The Sportsman, Seasalter
The Sportsman is one of those restaurants that when you first go, you think you’ve come across a hidden gem and in many ways it still is. Genuinely in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by pretty but barren fields, you would only know this place if you’re a local dog walker or through a kind friend who was willing to share. However you find it though, it bloody well is an absolute gem!
The very un-intimidating front showing a humble pub sign, a small conservatory and around the corner slightly, a large window to the kitchen, not to display the chefs at work but just for the purpose of any other regular window. When you arrive and see this modesty, you think on the inside it’ll be the exact opposite, that they’re luring you into a false sense of comfort and ease. (Be aware; the tasting menu only has two sittings each day and they firmly do not open their doors before 12pm so it can get a little breezy waiting up in the hills during the colder months, as interesting as watching chefs are.)
Stepping in through the conservatory, it really is just a lovely, modern and comfortable pub inside - which despite it’s star, it still is at it’s core. That false sense of ease, wasn’t false at all. They have a rotation of art around the place, showcasing some local artists of which all pieces are for sale. The staff help add to the relaxed environment by possibly being the calmest I’ve ever come across, always knowing in full detail and with quiet confidence the dishes they’re presenting to you.
The tasting menu takes full advantage of the seasons and the local Kent produce, including local Thames Estuary oysters and very local produce grown in their own garden. The tasting menu is also a steal at £50 per person, which although will state around five courses, with some snacks and sometimes an ingredient done three ways, you often look at around eight plus courses - not that quantity even matters in a place like this!
To start, amuse bouche does exactly what they’re supposed to, being so wonderfully small and having such a punch in the face of flavour, you wonder how it’s even possible at all from a thing so unassuming and neatly packaged. The first, a cheese and onion biscuit and it blew us away, getting us excited for what was next to come but also not wanting that mouthful to end. The homemade cheese biscuit crumbled instantly in a buttery oaty mound, whilst the brown onion paste created all the moisture needed with a touch of sweetness for balance.
As the Estuary is so nearby, oysters and fish are always on the menu no matter the time of year, this time allowing us to experience some fantastic brill, crab, and raw oyster with rhubarb ice, to name a few. Also included this time were two very suitable asparagus dishes; a very pretty asparagus tart and a chilled asparagus soup with a touch of curry powder on top for bite.
As we are supposed to be in Spring, the meat course was lamb cooked three ways with a charred spring onion, half a teaspoon of creamy potato puree and vegetables. All sat in a delicate puddle of gorgeous lamb gravy. They also provided a pot on the side of their homemade mint sauce, which I did try. I’m not a mint sauce person often finding it too sweet and overpowering over a lamb roast but to no surprise, the mint sauce here is nothing like the gloopy stuff out of the jar. Cleverly extracting all the freshness from the mint leaves, a little sweetness and finished with a sharp tang, it embodied the definition of a condiment.
To finish, we had two/three desserts, the first having a focus on rhubarb with seaweed powder in two versions, and the last, a bramley apple souffle with salted caramel ice cream. Bramley apples, or any green apples, aren’t ever my go-to variety but they had managed to get all of the good juice, leaving behind (or hiding) the bad stuff and created a tangy and sharp pillowy delight.
Unlike most Michelin restaurants, the wine list here is truly valuable and reasonable. No bottle is over £100, with a good variety of grapes, regions and vintages - they know what their customers want. They don’t offer a wine paired dinner, which is always a lovely add on but rather an indulgence and one that could possibly take away from the simplicity of this place.
Another one of my favourite restaurants, and definitely up in the top three for those outside of London. Book now to go in November (I’m not kidding) and you’ll find the 6 month wait fly by with a very special treat at the end.