When the sun shines, this Southampton eatery more than lives up to its name’s tropical vibe. Phil Sampson reports
Ocean Village is a gem. A deep-water basin in the heart of Southampton bounded by a striking postmodernist development on one side and the city’s only five-star hotel on the other, this marina epitomises – if such an expression exists – urban boating chic.
If it were not for the fact that Ocean Village is situated some seven nautical miles from the entrance to Southampton Water, it would surely be more of a mecca for visiting boats.
The issue of location, however, has done nothing to deter local restaurateurs – after all, Ocean Village is just as easily accessed from land as it is by water. Consequently, a plethora of eateries have sprung up around the marina. Our choice for this review is the bright and airy Banana Wharf.
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Pre-Covid 19, the Banana Wharf brand existed in three waterfront restaurants, the others being in Port Hamble marina and Dolphin Quays, Poole. Now, they’re down to two, with the seasonally-dependent Poole sadly having fallen victim to the virus.
Funky is not a word I use often, but in this instance it serves well to sum up the ambience of Banana Wharf Ocean Village. There is a buzz about the place and on the hot summer’s day we visited, gazing out over the marina from beneath an oversized yellow parasol on the potted-palm-fringed terrace, it was easy to imagine being in the Caribbean rather than deepest Hampshire.
There’s some great attention to detail too, with wooden-topped bistro-style tables and orange windbreaks complementing the parasols and adding to the tropical fantasy.
And then there’s the menu. While there are plenty of yummy options from burgers and pizzas to Asian bowls and Tex Mex fajitas on the regular card, it was the seafood specials for us. King prawns with garlic butter, chopped chilli, parsley and a salad garnish with a portion of skin-on fries on the side did for me, while my fellow diner plumped for a half-lobster grilled in garlic butter with fries and a mixed salad.
Fresh, hot and elegantly presented, both dishes were mouth-watering; at just £9.95 (plus £3.95 for the fries), and £24.95 respectively, they were excellent value too.
Our only grump was that, warm and attentive restaurant hosts aside, the table service could have been a little more efficient. But it may just have been a case of staff limitations imposed in the wake of coronavirus, and we were happy to give them the benefit of the doubt – the food more than made up for it.
In fact, we were so pleased that the following day we visited Banana Wharf, Port Hamble, to check it wasn’t just all an illusion. It wasn’t, and this time we filled our boots with some of the finest mussels we’ve had this side of the English Channel.
Getting there by boat
From Calshot North Cardinal, a series of ten starboard hand markers lead to the Weston Shelf buoy, at which point the River Itchen branches off to starboard and a six-knot speed limit for small craft comes into effect. After one nautical mile along the Itchen, the entrance to Ocean Village marina is on your port side. While transiting Southampton Water, keep your radio tuned to Southampton VTS on VHF Ch12, and play it safe by steering clear of the shipping lane.
Cost: £90 based on a three-course meal for two with a bottle of house wine
Times: Monday-Thursday 1200 till late; Friday 1000 till late; Saturday and Sunday 0900 till late
Verdict: Something of a slog for anyone but local mariners, but as a fun restaurant offering high-quality food at reasonable prices, well worth the trip.
MBY rating: 4/5 (based on food, ambience, value for money)
Tel: 023 8033 8866 / bananawharf.co.uk