The poshest beach restaurant you’ve never heard of – and it’s not abroad

The Hut Colwell Bay
Our columnist has discovered a 'pulsating lunch spot' with the sort of charm one might expect to find in Mykonos

The tables were on wooden decking, overlooking the sea. Waiters hurried between tables, ferrying magnums of rosé and silver platters of oysters.

The cocktail menu listed something called a Tiki Punch that contained a good slug of rum and a few drops of bitters. There was an in-house DJ and, at a certain point in the afternoon, people got up to dance and twirl their napkins above their heads.

Where do you think this pulsating lunch spot was? Mykonos or Ibiza, perhaps? Or any other glamorous Mediterranean hangout where people gather to eat shellfish in their swimwear and drink pink wine like water?

You probably wouldn’t guess a little bay just opposite Lymington, on the Isle of Wight. No disrespect to the island; it’s just not normally included with the likes of the Balearics or the Aeolian islands in the round-up of hot summer destinations.

It’s called The Hut, although it’s not very hut-like. Perched beside a strip of brightly-coloured beach huts in Colwell Bay, it looks more like the kind of minimalist joint you might find on a Greek island: white parasols and rattan shades hanging over tables that look out across the Solent.

I’d never heard of it but, when three old school friends suggested a weekend trip to the New Forest some months ago, the bossiest of them said we had to go there for lunch. “We’ll get a rib across, it’s the best,” Sarah insisted.

The Hut at Colwell Bay
Sophia Money-Coutts 'sang the whole way back to Lymington' after a visit to The Hut - The Hut Colwell Bay/The PC Agency

A rib? I’d assumed we were going away for a peaceful weekend of walking and taking photos of roaming ponies.

I wasn’t expecting the kind of high-octane jolly that tech billionaires go in for, but I was overruled and we joined the waiting list for a table. A waiting list that starts building in February, apparently, when bookings for the summer open. You can get a bus from Yarmouth to the restaurant, Sarah informed us, but it was more fun to take a rib.

Over 80 per cent of the restaurant’s punters arrive by boat, I’ve since learned, dropping anchor in the bay and being collected by one of the restaurant’s tenders. Who needs Capri, anyway?

If you don’t fancy a boat, you can also helicopter in because they have an arrangement with a big house and its helipad nearby, and they will pick you up from the chopper in a Defender.

We were on this waiting list for three months and only got lucky because there was a cancellation for a 3.30pm slot last Saturday. “It’s too late for lunch, isn’t it?” I messaged the other three the day before we were due, anxious about the long stretch that would leave after breakfast.

What kind of time is that for a lunch? We’re not part of Europe any more. “It’s ideal,” Sarah replied, ignoring me, “we’ll get you an ice cream on the way.”

She duly found a local chap called Tony who owned not a rib but a cruiser, and although none of us knew what a cruiser was, he was booked for the 20-minute journey across from the mainland. “I’ll have the prosecco waiting,” he texted Sarah, and I felt a sense of doom all over again. What was this place: a restaurant or a nightclub?

The Hut at Colwell Bay
Sophia was on a waiting list for three months to get a table at The Hut at Colwell Bay - Thearle Photography

A combination of both, I would say, having spent several hours there last weekend. When we arrived for our tea-time slot, the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven were just finishing up on a long table, together with their daughter-in-law, Cressida Bonas, and we were ushered past others in the restaurant’s embroidered sun hats, already whirling napkins in the air like lassoing cowboys.

The DJ, a young chap called Gilo, was busy in a booth in the corner. The rain, mercifully, had given it a rest, and as the first bottle of rosé appeared at our table and the sun bounced on the waves in front of us, I thought: yes, all right, this isn’t bad.

Some years ago, my sister, step-mother and I were on holiday near Naples. One morning, we risked our lives by driving along the Amalfi coast in second gear and happened upon a little coastal restaurant entirely by accident.

Bougainvillea hung over the terrace, there was the faint waft of grilled prawns and a phalanx of terrifically attentive Italian waiters who called us all “Signorina”. I seem to vaguely recall barefoot children running around too, but I may be confusing this bucolic scene with a Fellini film.

We smugly congratulated ourselves on finding such a perfect secret until a superyacht appeared in the bay and a gargantuan flower arrangement was ceremoniously placed on the table beside us. Minutes later, Sir Elton John and David Furnish came ashore for lunch, together with Sir Michael Caine and his wife, Shakira. Ah, this place wasn’t quite so undiscovered, after all.

The Hut felt a bit like that. A not-so hidden gem. We ordered oysters and sea bass with fries to share, and my wine glass became increasingly smeared with garlicky fingerprints as the music grew louder and some people clambered on to their seats to dance. It may sound hellish to you.

The Hut Colwell Bay
This Isle of Wight hangout is a place to 'drink pink wine like water' - The Hut Colwell Bay/The PC Agency

It would have done to me previously, but on a sunny afternoon, sitting with three of my oldest friends, we covered a wide range of topics including but not limited to: marriage, IVF, our parents, our jobs, my new puppy and the importance of flossing.

This isn’t supposed to be an advert. Merely a celebration of a long summer lunch with good friends on a sunny table that was unhurried. And the other marvellous thing about long lunches in June is that you can still be in bed before it gets dark. You see how fun I can be when I relax?

We ate and drank like feasting Tudors before joining in with a rendition of It’s Raining Men, alongside a table of others who were there for a 60th birthday. Brits may be in trouble for how they behave abroad but I’m not sure that some carry on much better on home turf. Even quite posh ones.

We smuggled out a bottle of rosé for the return trip and sang the whole way back to Lymington. Poor Tony. You don’t need to go all the way to Magaluf, you know. It’s quite rowdy enough in Hampshire.