When asked where we could meet outside of London for a meal, I suggested The Sportsman at Seasalter, Kent, a pub/restaurant I’ve been wanting to visit for ages, to my friend. The date was duly set and the restaurant booked (though not far ahead enough to order their famous tasting menu) and off we went recently for a lunch by the sea. I was very lucky that my friends had a vehicle to take us there – it’s only about an hour’s drive out of London. Otherwise, it would have been a train to Whitstable and then a taxi to the restaurant…or should I say pub? There’s nothing on its exterior that would give any indication of the delicious food they serve inside. It really looked like any other pub along the narrow, winding road – well, perhaps apart from the number of cars parked outside.
Inside it does still look like most pubs, albeit a pub with quite a bit of seating for dining. We were welcomed at the bar by the very kind Phil Harris, one of two brothers who own the place (his brother Steve was in the kitchen along with head chef Dan Flavell). As a bit of a geek myself, it was fascinating to learn that Phil’s hobby is building computers that play chess as evinced by one of the trompe l’oeil paintings in the conservatory and the large rook piece used to hold open the front door to let the breeze in.
At The Sportsman, unlike many pubs, almost all the meat and produce is sourced locally and their menu changes daily based on what is available. It’s certainly quite the place to visit if you enjoy your food as the many reviews it’s got signifies. If you’re curious to see them, I’ve uploaded the a la carte and dessert menus for that day onto Flickr.
Soon after we sat down, homemade bread and butter were brought out, along with some delicious, plump, green olives. The focaccia style bread was studded with caramelised onions and the brown sourdough had the most amazing crust but our favourite was the dark brown soda bread that had a sweet maltiness from the addition of molasses. Absolutely gorgeous stuff and I’m still thinking about it. We tried our best not to fill up on that bread.
To start, I had to try their Slip Sole Grilled in Seaweed Butter, a dish I’d heard lots about. It was exactly what it was and its preparation highlighted the freshness of the fish and well, the deliciousness of the butter. So good, so tender, so I want more please.
My friend tried their Chilled Beetroot Soup which looked absolutely beautiful and tasted absolutely stunning. Again, simple but very well executed. (If all beetroot preparations tasted like this, I might be more of a fan.)
I sought Phil’s opinion on what I should have for my main course and he suggested the Roast Belly of Monkshill Farm Pork with Crackling and Apple Sauce. Yes, oh yes, I do like me some pork belly and this was amazing. The top of the tender belly had the finest piece of crackling I’d ever had in a restaurant. Again, this was seemingly so simple but Phil then told us that they confit their pork belly in goose fat…. so yeah, not so simple really! And the apple sauce too: I was scraping that little potful clean. (Apologies, we started tucking into our main courses before I remembered to take a photo!)
It was the Crispy Duck, Smoked Chilli Salsa and Sour Cream for my friend. He thoroughly enjoyed it! I had a bit of a taste and it was indeed delicious with the most fabulous looking roast potatoes.
Again with Phil’s recommendation, we split a Jasmine Tea Junket, Raspberries and Flapjack Crumbs for dessert. I knew a junket was set milk and actually, of all the desserts listed, this was the only one I didn’t get particularly excited about when reading its description. But still, gotta try everything once, right? I’m glad I did; this junket was a wibbly wobbly treat. It wasn’t too sweet nor too milky and was infused with a lovely jasmine tea flavour. The flapjack crumbs on top gave it a lovely textural contrast and the raspberries added a sweet and sour hit. It was a beautiful dessert.
After the fabulous lunch, we did explore the immediate surrounding area (lots of grassy marshland) and found it to be perfect for a post-lunch walk (well, apart from the fact that we had to go a little further on down the road to gain access to the beach).
I’ve got to get back there with Blai one day and we definitely need to try their tasting menu. And from what Phil’s told me, I have to aim for autumn when the pears are in season (Well, he didn’t lead me astray that day!).
Kent CT5 4BP