The Fordwich Arms – Pub Fine Dining

Having visited The Fordwich Arms a few times in the summer months, I rated it as a decent country pub. I was really pleased to hear that it had seriously raised it’s game on the food front especially after reading a glowing review in the Guardian. So we happily booked a table for lunch with high expectations.

Fine dining in a pub is very difficult to pull off.  The Sportsman in Whitstable is one of the rare places that manages it. The Fordwich Arms is trying very hard. The excellent bread and theatrically presented amuse bouche which would be quite at home in a traditional fine dining restaurant somehow jarred in the pub setting. The smell from the wood fire, the rude customer at the bar listening to what sounded like racing results on his phone, and the draft from the door when it was left open a bit too long were off putting. Although these observations may seem petty in retrospect, they illustrate the differences between fine dining in a pub and fine dining in a restaurant.

The Fordwich Arms has an a la carte menu and a set lunch menu for £35 which was inviting enough to stick too rather than splashing out out on any of the a la carte options.

My starter of Smoked Trout, Oyster, Apple and Horseradish was beautifully presented and quite lovely, my companion had the Chicken liver Parfait, Red grape and Gingerbread  which looked good with it’s grape scales, but was otherwise fairly ordinary. We both had the Chalk Farm  Sika Venison, Plum, Pumpkin and Braised Sholder Crumble for our main course. It was tasty but nothing special. For dessert we ordered the rather delicious Fordwich Snickers. To accompany the meal we ordered some wine by the glass, but were disappointed with all four rather lacklustre wines.

Paying the bill was more pub than fine dining as after waiting a bit too long for table payment we joined the customers vying to order their pints at the Bar and paid there.

It’s early days for the Fordwich Arms new management and kitchen and we wish them well, the pub is in a lovely setting by the river. The town of Fordwich (the smallest in Britain) is worth visiting. You can go Canoeing with Canoe Wild or book a relaxing river trip with Fordwich River Tours for example (starts just outside the Fordwich Arms) and for the more energetic there’s pleasant country walks to Canterbury, Stodmarsh NNR and around Westbere lake.

UPDATE October 2018 – Fordwich Arms awarded a Michelin Star.

The Sportsman – Always a treat

Having a birthday near Christmas is a bit of a pain to say the least. However I have found a sort of solution. Arrange to get treated to lunch at the world famous destination (at least with foodies) that is The Sportsman – the self styled “Grotty pub by the Sea” located in bleak Seasalter on the outskirts of  Whitstable. (15 mins by cab from Whitstable train station).

We went for a short stroll along the sea defense path and then down to the stark but photogenic beach to work up our appetite before lunch. Muddy boots and jeans are more at home in The Sportsman than party frocks and stilettos

It cheered me up to see that 10 days before Christmas there was no over the top Christmas tat dominating the room nor were you forced to order from a double the price (because it’s Xmas) boring Turkey and Christmas pud menu.

The Sportsman is a pub, albeit one with a long standing Michelin Star. Locals do pop in for a pint, but on the whole it’s all about the simple, tasty, locally sourced food. The wine list is good too, with a nice selection of reasonably prices bottles and several decent wines by the glass at a fraction of the price you’d pay in London. They are well known for their tasting menus of which they have two, the smaller one that you can order on the day and the eight course one that has to be pre booked. Visits to The Sportsman always have to be planned well in advance (6-8 weeks typically) if you want a table.

We had pre ordered the eight course tasting menu and chose a half bottle of Chablis to accompany the first half of our meal. The simple yet tasty appetizers set the tone and included an interesting eel & egg dish served in the shell. The first course was three Whitstable Oysters beautifully presented in tray of shells, one of the high points of the meal. The second course was also a real treat, consisting of very tasty baked celeriac with stewed Apple and creme fraiche. The third course was The Sportsman‘s signature dish of Slip Sole grilled in seaweed butter. That was followed by Roast Partridge with rosehip syrup and bread sauce and a Braised Brill dish with some beautiful smoked roe sauce. We then ordered a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir to go with the meat course entitled “Sirloin of retired dairy cow with tarragon” – a delicious dish that was surprisingly dominated by a really tasty piece of baked carrot! Vegetables at The Sportsman are always amazing. After a well needed gap, we moved on to dessert. The first dessert was a pear sorbet lolly – a fabulous palette cleanser. Then the star of the show was a heavenly Bramley Apple Soufflé served with salt caramel ice cream.

It’s a real treat to have a such a quality establishment with such good food, excellent service and comfortable ambience on our doorstep.

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Taste of Launceston Place

For a special occasion meal I have only a handful of London restaurants on my list. They’re high end and totally reliable, Launceston Place on a quiet backstreet in Kensington is one of them. It’s not a brash trendy restaurant and is all the better for it. It’s fairly low key, simply and tastefully decorated. It has a small bar area, two smallish dining rooms and a private dining area. The service is impeccable and friendly. The Head Chef Tim Allan during his tenure has seen the restaurant gain both a Michelin star and 4 AA Rosettes. We have been here several times over the space of 6 years before and after the aforementioned awards and Launceston Place has always been excellent. I am sure the team will keep up the good work when Tim Allan moves on to The Wild Rabbit in the Cotswolds in a few weeks time.

On this visit we had originally planned to have the Market Menu but the huge slightly daunting wine list and the tempting Tasting Menu changed my mind. I can rarely resist menus with matching wines and Launceston Place’s new Sommelier Piotr Pietras choose some stunning ones to match 5 of the 7 courses that made up our Tasting Menu.

We started with some excellent bread, two tasty canapés and a beautiful Tomato Consommé with goats cheese and micro basil. Our next course was Duck Egg with slow cooked bacon and pea cappuccino which was just full of flavour, this was served with a stunning Pinot Gris (2013 Lismore Vineyard, Ata Rangi, Martinborough, New Zealand). Next was the Glazed Duck Breast with smoked eel, beetroot, foie gras, walnuts, endive and cherry also served with a white wine (2004 Clos du Papillon, Domaine des Baumard, Savennieres, France). The forth course was our absolute favorite, a stunning Scallop dish, with glazed Chicken wing, truffle cassonade and apple blossom, perfectly matched with a beautiful Riesling (Heymann-Löwenstein, Uhlen R, Schieferformation “Roth Lay”, Mosel, Germany). Then for the main course we had Salt Marsh Lamb with white polenta and parmesan, Morteau sausage and carmalised cauliflower matched with an elegant full bodied Roija (2003 Reserva Viña Bosconia, Bodegas Raúl López de Heredia, Rioja, Spain)

The Lamb course may have looked small and delicate but it had big flavours especially the tiny slices of Morteau sausage. It was very filling, so much so that we had to sadly bypass the cheese course to leave room for dessert. The first dessert was Amalfi Lemon served in various ways including as granita and ice cream, a very refreshing and tasty palette cleanser. The next dessert was Raspberries with custard, arlette aerated white chocolate and coconut. Aerated white chocolate is a fantastic ingredient to include in a dessert, loved it. The matching wine for this was a Rudera Noble Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2010 from  Stellenbosch, South Africa. We then finished the meal with a small selection of Petits Fours.

After our delicious lazy 3 hour lunch we strolled down to the nearest tube station Gloucester Road and used our train journey home to have a little nap. We took the slow train from Victoria Station as it’s nearer to the restaurant, so our return trip took 2 hours but the high speed train from St Pancras does the trip to Ramsgate in an hour and 20 mins making day trips to London for lunch an expensive but fairly easy option 🙂

UPDATE: October 2016, Launceston Place no longer has  a Michelin Star.

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Chez Bruce – as good as ever

If there is a secret formula for what makes a good restaurant then Chez Bruce mastered it years ago.  We have eaten lunch here numerious times, it’s surprisingly good value (currently £35 for 3 courses). Definitely one of London’s best Michelin Restaurant deals.

On this visit I started with some stunning fish cakes with just a hint of saffron and my companion had a Spanish chilled Tomato soup called Salmorejo, this was so beautifully spiced he felt that it had spoilt him for other soups. For main course I chose the Confit Rabbit with coco beans, pepper relish, cherry tomatoes and Provençal sauce, a nice rustic dish of comfort food and he went for the Wild Brill with Roast Scallops, both dishes were of the usual high standard.  Then we had an extra cheese course prior to our dessert – The Chez Bruce Cheese boards are not to be missed. The dessert, which we hardly had room for after this feast, was an Apricot and Almond Tart and a Bramley Apple and Blackberry Crumble.  I would also recommend asking the friendly Sommelier to select glasses of wine to match your dishes as they have a good range by the glass (most for less than £10.00). Another nice touch here is the lovely home made shortbread that comes with the surprisingly reasonable bill. We are already looking forward to our next visit 😉

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The Sportsman : Seasalter near Whitstable

Whitstable is a popular historic seaside town that is about 40 mins from London and 30 mins from our new home in Ramsgate. On arrival at Whitstable station you can order a taxi for the 15 minute journey to The Sportsman in Seasalter. The taxi office is right next to the station and they have lots of cars on call, or you can head into Whitstable itself, explore the shops and harbour, then do the beach walk to Seasalter which takes approximately an hour and half.   On a beautiful sunny Winter day, like the one we had for our visit, its worth arriving early at the restaurant to give yourself enough time to walk on the beach at Seasalter. Bring your binoculars and watch the birds and seals off the Isle of Sheppey.

The Sportsman is one of only a handful of pubs with a Michelin star. They keep it simple and use very local ingredients, i.e. meat from the surrounding marsh lands, fish and oysters from the Thames Estuary and vegetables from their rather extensive Kitchen garden.

There are blackboards by the bar where you choose the dishes you want, or you can go for a tasting menu. There are two, a larger one you pre book and a 5 course one you can order on the day. We like the little extras so we had the 5 course tasting menu. The tasting menu doesn’t change much, so if you go often you’ll probably appreciate the blackboard options.

We started with a glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne, which was a good accompaniment to our first few dishes. A lovely selection of bread was served with home-churned butter and Seasalter seasalt followed by the amuse-bouche which consisted of an egg shell filled with yoke, cream and smoked eel. Then we had a stunning cod and crab bisque and two of the famous Whitstable oysters cleverly presented in a box of seashells. Next came our favorite course a delightful red cabbage dish, we ordered some Chablis to drink with this and our main course of Monkshill Farm Lamb with Mint Sauce which was a sort of miniature Sunday lunch, as it is served with one roast potato, a sliver of onion and one floret of cauliflower. Pre desert was a quince lollypop in cake milk. Then with our dessert wine we had half a chocolate and salted caramel tart with vanilla ice cream – the tart was very rich, I for one couldn’t have managed a full one, although my companion thought he could 🙂

The Sportsman has a lovely casual ambience and an excellent wine list.

Please also note that this is a very popular restaurant and booking is essential. Typically you would need to book between 4 and 6 weeks in advance to get a table.

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The Sportsman in Seasalter – forgetting about the weather

The weather is pretty extreme at the moment around the south coast of England and Seasalter near Whitstable was certainly a bit damp on our visit.  The sheep in the marsh lands nearby looked like they were swimming rather than grazing.

The Sportsman which is a 15 minute taxi ride or a one hour plus walk from Whitstable station, was a cosy refuge and the perfect finish to our culinary tour of the area.  The tempting offer of a glass of Pol Roger Champagne on arrival was just too good to turn down – our favorite champagne beautifully chilled.  It was also good to see that since our last visit they had added a shorter tasting menu, which unlike their normal tasting menu, did not have to be pre ordered.  At £45 this Tasting Menu option is excellent value for the caliber of food served here.

We ordered this new Tasting Menu and selected a reasonably priced bottle of Gavi di Gavi Vignetti Lugarara Giustiana 2010 (another personal favorite) to accompany it.

A delicious selection of bread arrived first, quickly followed by an amuse bouche in an eggshell.  Then we had two Whitstable Oysters, prepared in two different ways – both were quite lovely, we were off to a good start. Next we had a beautiful looking dish described as Pot Roast Red Cabbage with Stewed Apple and Fresh Cheese. This turned out to be our favorite course, the cabbage was really flavorsome and beautifully enhanced by the apple and cheese. The fish course came next, Roast cod with a really moreish Bouillabaisse and olive tapenade. The previous two courses in particular emphasizing why The Sportsman has a Michelin Star. The meat course came next, a Roast Rack of Lamb with a particularly good mint sauce, leaving us with just enough room for the dessert. The dessert which followed some palette cleansing Ice Lollies was another high point, it consisted of one half of a Dark Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart, served with Tangerine Ice Cream. A lot of Tangerines must have gone into that Ice Cream as the flavour was intense. The sharpness nicely countering the rich salted caramel in the Tart.

After this lovely lunch and fully prepared for the weather (or so we thought), we decided to walk along the beach back to Whitstable. We ended up cutting inland before we got there, as the heavens opened up and we got a little damp to say the least. I would recommend The Sportsman for a special lunch but would suggest avoiding any temptation to walk too far along the beach in the Winter.

It is also well worth allowing yourself some time to explore the rather gentrified seaside town of Whitstable, especially the Harbour area and the unique one off shops on Harbour Street.

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