THE SPORTSMAN REDUX
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Just under a year ago I visited and subsequently raved about The Sportsman a restaurant in Seasalter near Whitstable. As they had recently received their first Michelin Star a return visit seemed like a good idea and since I could visit during the week I could try out their tasting menu which is not available at weekends. In a very relaxed and enjoyable environment I had a meal that it will be difficult to better until I return here. Chef Stephen Harris really does know his cooking chops.
What impresses me most about the food at The Sportsman is that everything tastes of itself. There is no obfuscation that you might get at lesser places, no gussying up or overworking of ingredients. So even in the little starters the Breast of Lamb St Ménéhoulde with a little mint sauce was intensely lamby and the little pork scratchings with apple sauce intensely…well you get the idea. This food really presses, sorry, pounds all my buttons.
Tasting menus can be deadly dull: a succession of dishes that you don’t feel much effort or passion has gone into. They begin to pall after three or four courses and you just want to get the whole thing over with. Here, you’re always eager for the next course.
After the little amuses there’s a cup of chowder – perfect for when there’s a bit of a chill in the air – thick with bacon and mussels and sprinkled with chives and a powder made from dried scallop roe.
A conversation with Emma and Philip, who handle FOH with friendliness and professionalism, was interrupted by an interesting smell. Now I’m partial to aged hams (think Spanish Jamón Ibérico de Bellota or Meryl Streep) but the depth of taste, complexity and sheer hamminess (sorry) of this 18 month Salt Cured Ham was amazing. A little goes a very long way.
There’s technique on show too. A spankingly fresh fillet of Brill was cooked just to the point where the flesh becomes opaque, in other words perfectly. So many restaurants fail to get this right. Two large hunks of Sirloin came evenly rare in the middle with a good char on the outside. The small seams of fat in the beef making it a lot tastier than this cut usually is. Excellent greens and well-judged sauces (the smoked herring roe sauce with the fish being particularly good) made these into dishes that would stand alone as main courses from the alc at other restaurants. There’s even a little Tatar of Brill which comes with a soya foam on top for those people who like that sort of thing. I’m not fussed particularly, but it was delicious.
Amongst all the serious stuff there’s a fun element too. A blood-orange lolly came in what was billed as cake milk, the latter component taking me back to when I was small and my mother let me lick the mixing bowl.
If we hadn’t had an Industrial Revolution there would probably be a lot more places like The Sportsman in the UK. But we did and there aren’t. There’s nothing to stop any other budding chef/restaurateurs though trying to emulate what Stephen Harris is doing here which would a very good idea indeed.
And if all the great food, booze and conversation wasn't enough they even arranged for one of the nice women who served me to ferry this ageing flâneur back to Faversham train station. Now how's that for service.