The Sportsman in Whitstable is a destination restaurant, well a Michelin starred gastro pub with quite a reputation. Do not even think about going there to eat without an advance reservation.
They pride themselves on their fresh ingredients. Everything is either from the garden out back or from nearby, its all about provenance here. On the whole the pride is justified as the ingredients especially the fish and vegetables are really fresh and the cooking shows them off.
We treated ourselves to some Pol Roger Champagne and started on the tasting menu (something you need to pre book or alternatively you can order from the dishes on the blackboard by the bar). We started with some pork scratchings, and to quote “Steve” the chef, the Sportsman is a pub after all. They were nothing like typical pub pork scratchings, they were delicious, as was the mustard, herring and soda bread they were served with.
We had a very nice salad (Salmagundy, which apparently means a salad made out of available ingredients), but the standout courses were the dover sole with seaweed butter and the turbot with smoked roe sauce. Our conclusion was that the meal started well and that the fish dishes were excellent, but that the quality dipped with the 2nd lamb dish (some mash would have been nice) and the desserts (can chefs get over popping candy please).
We enjoyed the meal but I must say I wasn’t as wowed by it as some other reviewers.
Oh and we finished off the day with a nice jug of Pimms at Miles Cafe Culture in Ramsgate in case you were wondering.
We ordered the fixed price ‘grazing menu’, (which had a very limited fish selection) 2 courses for £12 (this certainly sounded like a bargain), and a couple of glasses of pretty good wine. We also ordered a portion of their own baked bread which was okay. The starters arrived. Things were looking up as the presentation appeared to be not too bad. My salmon and beetroot with micro greens actually had flavour. Unbalanced but flavour none the less. My companion went for the butternut squash risotto. It also looked good but turned out to be completely lacking in flavour, basically just stodge ….oh dear as we were ready to amend our opinion and eat humble pie.
My main course arrived. Apparently this was a ‘belly of pork’. Well it was like no cut of meat I had ever seen. It looked more like a cross section of spinal column (more cartilage than belly!). Only one word came to mind during this course and that I’m afraid was ‘Repulsive’.
My companions Plaice looked like it had been bitten by a Shark!. It was also over cooked.
When asked if we wanted dessert or coffee we decided to pass and left the restaurant as hungry as we went in.
Instead we had pancakes at Miles Cafe Culture – a genuinely buzzy and quality establishment.
Our visit to Harveys was on a Saturday at lunchtime, only two other tables were occupied, so for ambience we had some background music and a baby crying in the corner. We were also a bit surprised that the fish slab was not in use, to let us see what fresh fish was on offer.
We passed by again in the evening, on the way to Age & Sons, and noticed that the restaurant was barely half full. Which was interesting when compared to the completely full Age & Sons, which attracts exactly the type of clientel that Harveys are trying to target.
How the AA could award Harveys with “The only AA Rosette in Thanet” is beyond me. There are more deserving restaurants in Thanet, such as Age & Sons. It was also disconcerting to read the description of Harveys in toptable, it used words like “steller seafood” and intimated that Celebrity Chef John Burton Race was involved in the cooking. I am pretty sure he is not.
After two visits now, our conclusion was that Harveys would be an ideal candidate for another Celebrity Chefs TV show – Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.
It’s great that so much money has been invested in Ramsgate, which does really need a good fish restaurant. We just don’t feel the investment has been made in the kitchen where it really counts. It’s also good to know we are not alone in our views, as I have spotted a couple of reviews now that use words like “Dire” to describe the food in Harveys. So unless there are some major changes here, Harveys can relax as we won’t be reviewing them again.
One of the highlights on the culinary front, in an area sadly lacking in good places to eat, is Miles Cafe Culture. It is in a prime location overlooking the harbour. It is open all day/every day. It has a very good breakfast menu, much better that the usual greasy all day breakfasts a lot of the places in Ramsgate do. The handmade sausages being a highlight.
The kitchen is pretty much geared up to provide an opportunity for all day food grazing, should you find it hard to leave! On our last visit we were especially impressed by the “fresh” Calamari* rings that were made to order.
It’s also a good venue for a relaxed Sunday Lunch too. I would suggest booking for that, as there is limited space in the Restaurant section and this is popular among the more well healed locals and London visitors.
The wines are also of a good standard, from about £40 for the Amerone to about £13 for the Riddle Riesling-Gewürztraminer.
UPDATE – December 2013 : We paid another Visit to this vibrant bar, but were very disappointed when we ordered the Calamari*, it had been so lovely on my last visit, I just assumed it would be again. No such luck – something had definitely changed. It was like eating elastic bands. I love Calamari when it is done well and hate it when it is like this. So much as I like Miles Cafe, I think I will restrict myself to just ordering drinks in future.
If you fancy a trip to the Seaside or have recently moved to this beautiful part of the UK, here is some guidance to help you find some of the better places to eat, drink and shop in East Kent/Isle of Thanet. The information provided is based on local knowledge and should help you avoid tourist traps.