Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Kent Adventure

Off to Victoria station bright and early to take the train down to Gillingham and meet up with great mate Sarah for another Kent Adventure. Our destination, as on many other occasions, was The Sportsman at Seasalter, just outside Whitstable. We've been eating here for nearly three years and it just keeps getting better. Last year, chef Stephen Harris was awarded his first Michelin star, but the place remains as friendly and down to earth as ever. Sarah and I often hum and har about going to another restaurant but we always end up here.
Getting there proved a problem today - the M2 was closed and it took nearly three hours to get there instead of the usual 50 mins. We rang The Sportsman to warn them...and they were lovely, putting our booking back by an hour. As driver, poor Sarah bore the brunt of the stress on the hottest day of the year. When we arrived, we took a moment to regroup with a drink in the garden.
Our visits here are always dominated by two important questions: What did we eat last time? and: Do we go starter, starter, pud or starter, main, pud, or just main, pud? Sarah went starter, starter, and pig that I am, I went starter, main. But first of all we ordered (as we always do) the home made bread and butter, freshly churned in the kitchen and flavoured with salt from the sea a few yards away. The flowers here are from the kitchen garden at the back of the restaurant. And I thoroughly approve of the water policy here: a jug of tap water is 50p but the entire 50p goes to Water Aid.
The red onion focaccia is so more-ish, with a tender crumb and salty crust. I normally scoff the lot, so I tried to be a bit more restrained this time.
Last time, my starter was the slip sole and just before it arrived, Stephen wandered over and said he had some seaweed butter he'd made and would I like that? My response: you need to ask? Bring it on! It was fantastic. This time, I went for the smoked salmon and Sarah had the starter she'd had last time: Salmagundy.
Salmagundy is a very ancient dish, originating from the salmi that wouldn't have surprised Chaucer. Salmi means a highly seasoned dish, and salamagundy evolved in the 18th century to mean a salad of bits and pieces, usually including hard boiled eggs and seasoned fish like anchovies or pickled herring. Stephen's 21st century take on this is a warm salad with a poached egg at its centre. The egg is wreathed with garden veg like courgette, green beans, lettuce and corn, with samphire adding zing. Sarah let me sample a mouthful and this is what I'll be having next time if it's on the menu.
My starter was plainer but also delicious - Irish smoked salmon on soda bread. It was lovely with none of the metallic edge that you get with inferior salmon.
Sarah's next course was the slip sole and seaweed butter of glorious memory. We went a bit silent at this point, munching with joy.
I was tucking into the same main that I'd had last time: roast pork belly with apple sauce, a pillow of mash and cabbage lurking under the pork. This was so good. And the revelation this time was the apple sauce - it was so tangy but I couldn't work out the extra ingredient. My guess was lime...but later when Phil, Stephen's brother, wandered over, he revealed that it was malic acid. This boosts the sourness of the apple - and makes the sauce taste more of apple skins. Wonderful. I could eat this by the bucket load.
For the first time ever, and probably due to the heat of the day, we didn't eat a pudding. But here is the choice we were confronted with...
Our top tip is the rhubarb sorbet and burnt cream...and be prepared for a surprise.
After a wonderful meal, we staggered up the steps outside to admire the view out to sea past the beach huts.
Then on to the Seasalter beach - packed on this hot day - with a view over to Whitstable. We'll be back at the Sportsman in the autumn.

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