It’s picked up a sackful of awards in recent years, but The Sportsman “hasn’t been spoiled by its celebrity” – so writes a fan of this unlikely Michelin-starred roadside pub overlooking the bleak Kent marshes.
We reckon the best way to arrive is to walk along the coast from nearby Whitstable – this way, you’ll have worked up an appetite for portions that “aren’t too stingy”. Don’t just drop in on the offchance, however; such is The Sportsman’s fame that tables should be booked far in advance, especially at the weekend.
Shabby-chic interiors, mismatched farmhouse furnishings, blackboard menus and real ales set the proper-pub tone and you’re still expected to order at the bar, but congenial laid-back service adds to the charm of the place and the cooking is never less than “sublime”.
Maverick chef Stephen Harris is a champion of local sourcing and self-sufficiency who bakes bread, cures fish, churns butter and even produces his own sea salt. Yes, it may sound “weird” and homespun, but the food hits the heights without ever seeming overly fussy.
We’re fans of the memorable book-in-advance tasting menu (a procession of pitch-perfect seasonal delicacies), but the daily carte also yields pleasures aplenty. Given the pub’s location right by the Thames Estuary, fish and seafood is a strength. The local Whitstable oysters are served on the shell as natives while rocks are poached with apple and seaweed or pickled cucumber and avruga caviar. Thornback ray comes with brown butter, cockles and sherry vinegar dressing, while braised turbot gets a mussel and bacon tartare.
Meat isn’t neglected, though. Smoked maple-cured pork loin with chorizo sauce, roast saddle of lamb with mint sauce and roast chicken with sausage and truffle cream sauce make it feel like Sunday lunch whatever day of the week it is.
For afters, there might be a nostalgic combo of jasmine-tea junket with rosehip syrup or a textbook raspberry soufflé with ripple ice cream. A final word on value from one reader: “you may not be getting the luxury and style that many starred restaurants provide, but you aren’t paying for it either”.