Things to see and do in Southampton
- Credit: Emma Caulton
This may be a busy port city and the country’s cruise capital, but it hasn’t made the most of its waterfront. Until now. Emma Caulton finds a city becoming a destination in its own right
Let’s shop. WestQuay (now Westquay North) has been a popular shopping destination since it opened in 2000. You’ll find all the top names from Apple (for geeks) to Zara (for fashionistas), and a great deal in between, such as quirky Flying Tiger, retro Harper & Lewis, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Victoria’s Secret.
However, it’s Westquay South (previously known as Watermark) that’s creating waves. This £85m WestQuay extension has resulted in what is being bragged about as the UK’s biggest restaurant and leisure complex. It is impressive. This is shopping and eating as lifestyle experience and is spectacular in ambition. It features promenades and a public space, The Esplanade, between a wide sweep of steps and the old city walls, providing a focal point for the city centre with its random splash fountains, light boxes as street furniture and entertainments that include, when I visited, giant multicoloured snails. It’s an attractive space in which to while away an hour or so. I am surprised and pleased in equal measures.
Take your pick from something like 50 eateries in Westquay North and South, including the newish Carluccio’s in Westquay North. However, most are in Westquay South, layered like a cruise liner above The Esplanade, with interesting names and new taste experiences. There’s KuPP (Scandi casual dining experience), L’Osteria (popular in Austria and Germany and new to the UK), Red Dog Saloon (authentic American barbecue), The Real Greek (which doesn’t usually venture outside London), and Wahaca (Mexican market eating from Tomasina Miers, past winner of Masterchef). I feel a nag of concern for our independents, although you’ll also find local favourite Casa Brasil (Brazilian rodizio dining).
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Fancy a splash? Beyond Westquay South is The Quays, a swimming and diving complex, with pools, gym and fitness classes, and one of only four High Performance Centres for diving in the UK. Or perhaps you would rather take to the open water?
Seadogz, at Ocean Village, offer high speed adrenaline adventures, riding the swell or jumping the wake in a RIB on the Solent. Be prepared to get wet. For something a little smoother, Power Boat Days, also in Ocean Village, provide trips on board a Sunseekers powerboat.
Prefer to be pampered? Stay on dry land and step into Ocean Rooms, a glamorous beauty salon all chandeliers, gloss and luxury with views over Ocean Village marina. Treatments range from manicure to massage, with deep muscle massages the most popular. (That doesn’t sound quite as relaxing as I’d expected.)
If you want to stay within reach of the waterfront, Ennio’s restaurant with rooms is a find with good Italian food, relaxed ambience and comfortable boutique rooms with king size beds. Ennio’s overlooks the Red Funnel terminal with regular ferries to the Isle of Wight. Apparently there is also a Titanic association – this was Geddes Warehouse where first class Titanic passengers stored their luggage prior to departure.
Stay in Ocean Village for an evening saunter and a drink. This development of bars, restaurants and apartments around a marina at the mouth of the River Itchen has been stop-start for a long time. Finally, however, Ocean Village looks as though it means business. It feels glamorous and cosmopolitan. The marina, at its heart, is overlooked by glossy bars, such as Maritimo Lounge and Banana Wharf
A new hotel, all prow-shaped terraces and balconies jutting into the marina, is under construction. But Ocean Village already has the feel of a party quarter with people meeting, drinking and eating by the water. When I visited there was a party on the balcony of Harbour Lights: a glass-sided, angled building reminiscent of one of the yachts it overlooks. This is a great arthouse-style cinema with comfy seating and good bar. If it’s blockbusters you want, head round the corner to Cineworld or to Westquay South for the newly opened Cinema de Lux. Between Westquay and Ocean Village, there’s Southampton’s traditional restaurant quarter, Oxford Street. It has a relaxed, continental vibe with tables spilling across the pavements. There’s Carnicero, a Galician steakhouse using Hampshire beef, Kuti’s Brasserie for Indian cuisine, Oxford Brasserie with funky interior and eclectic menu, and Max’s bar and brasserie for relaxed Italian dining. There’s another waterside venue, slightly upriver, tucked away and overlooked: Shamrock Quay is worth seeking out. Here a recent opening, Cove, is a nautically-themed restaurant serving tasty seafood, such as lobster mac.
My Southampton - Florence Hellier and Darren Bland, Hoxton Bakehouse
We opened Hoxton Bakehouse in 2014, after moving out of London because my mother wasn’t well. We hadn’t any jobs lined up and we just thought, ‘let’s do something crazy’ and set up the bakery. Our unit is next to Southampton Central station. We chose Southampton as it is in the middle of our wholesale route and has good transport links. We started with one customer and now count Southampton Football Club and Southampton University as well as Rick Stein and The Pig among our customers. Our speciality is baking different types of sourdough and delicious pastries including brownies and cinnamon buns which are really popular; we sell thousands of those each week.
Six months ago we started opening the bakery to the public every Saturday, from 8am-noon, and we’ve built up a good following with our classic country sourdough and cinnamon buns proving really popular. What we enjoy about working in Southampton is the young, busy town centre. There are lots of great places for a coffee and something to eat, such as Coffee Lab and Mettricks, which are both fantastic, and Franco Manca for sourdough pizza.