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Travel-Eating in Kent: The Sportsman*, Seasalter [Restaurant Review]

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Reviewed by The Wild Boar

The Sportsmans, seasalter 01

When we made our decision to visit Kent during out last Bank Holiday weekend, the first item on the agenda wasn’t arranging the sights and scenery, but which restaurant to eat in. In circumstances such as these, where better to turn to than the Michelin guide; one appealing little place with one Michelin star was The Sportsman Seasalter. Located by the coast, it required a 1.5 hour return trip from our rented accommodation (this is chump change, Malaysian foodies are hardy travellers).

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Although the surrounding was a far cry from the glamour of Paris, that all changed the moment we stepped in; a warm greeting from the nearest waitress with an explanation that the menu of the day (most ingredients sourced nearby) was in chalk on the wall. In minutes we made our choices, relayed them to the waiter and were shown to our seats. In this aspect, London could certainly try harder – the large comfortable chairs with cushions were more akin to armchairs; the table was enormous, at least twice the restaurants in London.

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The gastropub had a very warm cost feeling as well, quite unlike the deliberate dinginess of a fair few gastropubs in London (a waitress said it’s even nicer in the winter when the fireplace is roaring). Even with its one Michelin star, it hasn’t strayed far from its roots, locals still come by to have a pint or two, and the policy of guests ordering food from the bar is decidedly pub-like. The lack of a uniform also made things more informal.

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My friend (randomly) chose a
New Zealand Pinot Gris white as we were mainly having fish which turned out very nice indeed. However, we were warned beforehand that this wine may not have been to everyone’s liking as it had a toffee-like sweetness to it; we felt it’s somewhat akin to a dessert wine. On a side note, the tap water we ordered wasn’t free, as we would have to ‘donate’ 50p to charity per jug, which seemed like a good cause.

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Freshly warmed
red onion and rosemary foccacia, practically bathing in olive oil, was a delicious way to open the meal. The brown soda bread was surprisingly sweet and had a nice soft texture. Special mention must be made of the butter, which had the deepest richest yellow I’ve seen in butter for a while.

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For starters, I had a
pork terrine, wrapped in salted cabbage and jelly. It caught me a bit by surprise as the meat was very coarse and still in quite chunky pieces, leaving it a bit tougher and drier than usual. The pork scratchings (rinds to you Americans) were fantastic though, crispy, with just a little fat to give it a little chewiness.

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Pork terrine

The PigPig had a
blackened mackerel with lettuce cream; essentially, the fillet was pan fried. The lettuce cream was interesting to say the least; on its own it would have been a bit bitter but as the fish had such strong flavour it actually went together quite well.

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Blackened mackerel with lettuce cream

Of the two friends joining us, one had a
crab risotto. It was well cooked, al dente with plenty of crab flavour (according to the one spoon I had anyway).

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Crab risotto

The other friend had a
pickled herrings with pickled cabbage. I enjoyed the herring but overall the sourness would have overwhelmed me; this is perhaps a bit of an acquired taste. Pigpig: It came with bits of tasteless crunchy bits which added a nice texture. Love the sourness.

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Pickled herrings with pickled cabbage

Amongst the mains, I had a seabass which was so fresh it might as well have flopped onto the table to be cooked. The fillet itself was steamed and deliciously sweet. However, the real beauty of the dish was in the mix of mussels and herbs used to create a broth; mint and basil being among them, creating a very refreshing touch.

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Steamed wild seabass fillet with a mussel pistou

My wife had a
turbot braised in vin jaune (‘a special and characteristic type of white wine made in the Jura wine region in eastern France’). The delicate meat went very well with the sauce, as it didn’t need anything too strong to overpower the fish. A little slice of smoked pork belly was also provided, which seemed a bit odd at the time to me (and still does), but the PigPig found the extra saltiness from the pork gave an extra layer of welcome complexity to the fish.

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Turbot fillet braised in vin jaune with smoked pork belly

roasted hake with cherry tomato sauce and anchovy dressing was finished very quickly by my friend so I assume he loved it. From the spoonful I got from him, I can understand why as the meaty fish was accompanied by a truly splendid sauce to savour.

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Roasted hake with cherry tomato sauce and anchovy dressing

The last main dish was a
crispy duck with sour cream and salsa. Whilst the duck meat was quite tasty and still relatively juicy, the skin unfortunately wasn’t crispy at all. The roasted potatoes that came with the dish were brilliant though, nice crispy outer layer that comes from frying while the meat of the potato was cooked via roasting.

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Crispy duck with sour cream and salsa

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We were quite full by this point so we elected to share three desserts amongst ourselves. The waiter advised us to start with the yoghurt sorbet although he wouldn’t clarify why as ‘it is a surprise’. Not wishing to disregard such cryptic advice, we dutifully tucked into it first, to be duly surprised by the fireworks in our mouth; the chef had added in popping candy into the sorbet. The sorbet itself was quite nice and refreshing and actually worked quite well to wash our palates, but the crackling in the mouth certainly added more zing to the dish. The accompanying crème brûlée was also very nice, not being too sweet, whilst the shortcake was also pretty good (the PigPig kept talking about it the whole car journey home).

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Rhubarb sorbet & burnt cream

The lemon tart had a rather odd but quite pleasant jelly texture for a tart. It was also more sour than most other patisseries would have made it but the ladies didn’t seem to mind. The accompanying meringue ice cream was strangely a bit on the salty side; it didn’t strike me as being particularly ‘meringue-y’, tasted just like salty vanilla.

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Lemon tart with meringue ice-cream

As always, we had to include a chocolaty dessert; as there was only one, we didn’t need to strain our brain cells much. The chocolate mousse was swimming in a pool of Jersey cream and was full of cocoa essence. It quite suited my burgeoning taste for dark chocolate but others may find it a bit too bitter although the cream helps to take the edge off it and also helped to mask some of the powderiness.

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Chilled chocolate mousse-cake, raspberries & Jersey cream

Altogether, the bill came up to £40 per person including drinks and tip (service charge wasn’t included), quite reasonable actually. The service throughout was excellent as well, very cheerful people who seemed to enjoy their work.

Food - 8.0
Service - 7.5
Atmosphere - 7.5
Value - 7.0

For a one starred restaurant, getting a three course meal (nearly, we only had three desserts), eating lots of fresh good seafood and a bottle of wine for only £40 each is a bit of a steal really. The food was quite technically well cooked throughout, although it was perhaps a bit on the rustic side, which does suit its gastropub style. In fact, I couldn’t find any signs outside advertising its Michelin star and I think that was done to remain true to its roots and to not over-awe their regular clients.

Would I eat here again? The next time I’m within a 20mile radius.

PS. I didn’t realise until after I’ve eaten here and written this review that quite a few other keen bloggers have actually bothered to travelled all the way out to Kent just to eat here. Please do read their excellently written reviews from gen.u.ine.ness and the Food Snob.

The Sportsman Seasalter
Faversham Road
Tel: 01227 273370
Official website

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Check out:

Weekend Trip to Kent (Dover, Broadstairs & Canterbury) --> HERE

Travel-Eating in Kent: The Goods Shed Farmers Market & Restaurant, Canterbury [Restaurant Review] --> HERE

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