Free of faff, The Sportsman still manages to be a proper pub despite being one of the best places to eat in the UK
The Sportsman might not look much from the outside but behind its whitewashed and weathered facade is a world-class establishment serving some of the best food in the country, in a wonderfully humble and unpretentious fashion.
With a CV that includes spells as a history teacher and a financial adviser, its low-key chef-patron Stephen Harris came to cooking relatively late in life and is entirely self taught. He spent the last two decades or so building a closer connection to his environment, refining his recipes for homemade products like air-dried hams, cured fish, butter and even sea salt, which he makes by boiling seawater.
The Kent pub’s £70 tasting menu features ingredients found in the immediate vicinity, exploring the pub’s unique salt marsh terroir. Dishes include crab, carrot and hollandaise and Harris’ legendary slip sole grilled in seaweed butter. The à la carte menu is still focused on local produce but is perhaps a little broader in scope and with more classical leanings, including roast chicken with sausage and truffle cream sauce; and braised turbot fillet with a mussel and bacon tartare.
Another key appeal of this understated venue is it remains a proper pub – not for nothing has The Sportsman yet again picked up Gastropub of the Year. One of the most charming things about it – and there are many – is that gastro tourists mingle with pint-nursing locals and day trippers, some of whom are oblivious to this seaside pub’s status as one of the very best places to eat in the UK.