Entering the Historic Dockyard during half-term was like being in a large nest of excited starlings, enthusiastic children’s voices rising up from all quarters.
Canny grandparents tried semi-successful tactics: ‘Mabel, what is that ship for?’ pointing to an aircraft carrier in a glass case.
But Mabel was more interested in scooting around the vast area decked with colourful flags.
The dramatic interior design and maritime features included a beautiful small black and white craft with bronze funnel.
London-based Ampersand is no stranger to large venues, and has catered for the likes of London Zoo, the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.
This relatively small venue for them is a piece of cake.
The menu offered quality hot and cold food.
You could buy a pirate box, choosing five items to ‘make your own picnic box’ of a sandwich; non-fizzy soft drink or water; baby cheeses; dried fruits (£4.50).
Good-looking sandwiches were further along (£4.50) and by the hot counter were glorious-looking seeded breads; macaroni cheese; sausages and vegetables; individual cottage pies; salads; frankfurters with onion; broccoli and blue cheese soup and fish and chips with peas, corn, lemon and tartare sauce (from £5 to just over £8).
The Boathouse was licensed too, with British and European beers and wines.
Cakes, scones and other desserts included sundaes and maritime-themed cookies.
Proper coffee was also part of the deal here.
Little Shipmates were offered pieces of ATE to be found under the counter’s skull and crossbones. Walk the gangplank for this play on words, Ampersand!
Mabel, having nicked my tray, shot past with her pirate box to the slow-moving till. Armed with another tray, I chose the fish and chips and a piece of lemon drizzle cake (£10.25 in total) and found one of the few empty, chunky tables.
It’s rare to have good fish and chips, even in the land of this national institution dish.
Well, dear aficionados, the Boathouse does the grand institution proud.
The batter was some of the crispiest I have had the pleasure of crunching, while the fish was a fine example of moistness and quality.
The chips were good if not startling and the peas were just peas.
The lemon drizzle cake was well-sourced, a lovely amount of lemon adding good zing.
Far too often, when visiting such sites, the food is deeply disappointing and overpriced, service often sullen and unfocused.
There’s no doubt that the powers running the Historic Dockyard have seen the light and engaged Ampersand to take on the sometimes thankless task of catering for a society on the grab-and-move.
They have chosen to go with quality and I salute them for doing it with humour and engaging smart, committed staff who not only cheerfully serve with character, but clear tables quickly for the next descent of starlings.
It contrasts greatly to another Historic Dockyard tearooms decked out with Rule Britannia overload, which was found greatly wanting in all respects in a recent review.
Boathouse No. 7 Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, The Hard, Portsmouth (023) 92 7 31552, Open 10am–4pm.
Disabled access: Excellent
How to get there: The Portsmouth Historic Dockyard main entrance is on The Hard. Boathouse No.7 is on the right when you walk in. Parking is available on the street or in nearby car parks.
FOOD: Four stars (Out of Five)
SERVICE: Four stars (Out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE: Four stars (Out of Five)