As soon as I heard about The Sportsman at Seasalter I wanted to go there. It's a Michelin-starred gastropub just along the coast from Whitstable (think oysters etc) that claims to source as much as possible from the locality, even making their own salt and butter. Refreshingly unfussy and informal. What's more, the wine list is dominated by bottles under £30, priced according to what they feel their local clientele is happy to pay. A breath of fresh air in many ways.
Seated at a bear wooden table, we were struck by the simple decor. Displayed on the walls are paintings available for sale – but not many would tempt you. That's not what you're there for, though, as a glance at the blackboards displaying the menu and wine list reminds you. The Sportsman is all about the food and was full of happy diners. As we were there at the weekend, it wasn't possible to have chef Steve Harris's renowned tasting menu which is only available during the week, however, there was plenty to tempt us.
A selection of bread and their excellent butter was brought to the table while we decided what to have. My husband selected slipsole grilled in seaweed butter and I went for poached rock oysters with pickled cucumber and Avruga caviar. We kept to fish and seafood, following on with seared thornback ray, brown butter, cockles and sherry vinegar dressing for Nathan and brill fillet braised in vin jaune and smoked pork for me. Our bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe blanc 2009 Domaine du Vieux Cazaret turned out to be a bit heavy with the more subtle starters, but came into its own with the main courses. Nathan's slipsole was surprisingly meaty and flavoursome which contrasted nicely with the saline, rich and nutty sauce (the seaweed had, apparently, been dried before being crumbled into the sauce). My oysters were creamy and briny, having only been lightly cooked. The cucumber and caviar added freshness and further complexity. Gorgeous.
The main courses were better still. Nathan's thornback ray with cockles had so many interesting elements and was expertly cooked, but, despite not looking as interesting or multifaceted, my brill was a stunning dish. The sauce was decadently rich and complex, with the balancing tang of the vin jaune, and the smoked pork belly provided a crispy meaty texture and gutsy flavour in contrast to the tender fish. It really worked. The Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe, warming, with ripe nutty fruit, was a satisfying wintery choice for these dishes.
Nathan finished off with coffee and whisky trifle and I had the light, pillowy warm chocolate mousse, salted caramel and milk sorbet, both with Taylor's 20 year old tawny. Aged tawny port is a versatile choice for chocolatey desserts and here, with the salted caramel, it couldn't be happier. And neither could we – particularly when the bill arrived for just over £100. Highly recommended – but you need to book well in advance.
Tel 01227 273370