The Sportsman

Seasalter, Kent

Our cabbie has clearly made this trip a gazillion times. Collect hungry folk from Whitstable station, take a left at the sea and hug the coast for two miles past oyster sheds and caravans to what even its owner calls ‘a grotty rundown pub’. Seasalter is an unlikely spot for a Michelin-starred restaurant and The Sportsman looks unexceptional. The food, we discover, is not.

Chef-patron Stephen Harris made his money in the City, fell in love with high-end restaurants and bought a boozer back home to recreate those flavours. Not for him, though, the folderol of London. At The Sportsman you’ll find naked tables, paper napkins, and a wine list so reasonable it evokes instant good will. Everything’s local – salt from the beach, seafood from Whitstable, meat and veg from surrounding farms and gardens. This year marks its 20th anniversary and Harris’s honest food has held a Michelin star since 2008.

The tasting menu (£70) can be 15 dishes and three hours long. We begin at the bar with Gusbourne Estate Blanc de Blancs – English fizz at £54.95 – before being seated. Three oysters appear, nestled on cockleshells, then bread and home-churned butter with Seasalter sea salt. Harris suggests Picpoul de Pinet Baron de Badassière, at £20.95. Crab, carrot and hollandaise follow, then partridge with celeriac risotto. Next a slip sole grilled on the bone with sea lettuce-flecked butter. So simple, just beautifully cooked.

Between each of the courses there are tiny morsels to devour – pork scratchings with apple and sorrel foam, fitting for our pub surroundings but elevated by the fruit and herb twist. For the mains, there’s roast rack and slow-braised shoulder of lamb, which began life at Monkshill Farm, just five minutes down the road. A rosehip ice lolly is a sweet and cool interval, before the perfect finale – Bramley apple soufflé, light as a cloud and served with salted caramel ice cream. Outside, afternoon has turned to evening and our cabbie awaits to take us back to Whitstable. Harris describes his place as a jumble sale Michelin-starred restaurant. If that’s the case, then we’re sold.

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