Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Sportsman

"Simply excellent: go, eat, smile." Man of Kent
To find The Sportsman, you need to trek out of Whitstable, a couple of miles across the bleak mudflats to Seasalter. The pub may look rather weather-beaten from the outside, but the views from the beach and sea wall are impressive – in a blustery, bracing kind of way.

Inside, all is warm, cheerful and cosy, with bare boards, plain wooden tables and a few local landscape photos adding a touch of colour. The place has a genuine pub atmosphere, although everyone is here for the food these days.

Chef Steve Harris is happy to take inspiration from top London restaurants, but the results are very much his own and he has picked up a Michelin star for his efforts. There is plenty of self-reliant enterprise at work here: Steve cures his own hams, churns his own butter and even produces his own sea salt along the way. Local fish gets a good airing on the daily blackboard menu in the shape of rock oysters with slices of hot chorizo, poached smoked haddock with curried carrot sauce, braised brill fillet with mussel tartare and the like.

Meat eaters could focus on satisfying dishes such as coq au vin, crispy duck with smoked chilli salsa and sour cream and braised pork belly stuffed with black pudding and crackling. Those with a sweet tooth are likely to revel in rhubarb sorbet with burnt cream or jasmine tea junket with rosehip syrup and breakfast crunch. Tasting menus (Tue-Fri lunch and dinner) are worth exploring, and the wine list is full of interesting tipples at keen prices.
There’s a lot to admire about Steve Harris’s cooking. He has developed his own style which is a sophisticated form of the new no-frills British cooking – curing his own hams, churning his own butter, even making his own sea salt – while working with local farms to produce first-rate pork, lamb and chicken. The pub, too, has its own style: tucked away in marsh and farm land a couple of miles from touristy Whitstable, it’s a large, shabby building, full of light and big plain wooden tables.

But with the kitchen rising a good couple of notches both in scope and quality of cooking, the Sportsman must now be treated as a serious restaurant, albeit one where ordering at the bar is de rigueur and napkins remain resolutely paper. The short blackboard menu offers an intriguing array of dishes, from smoked mackerel on Bramley apple jelly with soda bread, or perfect pork terrine to some fine and original cooking in main courses, with proper appreciation of the importance of flavour: the combination of a smoked herring roe sauce with a perfectly timed fillet of brill ‘was inspired’, and reporters continue to endorse the never-off-the menu crispy duck with chilli salsa, sour cream and ‘excellent roast potatoes’. Desserts, no less inventive, include rhubarb sorbet served with burnt cream or a strawberry ice lolly with cake milk and elderflower foam. Service is laid back; house wines are £11.95.
As well as being a proper ‘local’, with views over the surrounding marshes - and very popular with walkers - this pub (run by the same team as the Granville at Lower Hardres) offers top-quality food. Don't be put off by the rather battered look - this comes from being so close to the sea. But once inside, you’ll find scrubbed pine tables, bare floorboards and local artwork – all giving a pleasant rustic feel.

Food is sourced locally, whenever possible, and you’ll find this chalked-up on a board. Lighter dishes or starters include the likes of ‘Bresaola’ (thinly-sliced cured beef); ‘Ham Terrine’; home-smoked Eel and of course Oysters in one way or another (perhaps with hot Chorizo).

For something more substantial, shades of Nico Ladenis with ‘Braised Fillet of Brill with Vin Jaune and Morels’; ‘Crispy Duck with Smoked Chili Salsa and Sour Cream’; ‘Braised Shoulder of Salt-Marsh Lamb’ or seasonal game. Fish is always a strong suit. Desserts might include ‘Crème Brulée’, 'Brioche with Strawberries'; ‘Chocolate Tart’ home-made sorbets and the like. Their home-made breads aren’t to be missed
Although it's not far from trendy Whitstable, Seasalter seems a hundred miles from the bustling Kentish town. The Sportsman, hidden away at the far end of the village on the fringes of the marshes, appears desolate & run down at first glance - but ignore the shabby exterior. Inside, the coastal light sweeps through an airy room with scrubbed tables decorated with jars of fresh wildflowers.

Fresh-baked breads are brought to diners while they wait for their meals, & the malty taste of a delicious soda bread hints at pleasures to come. Enormous oysters - served au naturel or jazzed up with hot, spicy slices of chorizo - are a great way to kick off the meal. Mains might include a fork-tender belly of pork atop a mound of creamy mash or simply seared fish fresh from the day's catch - it depends on what's in season that day. Leave room for one of the superb puddings.
A: Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent, CT5 4BP
T: (01227) 273370

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