the sportsman, seasalter, kent


we’ve just spent a wonderful day by the sea – a trip to whitstable on the north kent coast followed by lunch at the sportsman in nearby seasalter.

the sportsman was on my list of places to try as a result of being runner-up in the best sunday lunch category in the recent observer food magazine awards. opened in 1999, sourcing food locally from the start (current suppliers are listed on their website), this gastropub is well worth a visit. chef stephen harris is self-taught and makes a point of visiting other restaurants and adopts flourishes that he particularly likes. more of which later.

given our location i had to start with oysters. rock oysters with hot chorizo to be precise. the flavours were fantastic – the initial tangy brine which was soon followed by the sweet smoky chorizo.

my starter proper was bresaola which was served with beetroot in a light creamy horseradish dressing. this was good with rich, fresh flavours, but sadly not as delicious as david’s warm crab risotto. a rich dish, full of flavour from the brown crab meat and with a parmesan backdrop, this was superb. i’ve no idea how i will recreate the depth of flavour (decent stock will no doubt be important but i don’t even know if you can make crab stock…answers on a postcard please!) but i definitely want to try.

my main course was billed as crispy duck, smoked chilli salsa and sour cream. i had no idea how they would make that combination work so i decided to try it and find out. the duck was perfectly cooked, on the bone, and served atop some cabbage with crispy roast potatoes on the side with the salsa and sour cream. as for the combination – it didn’t work at all and i resigned myself to eating the duck and vegetables with piles of the excellent olivey rosemary bread that we had been provided with. david chose slow baked organic salmon with watercress sauce and mash. a more traditional combination that was delicious and worked well.

and then we came to the puddings. they were superb - if you visit you must leave space for them.

my choice was rhubarb sorbet and burnt cream. the sorbet, which was that perfect rhubarb pink, was as good as it gets. it contained popping candy (a la heston blumenthal), which perfectly complemented the intense rhubarb flavour. it was lovely watching the young girl at the table next to us discover this and then try to decide whether to share her discovery with her dining companions or keep it to herself. she didn’t share, naturally! alongside it was a small glass of an intensely lemony cream and the superb vanilla-flavoured burnt cream (crème brûlée).

david chose warm chocolate mousse with salted caramel and milk sorbet. another excellent pudding. the mousse was very light - a thick foaming liquid in texture - with the salted caramel along the bottom and a ball of delicately flavoured milk sorbet in the middle. somehow this pudding wasn’t at all rich which was a relief after a heavy meal. all pudding dishes were scraped clean.

accompanying all this we had a bottle of the beautifully dry tahbilk marsanne (australia, 2004). this was recommended for us – as we placed the food order at the bar, the question of what we should drink was answered by a thoughtful expression, a statement about the complexity of matching our food choices to a single bottle of wine and three suggestions, at varying price levels.

this was one of the most thoughtful pieces of wine advice i’ve ever had in a restaurant, and done in such a way that the wine novice could feel comfortable and engage in making an informed choice, but with extra layers of information so that connoisseurs could get into things in more depth.

we had a wonderful meal, despite the duff notes of my main course and, as we said as we drove back to london, if we lived locally it’s be the sort of place you’d visit many times over. despite the distance, i still hope to return before too long.

our food and wine cost £72.75, service not included.

the portsman

faversham road, seasalter, whitstable, kent ct5 4pb

01227 273 370