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seafood that challenges Hong Kong in England – the Sportsman in Whitstable (1*)

Now this is a restaurant which I am going to rave about which may make you question why exactly I have taken a picture of some unflashy toilets and used that as a header? The reason being is that the Sportsman’s toilets somehow demonstrated to me how it is all about the food.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

Our week back in London saw some resplendent meals and some resplendent surroundings. Sometimes the two came together and sometimes in restaurants with glorious open kitchens and custom decor and fancy loos like Heston’s Dinner they sure as hell did not.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

If you read the history of the Sportsman on their homepage here you will see it obviously used to be an epically shit pub. One with some history but one which had been ravaged by English provincial choices as to decor. There were even inbuilt fish tanks. And evidence of that still remains on the walk to the loo as you pass some rather bizarre murals and then enter into what is undoubtedly a pub loo. Simple urinals and resolutely un-pimped or preened surroundings.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

This is because what the Sportsman is all about is the food. Their entire success is built on serving great food in what was previously a dead-end no-hoper venue and reaping the success from that.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

And now to really get back to the food. Ever since having lived in Hong Kong we haven’t had a single fish meal where even a component of it challenges the brilliance of what the old men and women can do with a wok in a few of Hong Kong’s best restaurants or dai pai dongs. This is despite over zealous eating everywhere we can at all levels of the food hierarchy.

The Sportsman and WhitstableThat is until the Sportsman brought out their oysters. I’ve had oysters from Whitstable before and they are obviously one of the premium options for English oysters. However, the Sportsman plain improved them by dressing them with a beurre blanc, pickled cucumber, caviar. We immediately regretted not ordering rounds and rounds of them.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

There were other dishes which similarly blew us away such as the slip sole and the lamb I choose for a main. However, what really ended it was Jen’s main of a hake in crab bisque with fennel. I draw the short straw on this meal as in order to get a full ‘experience’ we wanted to try the gambit of dishes. However, from the get-go it was the hake which looked most interesting. The one concern is that it might be a bit too rich and mean that you didn’t really need all of it.

The Sportsman and WhitstableThat concern was unfounded. Trying to prize a morsel out of Jen or even slow her eating was nearly impossible. It was a sit there and smoke a cigarette after sex piece of fish. Expect we also took my mum to the restaurant for a day out.

The Sportsman and Whitstable

So the Sportsman. Wow. And one of the great things about it and Whitstable for those of us exiled to Asia is that it also make a nice day trip as you can visit the seaside, take a walk and even see some fisheries. The meal, the place, the experience cannot be recommended enough.

  • Price – GBP 250.00 for three
  • Address – Faversham Road, Seasalter, Whitstable, Kent CT5 4BP (+44 1227 273370)

PS it now has a Michelin star which is interesting once you read the manifesto of the chef where he wanted to bring that food without the “superfluous extras” to the people. Which he has done.

9 Comments

  1. Yes, the oysters are simply stunning. I went earlier in the year and had a round followed by the slip sole and really, I should have just done another two loops of that (not that the other courses were at all bad).

    Also thought the service from the proprieter was worth mentioning: genuinely friendly rather than falsely chummy, offered advice without being overbearing, radiated committement and contentment.

    Frankly cheap for the quality too. Good to get out of London from time to time!

    • Martin – I am in awe at the Sportsman still. It was everything I love about a restaurant. It also wants to make me kick my London centric self in the head for all those years living in London and not enough exploring out of it!

  2. My dad loved the slipsole so much it almost brought him to tears. I love it there; the decor which could be described as shabby but I prefer comfy – and it’s extraordinary location, practically on the beach with nothing else around. I’ve been 3 times and each time has been wonderful.

    • Lizzie – I now have a dream of begging borrowing and stealing to buy one of those beach huts and putting a simple bed in there. Imagine being able to wake up by the sea and then eat every day at the Sportsman. I think I would be a much happier man :)

  3. james

    This was one of my favorite weekends away when living in London several years ago. The food at Sportsmans is only half the joy, the building itself, the staff, decor and bicycle ride out there highlight Britian at its very best, even the inevitable drizzle adds a certain ambiance. Having eaten all over the world and at almost every resturant recomened by Jen and Tom here in Hong Kong, the Ray wing with burnt butter at the Sportsman is still the one dish my GF brings up when talking about all time favorite meals. Right off to Nam Kee for lunch….yum

    • James – most cruel to tempt me with Nam Kee whilst stuck in Seoul! But thanks for the comment and glad you loved it. Next time you go back to London I would suggest you have to try Roganic as well. It was astounding.

      Places like the Sportsman are what is slightly tempting me to leave Asia atm. Fortunately I have a trip back to Hong Kong in a couple of weeks for a food top up to rejuvenate myself.

  4. PhilD

    Tom – also a favourite of ours, a real pub, with superb food. Our visit was a slow weekday night during a rainy week as we headed off to France – it really allowed the warmth and hospitality of the place to shine through.

    Looks like we had a lucky miss last Christmas as we couldn’t get into Dinner. We went with the Ledbury over Roganic, but will try it next time.

    • I have to say I am looking forward to doing a holiday back home sometime soon and discovering all the other places like this I just plain neglected to visit. And doing an Islay whisky tour.

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