The Trinity Lightship, now a restaurant at Haslar Marina, and named Mary Mouse 2, was commissioned in 1946.
The 41-metre, green ship once guarded waters off Norfolk, the Humber, Outer Gabbard in the North Sea, Dover’s Shipwash and elsewhere around the British Isles before being decommissioned in 1991.
Light vessels were fully-manned by a crew of up to eight, keeping watch 24 hours a day. Their prime function was to maintain the vessel and send regular weather reports to the Met Office.
Sold on to a Southampton company as a marina clubhouse for Gosport, its interior was altered to accommodate visiting yachtsmen of the Portsmouth Harbour Yacht Club, the bar and restaurant created in a style of – to my mind – a minor gentlemen’s club. The interior is a masculine one of dark furniture, mustard walls, faux gas lamps, maps and sail boats.
There is a smattering of sailing books, but you’d miss the point of visiting this unusual restaurant. The view of Gunwharf Quays and environs is the thing, a slight rocking felt from passing ferries and larger vessels.
There’s a hurdle to overcome if you’re not a Haslar Marina member. Sign up for membership at the harbour office beforehand (numbers are limited to 1,000 for the lightship entry) and walk a third of a mile to a gate to be let in, then down the marina walkway to the vivid green lightship. But for a mini adventure, why not?
The menu is nothing unusual. Routine breakfasts give way to lunch with prawn cocktail; deep-fried Camembert; lasagne; seafood linguine; baguettes, bloomers and salads.
Dinner’s menu is stuck in the 1970s with melon and Parma ham; prawn cocktail again and steaks, but perks up with monkfish with mussels, vermouth and orange cream sauce; turbot with capers; belly of pork and a vegetarian dish. Prices? From £4.95 to £18.95, some dishes rather hefty price-wise (fish and chips £13.95, smoked haddock rarebit £14.95, linguini £15.95).
My beer-battered fish and chips with mushy peas and salad came up from the galley quickly, few tables taken on the wettest day in August for many years.
I salted the excellent fat chips – soft within, crisp without – by shaking a monk’s head upside down (the décor could use a facelift including these and mats favoured by your grandparents) and tucked into the equally-good deep golden-brown batter, a lovely crunch revealing moist cod which was oddly tasteless, pointing to farmed cod. Now cod stocks have revived, I’d opt for wild if the chef. Mint married well with the mushy peas, the perky salad well-sourced and vibrant. Move on to the usual dessert suspects if you must: sticky toffee pudding and other rib-sticking offerings.
Minuses are the unfinished website, menus with poor spelling and sticky laminated menus needing a wipe or a re-do, both ringing alarm bells for this past restaurateur-chef and diner.
The service is delightful as is the unusual location, definite pluses in my – and anyone’s– book. A decent glass of Chilean sauvignon blanc brought my bill to just over £17.
Trinity Lightship, Haslar Marina, Gosport (023 9250 3387. Open 8am to 11pm (10.30pm Sun) all week. Just remember, go to the marina office and fill in a form for membership which is £5 or waived.
Disabled access: wheelchairs might manage the steep gradient to the ship’s entrance and the long route. Toilets are downstairs.
How to get there: take the long route to Gosport centre via the A32 and Mumby Road. Turn right on Haslar Road, the marina in front of you. Paid parking. Walk through the marina shops to the marina office for access information.