With wispy white clouds in the deep blue sky and a welcome breeze, Saturday was a perfect summer’s day here in Hampshire. We made the most of it with a walk through Manor Farm Country Park and along the River Hamble down to the Boat House Cafe in Lower Swanwick.
Cat came along too. She was looking after her friend’s chocolate Labrador Ollie. So Tilly had some canine company along the way. After she greeted him with a growl to let him know who was in charge, they got on fine. Judging by their efforts to seek out and eat disgusting things, they certainly had a lot in common. (Tilly drew the line at eating cow pats though.)
We’re lucky that we live within walking distance of the river. We headed down through the woods in the country park to pick up the footpath that takes you over a little bridge to Bursledon. The tide was in, so Tilly had some fun jumping into one of the creeks to fetch her tennis ball. That was after she had barked at some dogs playing on the shingle in the distance. Ollie seemed less enthusiastic – he probably sensed that he wasn’t going to get his paws on the ball with Tilly around.
The path takes you through a large field and under the motorway bridge to a track through a small boatyard containing a mix of house barges and old boats in different states of repair. From there it’s down a narrow road to Bursledon Bridge. The Boat House Cafe is in Swanwick Marina – over the bridge and right at the traffic lights.
The cafe itself is a cute single-storey place, not far from the water’s edge. Inside, there’s a mix of couches with coffee tables, stools with bar tables and tables with director’s chairs. There’s a more formal restaurant area on one side of the cafe with more traditional seating. Dogs are allowed in the main section. As you’d expect, the decor is nautical – light colours, distressed wood panelling and various water-based knick-knacks hanging on the walls.
Outside, there are two seating areas. The first is on some decking (naturally) directly in front of the cafe. There’s also a seating area across the path, right next to the water. Not that you can see much of the river itself, as there are boats and yachts as far as the eye can see – we are in a marina after all.
As the weather was so good, alfresco seating was in short supply. But we managed to find a spare bench by the cafe’s main door. The dogs found some shade to rest in. That is until Ollie noticed that everyone around him was eating. Tilly soon joined him in looking expectantly into people’s eyes as they ate – the dog equivalent of Oliver begging for another bowl of gruel.
We were getting hungry ourselves. The original plan was to pop down for a hot drink and some cake. After seeing the menu however, we decided that we needed something more substantial. We ended up ordering an Italian antipasti plate (£12) to share as well as three ham and mozzarella paninis (£4.95 each) and a bowl of fries (£2.50).
To drink, the girls each had a bottle of Rekorderlig cider. For me, there were two draught ales – St Austell’s “Tribute” and the cafe’s own “Boat House Ale”. I opted for the Tribute. Unfortunately though, it was a bit cloudy for my liking. When I returned it, the lady behind the bar found that the barrel was almost empty, and there wasn’t any of the Boat House Ale left either. This was no issue – she apologised and then exchanged my cloudy pint for a Symonds cider.
Despite it being busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for our food. The antipasti plate came out first, piled high with olives, prosciutto ham, artichokes, sun-blushed tomatoes, mozzarella and toasted ciabatta brushed with garlic – delicious! Our paninis weren’t bad either with tasty ham, juicy tomatoes and grated, melted mozzarella. Just one point – I’d have preferred to eat off a plate rather than a wooden board!
Suitably fed, we decided to forgo any dessert in favour of an ice cream on the way home. We roused the dogs, who had now decided to stop scrounging for food, and began a lazy walk back. Tilly couldn’t resist another extended dip in the river along the way. Ollie looked on again passively.
I’ve now been to the Boat House Cafe several times and I’ve been impressed on each visit. The setting is a little different, the food is good value and the service is good. It’s not just a summer venue either – I can imagine putting my feet up here in the winter with a steaming coffee as the rain lashes against the French doors and the wind whistles through the masts in the marina outside.
There’s a varied choice too with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and bistro food all jostling for position on the menu.
Info: The Boat House Cafe is in Swanwick Marina, Lower Swanwick, Hampshire, SO31 1ZL. Go straight on when you enter the marina and it’s on your right-hand side. Open from 9am. Phone 01489 885745.