Friday, 26 August 2011

The Sportsman, Seasalter

No, this isn't going to be a review of every single thing I ate. If you want a blow-by-blow account, see e.g. the excellent reviews by fellow bloggers EssexEating, CheeseandBiscuits, FoodStories, or HollowLegs, which cover much of the same territory (the tasting menu doesn't change a great deal, it seems).

I'm far too lazy to do all that. So I'm just going to stick up some photos, identify them (as far as my memory serves me), add a few comments as I go along, and then finish off with a few thoughts at the end. OK?

Here goes:

Sportsman exterior

Not going to win awards for stunning exterior facade, but...

Sportsman interior

...inside, it's cosy but airy, comfortable, and relaxed.

Sportsman bread

The breads: sourdough, soda, and focaccia. The dark, treacly soda was particularly amazing, but they were all fantastic. The butter is made on the premises from raw cream.

Sportsman pickled herring

Pickled herring (a sweet cure) on rye, with gooseberry jam. And lighter-than-light pork scratchings. A great way to start.

Sportsman oyster

Poached oyster, with pickled cucumber and Avruga caviar. Not mine (after a nasty incident involving oysters a couple of years ago), but The Other Diner's. Reported to be 'delicious'.

Sportsman liver pate

Liver pâté. Probably the lightest, smoothest, and most flavoursome liver pâté I've ever eaten, on the most exquisitely thin Melba toast.

Sportsman beetroot tartlet

Dainty beetroot tartlets. Made with super-delicate, friable pastry and punchy roasted beetroot.

Sportsman beetroot soup

Chilled beetroot soup. I am not the greatest fan of soup, and the idea of this one - prior to its arrival - didn't thrill me. Oh, how I ate my words. The flavours sang as brightly as the colour. My word, it was good. So, so good.

Sportsman slip sole

Slip sole in seaweed butter. It had both of us licking our plates for every last morsel, every last droplet of molten butter. So simple, but utterly stunning.

Sportsman crab risotto

The Other Diner's crab risotto. Made from the brown meat, with the white meat atop. Pronounced 'gorgeous.'

Sportsman salmagundi

My Salmagundi. In times gone by, this was a sort of random leftovers salad mashup. At The Sportsman, it was elevated to the realms of salady godliness. All manner of vegetables were crammed into it, in one form or other - raw, pureed, pickled, blanched... (carrot, aubergine, tomato, cauliflower, cucumber, courgette, broad beans...) And underneath the leafiness was a perfectly poached egg. Joy unconfined.

Sportsman own ham

Courgette 'spaghetti' with parmesan, topped with The Sportsman's home-cured ham. As beautiful as it looked, I wasn't madly wowed by the ham. The courgette creation, however - YES. Made from raw courgettes, it was soft, moist (ooer), melty in the mouth, and with just the right proportion of cheese to make it umami-ly moreish.

Sportsman turbot

The King of Fish - braised turbot with sea beet from the shoreline 'out the back', baby sage leaves, and smoked roe velouté. Turbot is a rare treat at the best of times, and on the odd occasion I've eaten it previously, I've sometimes been left a little disappointed. Not here. It was every bit as wonderful as it should have been. Stephen Harris really, really knows how to cook fish.

Sportsman lamb mint sauce

Breadcrumbed and fried lamb breast with the ultimate mint sauce. Comfort food of the highest order. With a mint sauce far, far removed from any mint sauce you can find elsewhere on this planet. Scrummy.

Sportsman lamb

Roast lamb from the farm across the road. It doesn't get any fresher or any more locally sourced than this. Tender and tasty. The only meat dish on the menu. And, strangely, perhaps the least compelling. But still, by anyone's standards, very good indeed.

Sportsman cherry lolly

Cherry ice lolly with Madeira cake milk. Exactly what it says on the tin. Take Madeira cake, soak it in milk for a wee while. Strain off milk. Eat with luscious cherry lolly. Run out of superlatives. The fruitiest fruity lolly I've ever had the pleasure of eating. I have no idea how many cherries went into it. Possibly an entire orchard. Even the Other Diner, who professes not to like cherries, was groaning with ecstasy.

Sportsman stawberry cream cheese ice cream

Cream cheese ice cream 'with strawberry'. And crunchy meringue crumbled over. The strawberry element was somewhere between a soup and a light jam. It captured all the essence of strawberry, and without any undue sweetness. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Sportsman petits fours

And just when you think it's all over, the 'petits' (!) fours arrive... My. God. Assorted indulgences - chocolate mousse with salted caramel, jasmine tea junket with rosehip syrup, shortbread, truffle, summer fruit tartlets. Note to self: wear elasticated-waist slacks next time.

Sportsman fruit tartlet

A close-up of that tartlet. Isn't it pretty?

Sportsman Seasalter

THE END. The fresh air outside. Which you will need. Not that you'll be able to walk.

The overall verdict? Probably the finest meal I've eaten on these shores. I went with unfeasibly high expectations and they were blown out of the water. It was stupendously good, and words can't express just how fantastic all the flavours were - a real all-singing, all-dancing celebration of the ingredients. Here, I felt, was a chef who cares about his food in a way quite unlike any other whose food I've eaten, and who absolutely revels in it, too. It wasn't poncified food, it was extraordinarily joyous food, and the wonderful thing is that you can taste every single ounce of that delight. I will dream about it for a very, very long time.