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The Sportsman in Seasalter - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 90.
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Extraordinary (96-100)
Outstanding (93-95)
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What a wonderful idea, a pub where you can have really good food. How nice to have a place where you can have a fine meal without having to dress-up like a million dollar trooper (super duper). You just walk up to the bar, order your food and drink and repair to your table for a wonderful relaxed lunch or dinner. In the early nineties they invented a name for such a place - the Gastropub - and the first one of its kind was The Eagle in Clerkenwell, London. In the past 20 years gastropubs have become a well-established phenomenon in Britain. Michelin has also shown its appreciation for the culinary qualities of the best of them, which they have awarded a Michelin star (and in one case even two). If you're looking for confirmation that Michelin stars are not about chandeliers or waiters with white gloves, here is a place to go.

The seaside pub The Sportsman in Seasalter (or actually not in Seasalter itself but 2.5 miles down the road) is one of those Michelin starred gastropubs and it is very popular with domestic and foreign (Michelin starred) chefs and gastronomes. Chef-patron Stephen Harris and his brother Philip took over The Sportsman pub in 1999. Stephen Harris runs The Sportsman together with his partner Emma who is responsible for front of house and with head chef Dan Flavell.

The Sportsman is open  for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Sunday (no dinner on Sunday). The Sportman's bar is open 7 days a week. The pub serves two menus; there's a daily changing menu chalked up on the blackboard and from Monday till Friday there's a £65 tasting menu. The tasting menu must be orderded 48 hours in advance. I had lunch with my husband at the Sportsman on 26 July 2012 and we both ordered dishes from the blackboard menu.

First we were served some fantastic homemade breads: red onion and rosemary foccacia, sourdough and sodabread served with home-churned butter.

As an appetizer we had fantastic crisp pork scratchings with a nice sharp mustard and Bramley apple dip.

Next we had Poached Rock oysters (3 each), pickled cucumber, beurre blanc, Avruga caviar. Glorious plumptious and juicy oysters topped with a creamy beurre blanc, strips of lightly pickled cucumber and a dollop of Avruga caviar. Beautiful balance of flavours, saltiness and freshness from the oyster, richness from the beurre blanc and nice acidity from the pickled cucumber. A really lovely mouthfeel too.

On to the starters. First, Smoked mackerel, gooseberry jelly, horseradish, crème fraîche, fresh sorrel, soda bread. Wonderfully moist, masterfully (home-) smoked mackerel. Fantastic sweet gooseberry jelly which had nice light sharp notes. And all this served on the wonderful homemade soda bread. An excellent and very satisfying dish with attractive fresh flavours.

Next up was Chilled beetroot soup with cream and chives and roasted beetroot served in a pastry tartlet. A fantastic bright red beetroot soup, the intensity of the flavours was sublime, beetroot in all its unadulterated glory. The cream and finely chopped chives provided the perfect finish to this dish. The finely chopped roasted beetroot was lovely and had a hint of curry, very nice.

As a main course I had Roast breast & confit leg of local Aylesbury duck with spiced roasting juices and cherries. The breast was beautifully tender and pink and the leg was terrific, lovely crispy skin and delicious dark meat. With the duck came these divine duck fat roasties and some creamed spring cabbage with bacon. But let's not forget the wonderful cherries which provided lovely sweetness and tartness to the dish.

At the other side of the table there was Seared Thornback ray, brown butter, cockles, sherry vinegar dressing, cabbage shoots. A superb piece of fish that was perfectly cooked (on the bone) and was incredibly flavoursome, delicious cockles too. Lovely nutty and slightly acidic dressing. Also wonderful dark nutty flavours form the brown butter.

For dessert I had Cream cheese ice cream, strawberries, meringue, scone crumbs. Delicious ice cream that was wonderfully creamy and fresh. Lovely fresh strawberries and divine buttery and salty scone crumbs. An excellent dessert with great textures, loved the meringue crunch.

Hubby had a selection of unpasteurised cheeses.

With our coffees we were served no fewer than five mini puddings: A fantastic so-called seasonal (rhubarb) lolly - Lovely fresh fruit tarts with fresh seasonal fruit - Gooseberry , cream and buttery crumbs - A wonderfully indulgent dark chocolate mousse with liquid salted caramel - Cherry soaked cakes.

The Sportsman is known for its "cuisine de terroir" and that is what they deliver. Gastropubs have made an important contribution to eating local and seasonal and Stephen Harris was one of the pioneers. Most ingredients at the Sportsman are sourced from within a radius of a few miles, in some cases literally from around the corner. All this beautiful fresh produce is turned into hearty (but certainly not rustic) precise dishes with clear flavours, because "By Stephen" this food has flavour. Service was particularly friendly and welcoming. The team at The Sportsman is very clear about their philosophy, about what they want to achieve and about what they want to offer their guests. As a guest, I could sense their calm confidence and both the cooking and the service had the relaxed feel you get in an establishment that is not trying to force anything but is perfectly at one with itself. I wish I had worn my flip flops.

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Posted 09-08-2012


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