Review by Fiona Duncan, published 27th September 2009.
While staying at the glossy Seaview Hotel two summers ago, I checked out the unsung Northbank, just around the corner. I fell for it, and vowed to return. It was Sara who tipped me off, having often stayed for military sailing regattas in which her husband Bunter, late of the Rifles, used to take part. Many military types put up at the Northbank (as well as artist Maggie Hambling and her students). The place may look like something out of the Ark, but it's thick with plummy accents. "So many double-barrelled names I get confused," says the owner, who has one himself. "You've got to have three to stick in my mind… chap called Cave-Brown-Cave, I do remember him".
When Sara introduces me, he goes into a gratifying paroxysm of delight. "The 'astonishing anachronism' lady no less," he declares, "Heavens, if I'd known, I'd have had my hair cut." And he leads us to the office, where my Seaview review is pinned up. "You wrote that the Seaview didn't have one (a view) and we did," he told me. "Very good. And you said we were an astonishing anachronism. Even better".
Oh, the joy of this hotel. Michael Shaw-Yates no longer patrols the dining room because, when he did, newcomers thought he was Basil Fawlty. And yet I'd rather have a night here than any five-star hotel you could name. It may look as if it's on its last legs but it isn't, by any means, and we love our time here, sipping wine in the garden or chatting in the genteel, candlelit dining room, with vases of dahlias on the tables. The elegantly proportioned sitting room is stuffed with ancient radiograms and battered armchairs; loos and bathrooms are communal; children run along the corridors clutching bath toys and the sound of happy splashing fills the air.
We wake to the gentle lapping of waves and smell of frying bacon. Mrs Shaw-Yates cooks for all on an Aga and an age-defying 1934 gas stove in a kitchen so fossilised that it should have a preservation order on it. French doors open on to the blowsy garden that leads in turn to the beach and a view of the Solent, filled with constant movement, that makes the heart race. The Major from Fawlty Towers (or someone very like him) looks like he hasn't moved from the sitting room sofa in weeks.
Imagine the Thirties with a Sixties twist. Add melon boats, local lobster and profiteroles for dinner and kippers or sizzling fry-ups for breakfast. Expect Fifties china, chipped paint, Bakelite telephones and a daily list of all the cruise and container ships that glide past. Northbank really is an "astonishing anachronism" run by the same family for 50 years, with William, Michael's hands-on grown-up son, waiting patiently to make at least some improvements, when allowed. To say that the hotel has potential would be an understatement, but only the Shaw-Yates family can realise it: anyone else would ruin its fragile, endearing, shabby charm.
Northbank Hotel, Seaview (01983 612227; www.northbankhotel.co.uk) Open Easter to October. Doubles from £80 per night, including breakfast. Limited access for guests with disabilities.
Telegraph rating (out of five)