I’ve been meaning to blog about our visit to the Sportsman and just hadn’t got round to it. But seeing as it came 5th in last night’s National Restaurant Awards and won best gastropub now seems as good a time as any. I originally came across the Sportsman (I think on the Internet) when I was searching for good restaurants in this area after we first moved out to London–Kent a couple of years ago. This year we eventually got round to booking a table for lunch (be warned: book early! We originally wanted to go for my birthday but they were full so we took their next available lunchtime weekend slot, which was a month later).
The Sportsman is in Seasalter just west of Whitstable. It’s on a small coast road and looks very unassuming – it certainly doesn’t look like it could be the best gastropub in the country from its exterior.
Inside the decor is simple with wooden floors and furniture and lots of artwork hung up around the walls. There aren’t very many tables and with quite a bit of space around them it doesn't feel crowded.
The food and wine menus are written on blackboards by the bar and so we ordered our drinks, starters and mains before we had even sat down or been shown to the table. Hubs wasn’t a big fan of that feature and I guess he has a point – it does make you feel a bit rushed and for those prices table service wouldn't hurt – although I was less bothered as I usually know within a second of looking at a menu what I’m going to have!
For starters hubs had poached rock oysters with pickled cucumber and avruga caviar. It was good but unsubstantial and he had long finished whilst I was barely halfway through mine.
I had smoked mackerel with bramley apple jelly, horseradish and soda bread. Nothing to complain about - it was very good. In contrast to the oysters it was quite filling.
Rather boringly for mains we both chose the same thing and went for the thornback ray, brown butter, cockles and sherry vinegar dressing. Again it was good – fresh, well cooked, well seasoned and we both enjoyed it if not particularly blown away.
Desserts were definitely the weakest of the three courses I thought. I had a chocolate mousse cake which didn’t do much for me. I would also have preferred it with ice cream perhaps rather than the heavy clotted cream that it came with.
I don’t remember for sure but it looks as though hubs had a trio of mousse (I think it was raspberry and from memory it had those fizzy, popping crystals in it), Crème brûlée and shortcake? I remember that I had food envy as his was definitely better than mine.
For me, the food was solidly good, if not revelatory, but the pub’s location – a bit remote and bleak, battered by the sea winds and a bit of an adventure to get to – is definitely what makes it different and special.
On our visit to the Sportsman we decided to make a day of it so we went to Faversham for a walk first. It’s a bustling little historic market town. We’d never been before and really enjoyed it. Don’t miss medieval Abbey Street and we really enjoyed the Creek Creative Gallery too. Faversham is also home to the Shepherd Neame brewery and Brogdale Farm (of the National Fruit Collection) is down the road. If you fancy walking up an appetite before lunch there’s a great website here handy for printing off route maps and descriptions of countryside/circular walks near Faversham. You can even do a circular walk incorporating the Sportsman as the midway point if you think you’ll be able to move after lunch to get back to Faversham!
Walking the Faversham creek
After lunch we drove into Whitstable and had a walk down the seafront. Being a summer weekend it was buzzing with life with people everywhere and plenty of activity. There were lots of places to eat seafood, oysters in particular – shame we were too full to try any of it.
Oysters galore available at Whitstable - here collecting shells for recycling
If you need a place to stay why not try this beautiful looking place. (Same place on Alastair Sawday here or read a Guardian review here.)