Ever since we’d seen one of these in an episode of ‘Coast’ several years ago, we’d fancied staying in this quirky location between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in the Solent. The forts were commissioned by Lord Palmerston in the mid-19th Century for fear of the French attacking the Naval base in Portsmouth, but by the time they were finished, the threat had disappeared, leading to the forts to be nicknamed ‘Palmerston’s Follies’; at least the new owners have managed to keep some things historically accurate!
There are a few options to spending some time on the forts, but the thought of a late night boat trip back to Portsmouth after a boozy dinner wasn’t the most appealing, and as it was a special birthday present, too, I’d thankfully booked to stay the night.
The way dinner is organised for those staying, about 40 people, was that you are told to come for drinks in the central gallery for 7 and that you’ll be called for dinner for 7.30. This is where it started to go really wrong….
Coming down for drinks we were told that there would be a delay of about 30 mins due to there being ‘a couple of big parties for dinner’, which I guess would be quite difficult to foresee when you’re a standalone structure in the middle of the sea with only a couple of scheduled journeys out & in a day. Forty minutes later, the maitre’d started working her way around the circular gallery, inviting couples to come down to the restaurant for dinner, taking one couple a go and 10 minutes before reappearing. Not wanting to wait another 40 minutes, we just decided to take matters into our own hands and walked down to the restaurant.
A rather peeved Maitre'D greeted (in the loosest sense of the word) us and whilst looking like she'd just swallowed a wasp, directed us to a table in the slightly dated, nautically themed room.
The menu was rather uninspiring and with one of the three starters no longer being available, we decided to skip straight to the mains with the Persian Smoked Aubergine and line caught Sea Bass with Summer Vegetables.
The Sea Bass was served limp, luke warm and had to be sent back, whilst the
Aubergine looked as though it had been warmed in oil for half an hour before being sprinkled with deep fried breadcrumbs and a few stale spices; the oil seeping out onto the plate like a pair of urine soaked y-fronts depositing it's load.
I thought that they surely couldn't mess up a cheese plate for afters, and in fact they didn't. I also wouldn't say that artlessly
putting supermarket cheeses, half a fig etc on a plate would be considered a good job well done, either. On asking the waitress what cheeses they were, she said she would check with the chef and on return confidently told me that the, Stilton, Cheddar and goat's cheese were 'French'!
The wine we were drinking did get put on the house after our complaints, so at least and attempt was made to redress the shoddy food & service, but considering the stunning and quirky location, it's a real shame that more effort isn't made with the eating part of the experience (although some other parts of the experience need work, too!). A quick and easy improvement would be to dress up the waiters as Manuel and Maitre'D as Basil Fawlty and then at least it could be passed off as a tribute type experience.
No Man's Land Fort
Somewhere between Portsmouth & the Isle of Wight,