The Sportsman takes the idea of using local produce to a level otherwise unknown on the UK restaurant scene. Vegetables are grown in the garden or come from a nearby farm, the pork is from the farm next door, lamb from the farm next to that; the salt comes from the beach outside the property. The fish are caught locally, and I suspect that if chef/owner Stephen Harris thought he could manage to source what he needs by dangling a fishing rod over the beach berm outside the property he would do that too. Dishes are stripped back to a minimum: you won’t find superfluous garnishes here, just a showcase for some lovely produce.
I have written extensively about the food here, so will try not to repeat myself regarding the meal today. After some nibbles including herring and a vegetable tartlet, the first course from the tasting menu was a trio of oysters. Chilled courgette soup followed, alongside the excellent bread that is made here: a choice of sourdough, focaccia and soda bread. Salt baked beetroot came with cheese made from scratch in the kitchen, along with stewed blackberries; this was fine but perhaps the least exciting dish of the day (15/20). The signature slip sole in seaweed butter followed, as lovely as ever (17/20).
The star dish of the meal was brill topped with kitchen-smoked pork and vin jaune sauce. The fish was terrific, precisely cooked and with fine flavour, the pork adding an extra flavour note and the sauce lovely (18/20). Roast Aylesbury duck was cooked pink, alongside the slow-cooked leg and served with spiced cherries to add enough acidity to cut through the richness of the meat (17/20). After a strawberry ice-lolly, dessert was a superbly executed greengage soufflé with kernel ice cream, as light and airy as you could wish, cooked evenly through (17/20).
Service was friendly as ever, and the tasting menu itself cost £65, with wine extra (I was in a group that had negotiated to bring their own wines; I am not sure what the corkage charge was). If you shared a modest bottle from the pub list then a typical cost per head with a choice from the blackboard menu (rather than full tasting menu) would be perhaps £65, an absolute bargain given the superb ingredients and the amount of work that goes into the dishes here. The cooking at The Sportsman is deceptively simple but profoundly enjoyable, taking full advantage of the ultra-local produce that have been so carefully sourced. It is one of my favourite UK restaurants.