THE SPORTSMAN: I DO LIKE TO BE BESIDE THE SEASIDE
The Native Oyster Season has only a few weeks to run. For me, when they’re on form, they’re the finest natural product these shores can produce. I like them so much that when I’ve just eaten a dozen and am asked what I’d like for dessert my usual response is “another dozen, please”. Greedy ? Certainly - so shoot me - but you need to get them while you can.
Much as I enjoy slurping them in the finest places in London (Bentley’s is the best in my opinion) there’s nothing like a little trip to the coast to eat them at the source. So when my gastronaut chums, Sam and Scott, invited me down to The Sportsman one Saturday I didn’t need much persuading.
I try and visit The Sportsman at least once a year. I’d like to visit more often but it’s becoming ever more difficult to secure a table at the weekend. They could break their one sitting rule I suppose and try and cram in more people but to their credit they haven’t. A really refreshing attitude in a industry where the first thoughts after opening a successful restaurant seems to be how the concept can be rolled out.
For those who haven’t visited (and if not, why not ?), Stephen Harris’s cooking is some of the most enjoyable to be found in the UK. There is an apparent simplicity to the cooking which allows the quality of the ingredients to shine through. I say apparent because when you taste the food you realise there’s a lot of skill and intelligence at work in this kitchen.
Take for instance an amuse of a half-dozen Oysters. Three were the beautifully sweet local natives and the rest had a sliver of the home-cured ham and a little apple juice. Normally, I like my Oysters unadorned but had to admit that the dressed ones worked very well: you got the saltiness from the bivalve and meat followed by a wave of sweetness and a little tartness from the apple. Other dishes similarly delivered layered hits of flavour. Very clever but not clever clever.
Unlike many tasting menus which become a sequence of expensive ingredients in over-reduced sauces and which pall long before you’ve had your second pre-dessert/little something from the kitchen, the one at The Sportsman keeps your tastebuds titillated so you’re always keen and ready for the next course.
And for a very relaxed three hours (have I mentioned they don’t turn tables here ?) the courses kept coming. Scallops, prepared in three ways: wrapped in hot, salty, crispy, Lardo; simply cooked in seaweed-enriched butter and – my favourite - as a delicate Carpaccio with Turbot Roe.
Impossibly intense Chicken Liver Parfait with Mushroom Carpaccio. That ham. Perfectly cooked Turbot. Lamb Belly done in the St Ménéhoulde way. A hunk of Larry simply served with a rosemary-scented jus. Desserts galore including a clever crumble dish.
If ever there was a place for London foodies jaded with the identikit and mediocre offerings of the capital then The Sportsman is it. It really does refresh the parts that other restaurants cannot reach. And those fanatics who live by the local and seasonal mantra need only look out of the window to see their main course (see photo 1).