The Upper Deck restaurant at The Christchurch Harbour Hotel is a real port in a storm.

Words by Deborah Dowling

It was a dark and dismal Tuesday when we set off in the pouring rain for our lunch date at The Upper Deck restaurant within The Christchurch Harbour Hotel, but after making a mad dash from the ample car park and stepping inside this prestigious building and into the glowing embers of the inviting fires, our gloomy mood was very quickly alleviated.

We arrived a little early, so we took the opportunity to sink into one of the hotel's sumptuous sofas in the uniquely furnished, but decidedly comfy, lounge which had been lovingly decorated with lots of innovative style. It was utterly charming, and we were able to warm our toes and really relax with the selection of newspapers on offer.

We could have happily stayed but, sufficiently thawed and having acquired quite a healthy glow from the roaring fires, we made our way into the large and very pretty Upper Deck Restaurant.

Here we received an equally warm welcome by the friendly, smart and ever attentive staff. Our amazing waiter, Rafael offered a choice of seating, but as the restaurant wasn't too busy, suggested we sit at his particular favourite spot, which was a perfectly positioned table overlooking a decidedly choppy Mudeford Quay and the gorgeous Hengistbury Head, which not even the darkness of the clouds could diminish.

After taking a few moments to fully appreciate our stunning surroundings, it was time for the serious business of what to choose for our lunch from The Upper Deck's extensive menus.

Thankfully we had the indomitable Rafael there to guide us through the choices and offer his expert advice (although I have to say, not exactly sure how much help he actually was as he made all the dishes sound so mouth-wateringly exquisite), perhaps it was the Spanish accent.

The starter menus included Mudeford crab croquettes served with a warm vegetable salad or cannelloni of smoked salmon served with avocado salsa or, for the vegetarian, pumpkin risotto served with shavings of parmesan and rocket leaves.

After much deliberating and with Rafael's knowledgeable advocacy, I went for the twice baked cheese soufflé with smoked haddock, while my friend opted for the South Coast scallops with cauliflower puree, smoked bacon and raisin jam - we may never discover whose tasted the best?

Then yet more difficult decisions for our main courses. The Upper Deck menus afford an amazing selection of locally sourced fresh fish, including Chalk Stream Trout, Whole Sea Bream, Skate and then add to the mix an array of succulent steaks or a trio of duck on parsnip and apple compote - imagine our very real dilemma.

After much deliberation, I chose a juicy ribeye steak served with green vegetables, and at Rafael's professional suggestion, added a side dish of sautéed garlic mushrooms which complemented my dish perfectly.

My friend preferred the Hake and crab served with mixed brown and white crab on a bed of crushed peas and creamed mashed potatoes and we were both delighted with our choices.

The dessert menu advocates an after-dinner cocktail to perfectly match the taste of each individual pud and thankfully, Rafael was a virtuoso on this course! I chose the winter berry trifle and my friend opted for the peanut butter parfait, both served with fabulous cocktails.

The Christchurch Harbour Hotel and Spa is a stunning establishment with first class cuisine together with a very impressive wine list, but then relaxing with your after-dinner cocktails against the backdrop of such panoramic views, is not to be missed.

Whilst offering all this, The Christchurch Harbour Hotel still retains a warm, intimate and cosy atmosphere and then as if by magic, a rainbow appeared, which portrays it beautifully. Quite simply, it is a pot at the end of a rainbow.