- Food & Drink
People interrupt thrift differently. Some people patch clothes, some shop at Lidl, some squidge the leftover bits of soap together to make a new soap. I cancel a weekend break in Genova and suggest lunch at The Sportsman instead.
It’s this kind of money management that lead to Leonard and I cruising to the seaside on Tuesday. Settling at an enormous table with a sherry and a 1/2 of bitter, we entered into intense menu negotiations (“If I have the herring, will you have the pork? What if I have the bresaola?”).
After a stand-off over the smoked salmon, we reached a state of harmonious agreement, the first round of booze taking effect, and sat back, chewing on firm green olives and wondering which slice of bread to butter first.
The breads were magnificent. “This focaccia as good as anything you’d eat in Genova,” said Leonard, proving that The Sportsman is the perfect swap for a weekend away in Italy. She then demonstrated how much she liked the focaccia by eating almost all of it, something I will not forget in a hurry.
It had a crunchy salt and rosemary crust, and the sourdough was equally blessed with a chewy crust and toothsome crumb. The dark soda bread was rich and malty and I briefly regretted my stand on the smoked salmon and soda bread starter.
As a pre-starter, I ordered 2 oysters with chorizo. An unfortunate bouillabaisse has left Leonard afraid of things that swim, slide, crawl and wriggle in the sea. After sniffing the oysters, she declared herself out of the running, so I had to eat both (hadn’t planned that at all).
The soft, briny oysters were topped with a warm chunk of salty chorizo and chewing them was like rolling a Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper around your mouth. It’s warm, firm meat. No, it’s slippery, wet oyster. Hang on, meat again.
Both elements were good, but I don’t know that they gave much to each other. The chorizo dominated the flavour, the oyster stood out in the texture front but the combination didn’t make me want more oyster-textured chorizo in my life. A plate of each separately, along with the breads, would have been unparalleled joy and we could have gone straight home afterwards.
For my real starter I had pickled herrings and cabbage salad and again there was a lovely use of texture. Firm chunks of herring sat on top of soft, shredded beetroot and cabbage salads, all zinging with sour vinegar. A little heap of crunchy toasted breadcrumbs and a puddle of smooth, mild mustard finished this classic set off perfectly.
Leonard had pork terrine; coarse chunks of pork set in amber jelly and wrapped in cabbage leaves. It really, really tasted like pork – so much so, that we wondered if it was, in fact, a clever pork facsimile made with powerful artificial pig flavourings. We loved it, especially piled onto the toast with the contrasting crunchy pork scratchings, tender gherkins and exceptionally mustardy wholegrain mustard.
I’d gone fish mad and ordered the halibut fillet braised in vin juane with smoked pork belly for my main. An expertly cooked piece of halibut sat on top of a rack of sturdy asparagus spears soaking in a lemony white wine sauce light enough to convince you it wasn’t a liquid heart attack (it was).
I wasn’t sure about the smoked pork belly at first bite, it’s a strong flavour to add to such a heap of girly delicacy. But it bought a snuffling hint of the barnyard to the dish that anchored the more feathery aspects and made it easier to suck down the rich, creamy sauce.
Leonard had crispy duck with smoked chilli salsa and sour cream. The duck was Donald in its duckiness and the salsa was eye-wideningly tomatoey. We mused on where they could have got such über tomatoes at this time of year, or in Britain generally.
Everything on the plate was blindingly well cooked but, like the oysters and chorizo, the question of whether they were really happy together lingered at the back of our minds, and the purpose of the sour cream was uncertain. It was directionless dairy and no one would’ve missed it. The roast potatoes, on the other hand, made us slap the table with pleasure.
Our waitress approached the table, held up the dessert menu and said: “Ta daaaaaah!” We said: “Do you have any grappa?” Quite rightly, she said no and 2 intermission glasses of calvados were rustled up instead.
20 minutes later we were ready to tackle dessert. I say ready, we weren’t hungry at all but, dammit, we hadn’t come all this way to fall at the final hurdle.
I ordered the dark chocolate mousse with milk sorbet and salted caramel sauce. Following the instruction to “dig deep” I plunged my spoon in and came up with a helping of chocolate mousse so dark it was night, cool, creamy milk sorbet and dish lickingly good salty caramel sauce. Wonderful.
Leonard had the cream cheese ice cream with pear purée, meringue and ginger cake crumbs, which she liked but I found a bit bland (who wouldn’t after eating a spoonful of my dessert?).
We finished with 2 macchiatos. They came with little chunks of brownie that were black holes of denseness. Over 3 hours after we’d arrived, we rolled out into the sunshine and marched up and down the beach, remembering all the great things we’d eaten.
The bill for all of the above and a bottle of pinot noir came to £104, not including service (which was relaxed, friendly and funny). I took a day off work to eat lunch here and I’d do it again. It’s a great pub for lingering on sunny days, ideal for idle groups and conversation.