In Summer 2019 we had the enormous good fortune to be invited to lunch at The Sportsman at Seasalter. It was a curious accident of fate, it was meant to happen and to reconnect us with dear friends, renew old acquaintances, and it took place a few days after my beloved’s birthday, taking celebration to a new level.
If the essence of a life well-lived is the memories it creates and the impressions it makes, then this is a treasured memory.
There has been an inn on the site since the 17th C, surrounded by productive farmland cultivated since the 12th C. And just beyond lie the ancient walls of the Saxon Shore Way holding back the sea, since bolstered, built higher.
Its situation, its terroir, defines The Sportsman. Sea, sandy soil, marsh, harsh winds, spiralling, sunny, balmy days, gently rolling hills inland and the extraordinary range of migratory birds which visit throughout the year, each adds its magic mix to the site.
As you reach a low lying site, sloping to the sea, you see set at an angle to the road a large, rambling, brick building painted in various shades of off white. Or was it a dove grey? Perhaps cream? It depends on the ever-changing light in this liminal space between sea and land, alone.
The sense of uncaring individuality is deceptive. Or perhaps it’s just a frank and mature realisation that time and effort spent on outward appearances is time and effort wasted.
The real star at The Sportsman is the food.
We were booked in for the tasting menu, several hours of eating and drinking of the topmost quality in refreshingly unpretentious surroundings. We couldn’t have asked for more.
A bewildering succession of nine courses came flying to our table, a rustic wooden long table surrounded by generously spaced large chairs. It’s all about the food at The Sportsman.
Let the pictures do the talking.
The Sportsman is a pub. Walkers and passers-by stop off for a pint at the bar. As a diner, you can order pints as readily as you can fine wines. The space is accessible so if you need level access you’re largely OK. The tables are spaced well apart and generously sized too, as are the seats. The toilets are pristine, generously appointed, but unfussy.
Comfort is the watchword here.
Perhaps the greatest miracle here is that the food is sourced locally, from the land and sea within sight of the pub.
An even greater miracle is that the chef is entirely self-taught.
Nominated several times in the best gastropub category, year-on-year since 2015, The Sportsman’s chef, Stephen Harris, also has a Michelin Star.
From a peripatetic working life, and a stint in a Punk band, Harris decided to turn his hand to food. And perhaps that’s the real underpinning; the story of how a drifter landed by the sea, found something magical and decided to share the magic of the place through food with such verve and passion that their fast developing skills transcend the usual boundaries and norms – the essence of Punk’s irreverence.
The justified plaudits and fame the chef has gained over the years don’t seem to have gone to his head.
You don’t always have to follow the rules to excel.
Where to go and how to book
Kent CT5 4BP
Tel: 01227 273370
For more comprehensive reviews, try this from The Guardian, or this from The Telegraph, and of course see what Michelin have to say too.