The Sportsman, Seasalter

October 19, 2010



Will you travel for a good meal? I’m sure you can guess that I will. Be it schlepping out to West London for some sushi or planning entire holidays around food, there had better be a decent feed at the end of it or I ain’t going.

I was supposed to visit The Sportsman last year but I’d finished my job a month earlier, was broke and ended up sobbing into my P45 as I saw my friends go off without me. A year later and things are almost back on an even keel. This meal was a present from my friend, to congratulate me on getting a new job – one that I really wanted.

We grabbed a cab from Faversham station, which is necessary, unless you want to drive. I’d heard that the pub was remote, but it took next to no time to arrive, and before we knew it we found ourselves waiting outside for staff to take pity on us – the first customers of the day. We’d pre-booked the tasting menu (you have to) for 9 people and settled in to let them show us the best the area has to offer, for this is what food at The Sportsman is all about.

Nothing pleases me more than a menu that starts with a bit of pig. When a pile of warm pork scratchings arrived, my no-drinking rule for the day went right out the window and I ordered a pint of Whitstable Bay as fast as possible. A crunchy piece of swine, a swill of beer. Repeat. Pickled herring pieces were also right up my strasse; firm, glistening meat and an acidity that shooed away any trace of fat from the scratchings. I was prepped for the oysters to come.

Two batches of natives followed in quick succession; the first, raw with a pea and ham combination and the second, wrapped with bacon and cooked: angels on horseback. Usually I don’t really dig a cooked oyster but these were the first I’ve ever enjoyed. Probably something to do with the pig.

The bread and butter: outstanding. A focaccia, a perfectly crusted white and the treacly, dark soda loaf which was one of the best breads I’ve ever eaten. I slathered it with their home-made unpasteurised butter and washed it down with a pint of  Shepherd Neame ‘Late Red’ ale at the suggestion of the waitress; “the beer is only available for 3 months at a time” she told me – it was spicy and autumnal, a brilliant match. She’d noticed that I enjoy my beer and made a suggestion which was absolutely spot on. Full marks.

A slip sole in local smoked salt and espelette pepper butter was almost perfect. The flesh cooked just so, the seasoned butter oozing amber over the plate. It was the prettiest food I’ve eaten in a very long time and so elegant that it made me sit up straight and pay attention to every last mouthful.

The owner and chef, Stephen Harris, enthused about the ‘beautiful seabass’ that had come in that morning. “Huge” he gestured with his hands, “this big.” We were served fillets of the mighty beast with a smoked herring roe sauce which wasn’t much cop in the looks department but tasted of the sea. The bass was a touch over-cooked, which was a shame; I find I rarely eat a perfectly cooked piece of seabass.

Breaded breast of lamb was a nibble, a single slice per person – I wished it was a course. The fatty meat rendered down, crumbed, crisped and served with a sweet mint sauce into which I found myself dunking scraps of stray white bread, pretending they were lamb breast.

Other highlights: a pear lollipop with ginger cake-milk, like a pear flavoured mini-milk crossed with a dip-dab minus the sherbert. With me? Okay, well everything should be dipped in cake milk. A creamy froth, like a Jamaica ginger cake milk-shake. I drained the dregs as if I were doing a shot.

Then a sugared plum came with ‘kernel ice cream’ – the plum kernels taste like almonds, and with the booze soaked cake alongside it had the flavours of an autumnal Bakewell tart.

I love what The Sportsman are trying to do. Un-fussed food, as perfectly cooked as possible but with the imagination and sense of fun that is so often missing for me in ‘high-end’ restaurants, or indeed in many restaurants, come to think about it. Some of our party remarked that the kitchen seemed off-kilter; I don’t know, I’ve not been before. What I can say is that I had a very relaxed, delicious and memorable meal – one that was definitely worth travelling for.

The Sportsman tasting menu costs £55 per person, which is extremely good value. To see the rest of my photos from the meal including their own cured ham; a mussel and bacon chowder and a roast rump and shoulder of lamb, go to my Flickr.

The Sportsman
Faversham Road
Kent CT5 4BP
Tel: 01227 273370

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  • Reply aforkfulofspaghetti October 20, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    *packs bags, leaves London*

    Great review, Helen. Definitely going to make that trip. And dip everything in cake milk in the meantime.

  • Reply Tweets that mention The Sportsman, Seasalter — Food Stories -- October 20, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FoodStories, Patrick Irvine and AnnyBaxter, aforkfulofspaghetti. aforkfulofspaghetti said: RT @FoodStories: New blog post: The Sportsman, Seasalter < read it and weep. Or just go. […]

  • Reply Gastro1 October 20, 2010 at 4:56 pm


    Wonderful post.

    Many people say this is one of the 3 best restaurants in the UK what is your view ?


  • Reply Helen October 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Hey Dino, Well it’s a bit tricky to say when most of my restaurant experience is London based. I haven’t been to enough to say I don’t think. What I can say though, is that I would definitely put it in my top ten. So there 😉

  • Reply girl paraphernalia October 21, 2010 at 1:39 am

    I like everything about each of these dishes, but, esp the oysters with (foam)? What kind is it?

  • Reply Helen October 21, 2010 at 8:09 am

    Hi, that’s the pea foam.

  • Reply Kavey October 21, 2010 at 10:56 am

    I remembe reading reviews of this last year but then, as my senile brain is wont to do, forgot all about it. Thanks for reminder, it looks marvellous.

  • Reply Mr Creosote October 21, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    I was in Whitstable myself not two weeks ago. And a beautiful day it was too.

    You could read about it here:

    Hope you don’t mind a shameless plug.

    Keep up the good work, excellent blog as always.

    Mr Creosote.

  • Reply An American in London October 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Congrats on your new job! I had a so-so time in Whitstable a few months ago, but it sounds like I ought to return to the area just so I can eat at the Sportsman.

  • Reply Stu_N October 21, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    I was watching Mark Gatiss’s History of Horror the other day — a bit of it was about Peter Cushing and his love of Whitstable, and it got me thinking it’d be an interesting place for a visit. And now I have an even better excuse!

  • Reply Essex Eating October 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Helen, so jealous. I’ve wanted to go to The Sportsman for ages. It’s always been fully booked when I wanted to go, and then the one time I finally had a table – events conspired against me and I had to cancel. One day.

  • Reply Sarah, Maison Cupcake October 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I’ve always meant to go here, it looks wonderful.

  • Reply ginandcrumpets October 24, 2010 at 11:50 am

    The Sportsman supplied me with one of my favourite meals this year. We ate a la carte, but your post reminds me how tremendously, tremendously important it is that I go back and have the tasting menu. I particularly want cake milk.

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