I don’t even think it would be rude to describe The Sportsman as a run down old boozer – if anything it might even be a compliment. But that is most certainly its charm. Along with it being by the sea, if the weather is good, it’s all rather beautiful. It’s even got a Michelin star.
It’s as unpretentious as it gets; there’s a bar, which quickly fills up with empty glasses, wicker chairs (the arm was broken on mine) and some not-very-good framed photos on the walls with eye-poppingly high price tags dangling down. But I sat there sipping my pint of ale and I loved it.
We went for the tasting menu priced at £65, which started with some little nibbles. A cheese and anchovy biscuit, a chunk of eel and a chunk of liver; all bold with their flavours. A slow cooked egg yolk served in the shell was next which was heavenly.
Three oysters, served on a bed of beautiful shells, was the first real course, one coming in a seaweed sauce, another with spicy nduja and the last one with a big dollop of caviar.
Bread was next, served with homemade butter. It had a rustic presentation; the slices were unevenly cut, but the focaccia and sourdough were both exquisite.
‘Crab, carrot and hollandaise’ came in a little glass and the flavour combinations were spot on; light and delicate but with a little hint of paprika. Salt baked beetroot was soft and tender but brought alive by the tangy stewed blackberries and fresh cheese.
The most perfectly prepared slipsole grilled in seaweed butter was possibly the best bit of fish I’ve ever eaten. It slipped off the bone and the flesh was so dainty yet packed full of flavour. Brill braised in Vin Juane (wine) created a gloriously creamy sauce. Topped with a slice of smoked pork alongside some runner beans, it was perfection.
Next up was deep fried lamb belly that had the crunchiest of coatings served with the best mint sauce you’ll ever find. A larger plate of more of that lamb (from nearby Monkshill Farm), this time with crispy breast and a cutlet, was pure genius. Class cooking and expert sourcing made for such an exciting plate of food.
Strawberry ice lollies with unpasteurised cream were simply divine. The plum soufflé that followed with a quenelle of Kernel beer ice cream was, like its predecessors, faultless. To finish with salted caramel and raspberry tarts was bliss.
The Sportsman provided me with a truly exciting lunch – the sort that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. The pub might have seen better days but it’s actually very clever leaving it in its current state – the food and service is so very wonderful that you have no expectations. I couldn’t recommend a visit strongly enough.