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 has spent the past 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 £65 four-course tasting menu gives diners a choice of four dishes meaning that you return regularly without repeating a meal – although it does make choosing on the day very difficult. Dishes use ingredients found in the immediate vicinity, exploring the pub’s unique salt marsh terroir and include mussel and bacon chowder and Harris’ legendary slip sole grilled in seaweed butter as well as Montgomery cheddar souffle with mustard sauce.
Another key appeal of this understated venue is it remains a proper pub – not for nothing has The Sportsman picked up Gastropub of the Year on a number of occasions. 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.