed here. Among the hotel’s 119 rooms are 10 suites and 10 studios, and I was gifted with the best suite in the house; a 731 square foot deluxe marina view suite complete with open plan lounge, spacious bedroom and bathroom, additional WC, dressing area, and, best of all, an expansive, east facing balcony with a table and chairs for six, corner sofa with coffee table and panoramic views of the marina, the Solent and out towards the Isle of Wight.
In addition to the enviable views from the outdoor terrace, the modern and stylish suite came complete with a range of top-notch fixtures, furnishing and little extras to make any stay an enjoyable one. From the Nepresso coffee machine and packed minibar to the 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, air conditioning, waterfall shower, robe and slippers, complimentary gin and sherry, The White Company toiletries and flat screen TVs in the bedroom and lounge. Add to this the useful amenities such as dimmable lighting, glassware, a kettle, Wi-Fi, room service, an alarm clock, safety deposit box, and ironing facilities and you have everything you need for a short break or extended stay.
What I particularly enjoyed – apart from the great night’s sleep – was the layout and smart style of the suite, which felt more like an apartment that I could genuinely live in, rather than a standard hotel room. Upon entry you can access the lounge – which included a dining table for six, seating area, desk and cabinets with double patio doors to the balcony – or the toilet, which led to the bathroom, then dressing area and bedroom and back to the lounge.
The bedroom also boasted double patio doors to the huge balcony, which provided me with some truly relaxing moments overlooking the locale. To fully enjoy the views below and beyond, the balcony is blessed with a glass front with a partial view of the next suite’s balcony – you are also overlooked at the front slightly by guests at certain seats from HarBar on 6th above, but there is plenty of space for you to enjoy full privacy here, and I loved that it felt like a piece of my own private club with music drifting down from the bar.
HarBar on 6th
Speaking of HarBar on 6th – this is the resident dining spot and where most of the action takes place. There is, of course, The Jetty restaurant on the ground floor which provides fine dining lunches and dinners, but it is a separate entity from the hotel and HarBar is where you will enjoy your hotel breakfasts in addition to all day dining, drinks and afternoon teas. The rooftop bar (indoor and outdoor) is a trendy spot with an Ibiza vibe and here you will find trendy interiors (think barber chairs, neon signs, attention-grabbing artwork, low sofas and booths), music playing and friends catching up over cocktails, all with some cracking views – you will, no doubt, join fellow patrons with phone in hand, Instagram at the ready.
I spent some valuable drinking and dining time here, namely munching a confit duck pizza with spring onion and hoisin, accompanied by a pint of lager one sunny lunchtime, in addition to enjoying a pre-dinner glass of Champagne with those views before heading to The Jetty for dinner. It’s important to bear in mind that bookings need to be made and they are best done in advance (especially for The Jetty) to avoid disappointment.
Breakfast at HarBar was a fairly busy affair, but the staff handled it well; we were seated quickly, orders were taken, and coffee was poured in good time and we didn’t have to wait very long for our food to arrive. Service is friendly, table service means you don’t have to move a muscle and the selection of foods on offer were impressive. The offering included usual suspects, such as the full English; grilled kippers; Eggs Florentine; salad pots and pastries, to less common, but just as delicious, dishes including figs, pecan, mozzarella and honey on sourdough; bacon, sausage, cheese and egg muffin with potato bites (yum); and pancakes with berry compote and crème fraiche.
Luckily, I had a dinner booked in at The Jetty and was very thankful for the forward planning. Though a later sitting than I would usually choose, this turned out to be a good thing as customers drifted off and the evening felt far more relaxed than it would have been if I had eaten in the middle of a busy service. The seven-course tasting menu was a delight and showcased a great selection of skills using an array of colourful, delectable and top-quality ingredients.
An amuse bouche of poached oyster with a delightful champagne butter sauce and caviar was followed by a pretty plate of fillet of beef carpaccio with chimichurri, pickles and beef fat croutons. The oh-so thin slices of beef literally melted in my mouth with each bite and the accompanying elements with their varying flavours and textures made this a delightful dish. Seared scallops with chicken thigh, pea and truffle purée, confit shallot and asparagus was up next, and the combination of the delicate textures, meaty, creamy and umami flavours made for a mouth-watering plate of food.
Following this we were presented with fillet of wild sea bass, cuttlefish tagliatelle, served with a shellfish mariniere. Though the bass was lovely, this dish didn’t hit the mark as well as the others had and lacked a certain depth of flavour for me. Free range duck breast, crispy shredded duck leg and peas a la Francaise was the next course, and the buttery smooth breast and crispy confit was just as delightful as you would expect. Peas, cabbage, chips and a light gravy made this the perfect summer version of a typical autumnal dish.
A lemon curd soufflé with lemon meringue ice cream and raspberry sauce offered a decadent dessert course with its warm, gooey texture and the ensuing selection of local English cheeses ended the meal on a very positive note.
Southampton HarSPA on the ground floor features a swimming pool, hydrotherapy pool, steam room, sauna and mud rasul to aid in your rest and relaxation. If you’re looking to stay active or work off some of the gorgeous food that you’ve no doubt devoured at the hotel, then the state-of-the-art gym is the place to go. Some facilities need booking, and some operate on a limited number, first come, first served basis, so you’ll have to take your chances with the fairly compact pool.
Treatments certainly need to be booked in advance, I couldn’t get a slot, but the range of therapies, using luxury brand Temple Spa products, look very inviting. From facials to wraps, scrubs, massages, full body experiences, pregnancy treatments, those designed for men, body treatments and finishing touches, there are plenty of ways in which to indulge, relax and revitalise during your stay.
Head to the Isle of Wight for the day, shop in Southampton, visit the spa, enjoy a film screening in the hotel’s own cinema, explore the Sea City Museum to find out all about the Titanic, head further afield to the New Forest, or simply relax on your suite’s terrace, while enjoying the views and taking a breath. With a hotel this lavish, you may want to explore, but it won’t be long until you find your way back to luxuriate in the surroundings.
In a nutshell
Southampton Harbour Hotel really is a show-stopper – from the eye-catching design to the lavish suites and the resident award-winning Jetty restaurant to the rooftop bar which has just been named among the 30 best cocktail bars and terraces in the UK by The Times. Add to this the double level event room, which is sure to leave any partygoer in awe and the spa which promotes full relaxation among all the excitement, and you have a place that you will be yearning to visit again and again.
This isn’t just the place you come to for a quick stay before your cruise, I quickly realised that this is the place to be seen for a lot of people, a place to bring friends for those long-awaited post-lockdown celebrations and dine, drink and laugh. It was lovely to see, and lovely to experience for myself as well. I felt very well looked after during my stay, I appreciated the Covid protocols, and the friendliness of all staff members who I came into contact with was warming.
I have stayed in Sidmouth, Salcombe and enjoyed dinner in St Ives Harbour Hotels and have to say that, though they all offer a similarly smart seaside vibe, the full experience at Southampton topped the list for me.
See snippets of my travels on Instagram @tashheard_food_travel