One of the loveliest settings for a meal in England

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.

Bread and olives

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.

Oysters and chorizo

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.

Pickled herring

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.

Pork terrine

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.

Halibut braised in vin juane with smoked pork belly

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.

Crispy duck with smoked chilli salsa and sour cream

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.

Intermission calvados

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.

Chocolate mousse

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?).

Coffees and brownies

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.

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Tagged with: KentSeasalter

24 Responses to The Sportsman, Seasalter

  1. I’ve always meant to eat here, I can see from above that I would not be disappointed. My in-laws do that weird thing with the soap – amongst other odd habits.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      It’s always good to conserve soap resources – you never know when you’ll have a hygiene emergency.

      I don’t think you’d be at all disappointed at The Sportsman. The food is brilliantly cooked and they surely know about flavour. Won’t knock your socks off, but it will be a pleasure to linger over.

  2. fran says:

    Lovely review of one of my favourite places! So glad you had a good meal there.

  3. Cathy Shore says:

    A delicious sounding lunch – the kind of thing we miss living in France. Feeling a bit envious but then I guess we have our plusses out here too!

  4. Gav says:

    Ahhh jealous, I wanted to go over the Easter weekend but the weather put me off. Will definitely have to rectify that!

    Halibut looks too good!

  5. Chris says:

    I’ve been literally dreaming about the Sportsman since my last visit. I am DEFINITELY going again this year.

    Also, I quite liked the chorizo with oysters dish, but I seem to remember the chorizo we had were much smaller, like tiny little salty buttons.

  6. ginandcrumpets says:

    @fran Thank you!

    @Cathy I think living in France does have a few plus points when it comes to eating out! And The Sportsman is on the Kentish coast, you could swim across for lunch.

    @Gav Halibut was really good – a perfect piece of fish. We were blessed with sunshine on Tuesday but I reckon it’s worth heading too even in the lashing rain. Then there’s no sense that you should go for a sea walk afterwards. More drinking time.

    @Chris They were quite big bits of chorizo. You can see in the picture that one chunk was about the same size as the oyster. If it was there as seasoning and as a bit of contrasting texture/heat, then probably good. When they are both the same side then they fight a bit. I would like to eat a massive plate of that chorizo.

  7. Lizzie says:

    Glad you liked it, even if you weren’t entirely convinced by the combinations. In general I thought they did fish far better than their meatier dishes (though they were far from bad). I am really looking forward to returning later this year.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Everything was expertly cooked and everything has the most amazing flavours – the pork was really porky, the ducky exceptionally ducky, it was just occasionally that I didn’t get why the 2 things had been put together. They never were more than the sum of the parts. But saying that, what parts!

  8. Rahul says:

    You maybe the only other person in England (besides moi) who likes grappa. Or I’ve been hanging with the wrong crowd. Great pictures.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      Nothing solves a spot of eating too much like grappa. It’s a burning digestive kick start and I couldn’t manage without it.

  9. Greedy Diva says:

    I desperately want to try this place, but it requires some planning. If ever I needed more inspiration, that choc mousse just provided it.

  10. The more I read about this place the more I want to go – your photos are BRILLIANT as well

  11. these pictures just go on and on and it all looks great. i am jealous.

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      It’s just a train ride away – or several convoluted train rides if you go from Greenwich, like Leonard and I did. Or, apparently, it’s a very short drive from South London.

  12. oli says:

    Sounds like you ordered better than I did – had a good Sunday lunch there a couple of months ago but it was not worth travelling the distance for. Tip to any day trippers – combine with the extraordinary Margate Shell Grotto

    • ginandcrumpets says:

      The more meals I have since The Sportsman, the more I realise just how skilled and excellent the cooking is there. The Margate Shell Grotto sounds too intriguing to miss, so I’m going to have to go back so I can see that and have more halibut.

  13. Niamh says:

    I’ve got to go! 🙂 Lovely review.

  14. Ian says:

    Went here for a birthday meal two weeks ago, service good, food excellent, wine good value but my gripe…We had seabass and at £22 it was the smallest piece of fish I have had EVER, and Ive eaten at the Ritz, Ramseys, and other top star establishments. The Sea Bass was overpriced and put us off a bit seeing a fresh filet cost £1.59 from our local fishmongers three times the size it was quite outrageous and I dont see how they can justyfy the price. Should have been £16/17 top wack

  15. Tom says:

    With farmed seabass usually costing £18 to £20 per kilo, and good fresh bass often going for more than that, I wonder what your local fishmonger was selling.

    £1.59 should get you about 3oz of fish at present market rates, unless it’s not quite right…

  16. Ian says:

    The point is the fish dish was overpriced, went to Marco P Whites Thursday had seabass £16.50! and bigger helping

  17. […] of the month: One of my meals of the year was at The Sportsman in Seasalter. Leonard and I took a day’s holiday in order to slowly chug down to the south coast and spend […]

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