All our past visits to the seaside town of Whitstable (aka Islington by the Sea) have been for the sole purpose of dining at The Sportsman that fabulous one star Michelin restaurant in Seasalter. This visit would have been the same if I hadn’t discovered that 5 weeks notice was not enough to get a booking there at this time of the year. So I instantly thought of The East Coast Dining Room, a Whitstable restaurant I had heard good things about. The Restaurant does not seem to be courting a Michelin Star, instead it comes across as one of these places that is quite content to be the good neighborhood restaurant that everyone would love to have on their doorstep. The restaurant is just a short walk from Whitstable train station (just one street back from the beach at Tankerton-on-Sea) and is fairly easy to spot with its attractive outside seating area and Ice Cream cart by the door. The cart on this occasion was advertising their amazing Gingerbeer Sorbet.
Inside there are two pleasant dining areas. After a warm welcome and efficient delivery of the Menus, we decided to go a la carte (although their £30 Xmas menu did look really good). There was no need to order expensive bottled water, tap water flavoured with cucumber was swiftly brought to our table. If you haven’t tried cucumber water I would highly recommended it, it’s refreshing and apparently good for you too. The bread was then served with butter, salt and some really good olive oil (Planeta DOP Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil) that they also sell by the bottle.
For starters we had Chorizo and Butter Bean Stew with Cod Croquettes and Game Rillettes with Devils on Horseback. We both selected fish for our mains. I had a rather lovely Roast Monkfish dish with Corriander sauce, Grilled Aubergines and Pink Fir Potatoes and my companion choose the Mullet, with Bacon and Crab Chowder and Deep Fried Anchovies. We accompanied this with a half bottle of excellent Chablis. They have a good selection of wine including several options served in Carafes or by the glass. The dessert wine selection is also good, we choose Moscato d’Asti to accompany our desserts. My companion was very happy with the aforementioned Gingerbeer Sorbet with Lemon and Ginger Posset, a memorable dessert and I had a Chocolate and Pear Brownie served with Coffee Jellies that worked really well with the Brownie.
The service was friendly and professional. The Restaurant was just over half full on the Winters day we went for lunch, but I suspect that getting a table here in Summer is not so easy. Most of our fellow guests were Whitstable inhabitants who know a good thing when they see it. I think one of the best things you can say about a Restaurant is that you will be back, and we will be back, although not before squeezing in another visit to The Sportsman.
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.
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.