The Sportsman continues to produce its deceptively simple food using truly local ingredients, sourced from the vegetable garden at the back, the farm next-door and even using salt from the beach. The slightly ramshackle building definitely looks like a local pub rather than some designer’s idea of a gastropub, but the emphasis here is on the food rather than interior design. Stephen Harris, a self-taught chef, gained a Michelin star for the Sportsman in 2008 that it has retained ever since.
Starters were priced at £8 - £9, main courses £19.95 to £23.95, desserts £5.95 to £6.95, the tasting menu £65. There is now a shorter tasting menu at £45, which apparently is the most popular choice,. This is partly because you need to pre-order the full tasting menu, yet many people turn up not having done so. There is a wine selection on the blackboard, with just over 50 labels ranging in price from £15.95 to £17.95. The median price was just £21.45, with wines such as Riesling Peter Lehman 2009 Barossa Valley, Australia at £17.95 for a wine that you can find in the high street for about a tenner, Chateauneuf-du-pape Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2008 at £29.95 for a wine that retails at £23, and Alter Ego de Palmer 2002 Margaux Bordeaux, France at £79.95 compared to a shop price of around £52, if you could find it. These are almost absurdly low mark-up levels, especially for those used to London.
This particular meal began with a very delicate cheese and tomato biscuit and a lovely pork puff with apple mustard, with just enough kick and acidity from the mustard to cut through the pork flavour (17/20). This was followed by a poached egg yolk containing smoked eel, sherry vinegar, whipping cream, parsley purée and horseradish. For me a touch more horseradish and a touch less parsley would have been even better, but this was certainly an enjoyable dish (16/20).
A pair of oysters was served next, one a rock oyster with home-made chorizo, and a poached oyster with rhubarb cream and crystallized seaweed butter. I am not a big oyster fan, but they were clearly very fresh, and I preferred the latter of the two preparations. The bread here is made in the kitchen, and it is very good indeed. Red onion and rosemary focaccia was superbly light, with excellent flavour, and sourdough slices were also genuinely classy. Soda bread was another winner (18/20).
A tartlet of courgette and sorrel in curried pastry accompanied a chilled courgette soup with milk foam. This may not sound thrilling but the flavour of the courgette soup was remarkable (18/20). Salt baked beetroot came with blackberries and fresh cheese, the beetroot of unusually good quality, and the fruit a nice foil to the cheese (16/20).
Slip sole grilled in seaweed butter is a signature dish of The Sportsman, and was as superb as ever. This extremely simple dish lives or dies by the quality of the sole, and the quality here is impeccable (18/20). Braised brill with prawn bisque was another simple dish allowing the high quality fish to shine, the prawn sauce subtle and precisely seasoned (17/20). Roast lamb from nearby Monkshill farm had the belly breaded with mustard, saddle, fillet and shoulder, again served very simply. The quality of the lamb was apparent, the dish accompanied by delicious breaded lamb nibbles (17/20).
A gooseberry lollipop was refreshing and not excessively tart (15/20). This was followed by a summer fruit salad with lemon verbena ice cream in a fruit-shaped tuile, reminding me a little in presentation of an old Nico Ladenis dish. The tuile could have been a little more delicate, though the fruit was very good (15/20). Finally, coffee came with a rich chocolate tartlet and nicely made custard and nutmeg tart.
As ever, the service was relaxed and friendly. The bill for the tasting menu itself was £65, with a total cost of £100 a head with wine. If you went à la carte and shared a modest wine then you could eat for much less, easily for £60 with coffee and service. This is great value for genuinely classy ingredients, lovingly cooked in a charming rustic setting. For me only the desserts slip down into one star territory, and it is a mystery to many why The Sportsman does not have a second star, especially given some of Michelin’s more surreal promotions in recent years. If you have not been here then I highly recommend catching the train from Victoria (or St Pancras) to Faversham, followed by a short cab ride to the sea. You won’t regret it.