IN THE SUMMER ALL THE SWELLS
JOIN IN THE SEARCH FOR SUN AND SAND
I love cities in general and London, my home for the last thirty years or so, in particular. True, the public transport system is unreliable and always seems on the point of complete breakdown, but the excitement, the history, the sense of the possible (not forgetting the jellied eels) more than compensate and make it one of the greatest places on Earth.
From time to time though it does all become a bit much and I need to wind down and get out of the City, if only for a few hours. As someone who hardly ventures out of areas of London without an E in the postcode this would be difficult for me but friends whose opinions I trust told me that Whitstable would be the perfect place for a day trip and that at The Sportsman I would have a nice lunch. And so it proved.
After a swift and surprisingly painless train ride I arrived at a very windy Whitstable station. A brisk walk brought me to the bustling high street where I seemed to have gone through that time portal again (see my visit to Norfolk). Tea Shoppes a plenty, no Starbucks and nice Mr Ahmed still running Light of The Raj Tandoori and a Farmers Market where people were actually buying stuff. Gasp.
It was heady stuff so I ducked into the nearest shop which happened to be a place called Wheeler’s. They had a fine selection of smoked seafood and a lovely looking bowl of jellied eels but I showed some restraint and went for a couple of Whitstable Native oysters. These were up there with the best oysters I have ever had with a clean, fresh, slightly briny aftertaste that goes on and on and on like the finest wine.
I was warned by several locals not to attempt to walk to the Sportsman (“it’s at least three miles”) . I walked anyway but it’s the boredom of going past so many prefabs, bungalows and caravan parks that gets to you rather than the distance. The last half a mile though, along the sea wall, presents a very pleasant vista and if the wind is blowing anything like it did will clear away those big city cobwebs very effectively.
The Sportsman is at the end of a seawall and I was very happy to plonk myself down at the bar with a pint of Shepherd Neame’s Porter feeling all windswept and interesting. I discussed the menu with genial host Philip Harris and sat down while brother Stephen did the business in the kitchen. .
The excellent homemade foccacia and sourdough bread served with briny Lucque olives was more than the afterthought it is in some restaurants. More of those briny sweet native oysters, which went very well with a ½ bottle of Pol Roger, was a very good start to the meal proper.
Great ingredients, cooked simply is a bit of a cliché but still holds true. This was evident my next two courses of a dense, chunky Pork Terrine served with a little quail’s egg and the Thornback Ray served with cockles and moistened by brown butter and aged sherry vinegar. There was even room for a little light-heartedness with a signature dish of rhubarb sorbet with space dust served with a demitasse of burnt cream.
After some decent coffee and brownies I was in the mood for a little ‘something’ extra and not just because I’d had so many oysters. Luckily they didn’t specialise in any clear, wine industry by-products so I settled for a taxi to whisk me back to the station (the thought of the wind and those caravans was too much).
Back in the Megalopolis again I went into a pub and watched a dire England performance. As I walked back home I slipped in some one’s puke. Whitstable seemed a long time ago.