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Feb 5, 2011 03:55 AM

Whitstable Weekend

Continuing the theme of Helen B being the most gastronomically spoilt girl on the planet (though Mr Helen B has thus far failed in his quest to get a table at the new Heston place, gadzooks), spending next weekend in Whitstable for Valentines treat.

Sportsman on Friday evening, Wheelers oyster bar for a light Saturday lunch, then William & Brown tapas in t'evening. Will report back on them all.

Sportsman is the tasting menu, but for the others any tips on menu choices?

Planning on a bracing walk in the afternoon - lord knows there will be some calories to burn off - any pub/afternoon tea tips that would tie in with a sea walk?


PS - and just to continue the spoilt theme, when we went to Copenhagen for Noma, didn't see Rene in Noma itself, but went to the new Fiskebaarn (brilliant) the following evening, opened by some of his protegees, and ran into him at the bar there. This photo will be my Facebook profile FOREVAH.

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  1. Heck, Helen, I was going to compliment your choice of such a good-looking husband. I have seen this fellow's photo but I bet many won't know who he is!!

    You have a great weekend planned. I looked at the current Sportsman menu, but most of the things we enjoyed don't seem to be listed now. I remember the crab risotto being yummy, and I loved a chocolate mousse cake. My duck is not the duck on offer now.


    1. Sounds like a wonderful weekend planned and yes, brace yourself for the weather. We have had 30 mph winds here today!

      The tasting menu at the Sportsman (along with everything else they have to offer) has always exceeded my expectations and the staff are wonderful. I have no shame in saying that my first visit to the Sportsman influenced my decision to move from London to Whitstable. Sad, yes, but I don't care!

      You might already be aware, but Wheelers is BYOB. They have wine and bottle openers on the tables which you are encouraged to help yourself to. There is a Wine Rack across the street but I highly recommend Magma Wines which is just a minute or two from the restaurant down Harbour street. While you are there you can stop in the Cheese Box next store and taste some Kent cheeses. The Cheese Box also has a license so you can order a selection of cheeses to eat in the shop with a glass of wine, local cider or beer. As for the menu, obviously oysters are a must and I have found a lot of their starters and light bites to be a little more exciting than the mains and have enjoyed ordering a a bunch of those to share instead of a starter and a main.

      Williams and Brown tapas is another great choice. I love their chicken livers, beef madrid, lamb, deep fried whitebait. Don't miss out on their specials of the day, always excellent.

      The Old Neptune is a welcoming pub stop after a brisk winter sea walk, perhaps on your way back from a long walk. The Pearson's arms on Sea Wall has just been re-opened by Richard Phillips and they have a nice selection of beer and wines by the glass, a wood burning fireplace to warm you up and satisfying bar snacks.

      I'm reluctantly leaving Whitstable next month to move back to the states but have enjoyed so much this town has on offer food and drink wise. Hope you enjoy your stay.

      19 Replies
      1. re: morreisshey

        That's fantastically helpful, thank you!!!

        1. re: helen b

          Well, lumminy, had the most wonderful weekend, as predicted. I seriously loved the Sportsman, is vying with Noma now for top spot (and at £55 for the tasting menu, and being an hour away, well...)

          The setting is evocative. A whitewashed, fairly normal looking pub out on the marshes. Inside, all floorboards and bare tables (and I loved the fact that as a couple we were sat on a table for 4, with plenty of room for the food, and plenty of room between the tables - they could easily squeeze in more covers and it's all credit to them that they don't) and then hilariously normal pub style toilets...

          There were fireworks from the start. Amuses of squares of herring with apple jelly on rye, THE BEST PORK SCRATCHINGS IN THE WORLD which just melted in the mouth, with a dipping sauce of mustardy apple, a generous selection of breads (rosemary and red onion foccaccia, sourdough and treacly soda) withhomemade butter with Seasalter salt, salmon tartare and GORGEOUS pork rillettes.

          Starters included oysters done three ways: raw, with apple foam and a square of their own ham (the Sportsman's philosophy seems to be nothing can't be improved with the addition of pork, I concur, heartily); baked, with a sea buckthorn granita (someone's been to Noma); poached with caviar and pickled cucumber. My boyfriend doesn't really 'do' oysters but loved them all.

          Then the legendary crab risotto. Perfectly cooked so retaining a bite but in the most velvety of sauces. Essence of crab.

          Last of the starters was smoked widgeon with quince, mustard and puy lentils. Three perfectly cooked slices with such an intense flavour - gamier than normal duck. The attention to detail was evident too - for me, the most expertly cooked thing on the plate was the lentils. As with the risotto, they'd nailed the texture.

          Then the two mains. A generous hunk of turbot with vin jaune and smoked pork belly (ah, the pig returns!) Faultless. Deep fried lamb belly (lamby crackling, woo!) with mint dipping sauce, braised shoulder and loin in its jus. The loin was seriously the only meh of the meal - just too red and chewy for both of us.

          Apple sorbet with popping candy (wowzers), frozen cream cheese with pear, crumble and little bits of meringue, and then the petits this time I had actually eaten myself asleep and despite being relatively abstemious had to have a triple expresso! But I forced myself to try all the sweeties - chocolate mousse shots (oh yes), tiny custard tarts, apple turnover, chocolate truffles, and shortbread.

          OMG. Just. Loved. It. Brilliant staff. So attentive and knowledgeable and had the grace, when they didn't know something, to head off to the kitchen and ask. We had some lovely wines - which are all very reasonably priced, with the majority of bottles in the £20s.

          I have already booked my birthday :)

          Other Whitstable treats:

          Turns out our apartment was actually above Magma Wines, run by the somewhat eccentric but charming Mike, who knows his stuff. And the Cheese Box next door is marvellous.

          Wheelers was great. We sat up at the bar which is hilarious because it is essentially a fishmonger so everyone is standing behind your shoulder ordering while you down Whitstable oysters (plump and sweet), a crab, prawn and gruyere tart (mmm) and a crab cake with a radish dressing (lovely). The owners and staff are endearing and it's BYO so made for a cheapish lunch.

          William and Brown Tapas in the evening was much more standard, but perfectly inoffensive. The locals recommended JoJos instead which is a cab ride out of town, will check out next time.

          We sat outside the Old Neptune to watch the sunset, but the cold then drove us into the Pearsons Arms - handsome place, busy, stylish, but cosy, and I can testify they make a mighty fine Bloody Mary!

          But the most important thing - all get yourself to the Sportsman NOW. Their pork scratchings have hust become my Last Supper. Just a big bowl of them. Yum...

          1. re: helen b

            i can't wait to get to the Sportsman again... knew you'd love it. Who wouldn't??? And Mr. Z.'s sister lives not too far away.

            1. re: zuriga1

              the sportsmans amazing! i just wish theyd change their menu a lil bit more often... that might be me being a bit cheeky tho

              1. re: t_g

                I understand how you feel. It doesn't bother me too much because we only get there maybe once a year (I wonder why that is), and so eating all the favourites is fine with us.

            2. re: helen b

              It is really great to read your report. I still maintain that this is the "must not miss" place in the UK for great food. In fact can you claim any food credentials unless you have been?

              It is the essence of British cooking, very local, great traditional techniques, mixed with some of the avant-garde, and of course lots and lots of influences (that represent the melting pot that is British food).

              1. re: PhilD

                Yes, we talked about it that night, and with one of the owners. It still feels undiscovered and quiet versus its extraordinary, and deserved, reputation. I do think it is one of the top 3 meals I have ever had and I am spoilt rotten, so.

                I had expected it to be Chelsea by the Sea, but was instead filled with local Kentish folk d'un certain age having - I jest not - double Valentine dates complete with their own heart shaped candles. I'd love it for the owners' sake if there could be more of an influx. But then selfishly, from my perspective, prices would go up and the charm would go down.

                To such an extent I was even kinda hesitant about posting such a warm review here!

                1. re: helen b

                  i dont think the owners struggle! its pretty much permanently booked out

                  1. re: helen b

                    Most people aren't having the tasting menu, I don't think. We were the only people on our visit last summer. We also loved, loved, loved it. Can't wait to go back!

                    1. re: greedygirl

                      I think that's the point isn't it. Noma, Fat Duck etc as destination restaurants can put everyone on a tasting menu. Local customers might try the Sportsman's tasting menu once but will then just go ALC afterwards. At, say, 80 covers, and imagining they could put it up to £75 if there were more foodie tourists, versus say £35 for a 3 course meal, that's a £3200 difference a night, or a more than 100% increase in revenue, not even accounting for people in 'treat mode' splashing out on fancier wines.

                      Hence the fact I'm in two minds. I'd love it to stay the way it is, but I can't see how they're making that much money, given the care, attention and quality of ingredients that they're pouring in, and the genius in the kitchen. And I want them to flourish. Places a quarter of the quality in London will be turning over more.

                      But then I also want it to stay as my own little foodie Narnia! As I'm sure do the good people of North Kent!

                      Fat Duck
                      High St, Bray, Windsor and Maidenhead SL6 2, GB

                      1. re: helen b

                        Great to see your reviews helen and glad to hear you had a nice food filled weekend.

                        I believe The Sportsman will only do a certain number of tasting menu covers each night and only on a select number of nights a week (Thurs, Fri, Sat I think). As you have rightly said, this fully opens the restaurant to first time visitors who want to indulge (food not wallet) in the tasting menu and locals who are just there for lunch or dinner.

                        The ingredients sourced and used in each of their dishes are quite obviously very special to The Soortsman and I think having a small number of of tasting menu covers each night allows them the attention to detail and care they attain for each dish (tasting menu and not) which of course is multiplied many times for each tasting menu cover. It's nice to see a restaurant that feels its tasting menu is an occasion and a special as its diners do.

                        It is my favourite restaurant and I plan on making one final visit (at least for awhile) before I move far far away in a few weeks. I'm quite sure I may shed a small tear on my slice of soda bread or pork scratching.

                        1. re: helen b

                          When we went they said that we had our own chef to prepare the tasting menu! I guess they can't do that for very many people.

                          I think it's actually regarded as quite expensive by locals. We met some people on holiday who lived nearby and they definitely saw it as such, and they were talking about the "normal" menu. We have different price tolerances in London!

                  2. re: helen b

                    Quick question - i'm considering turning a day trip to the Sportsman into a night over in the area - can you recommend a nice spot to stay? Not looking for anything particularly flashy but some of the B&Bs i've checked out from the website look a little on the chintzy side!

                    Any comments from anyone appreciated, cheers

                    1. re: mjgauer

                      I always check places out on Here's their page for Whitstable with personal recommendations (or the opposite!).


                      1. re: mjgauer

                        The Sportsman has a lot of places to stay on its website but on our trip they were full so we found a good simple, newly decorated room here:

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Great - thanks to you both, will check those out

                  3. re: morreisshey


                    I don't know if you are still reading this thread but I'd love to get some food producer recommendations for Whitstable from someone who has lived there - where to buy fish, meat, cheese, bread etc. My wife and I may be moving into that area soon.

                    I also have some questions which probably aren't appropriate for Chowhound. I'd love it if you could drop me an email if you have a chance. My email is in my profile. Thanks!

                    1. re: r.vacapinta

                      I am sure morreisshey will reply but from my limited experience:

                      Magma Wines and Cheese Box on Harbour Street are both truly excellent foodie boutiques. The latter specialises in British cheeses (with some new Kentish types), and they are decidedly free and easy with their tastings! Magma Wines is run by the guy who used to run my local Oddbins (how telling to be on first name terms with the offie!) He has a small selection but he's tasted every one, they're exceptionally well chosen and he's great on recommendations.

                      For fish, go down to the harbour. Fishermen set up makeshift stalls selling that day's catch or there's the Whitstable Fishmarket itself underneath the Crab and Winkle restaurant. We weren't buying but browsed - very fresh sardines, sprats, huge squid, mackerel, bream and cod, as well as oysters, whelks, cockles etc. All looked scrummy.

                      1. re: r.vacapinta

                        Definitely. Pretty much all of my recommendations come from the town centre / harbour area of Whitstable. There are a few places on the high street near Tankerton slopes but that's out of the way for me. Lets see...

                        Best is the fishmonger located right on the harbour below the Crab and Winkle restaurant (the two are not related). In winter it can be a little bare depending on the day (Wednesdays for some reason in particular) but they are pretty reliable for their selection of whole fish, shellfish, cephalopods. In the summer their selection is overflowing. They have a pretty good selection on weekends year round though. I had some beautiful mackerel from there just last night. They also sell smoked fish, cooked shrimp, cockles, etc. Get your Whitstable natives here when they are in season or Rock oysters year round (£7 for a dozen last time I checked). For visitors, you can get shucked oysters there as well as hot food, chips and eat on the harbour.

                        There is also a smaller fishmonger right next store. Nothing wrong just much smaller selection and most is pre filleted.

                        There are three butchers on the High Street. My favourite is Alan R Long. Good selection of pork,lamb and beef cuts. I also get my eggs here. £1.59 for a dozen local farm eggs. Sometimes I go to Rook and Sons mainly for things like livers, other offal cuts, I ordered my Christmas duck from them.

                        At least 3 veg shops on the High Street. I haven't noticed much difference between them. I tend to go to the one closet to Alan R Long. I get duck eggs at this one as well. I LOVE going to the veg shop, buying an entire canvas bag of various veg and being told that the total is only £3.50 or something ridiculous.

                        The Cheese Box is fantastic. The owners are extremely passionate about cheese (yes even beyond the average cheese fanatic) and lovely people. They also sell a nice selection of local made breads, chutneys and things that go well with, well cheese (much of the extras I have heard are bartered from locals in exchange for cheese). On Fridays they are open until 8pm (which is late for Whitstable shops, many close at 5pm on the dot) and you can sit in there and have some cheese, glass of wine, chat about cheese. Which you can do anytime but Friday night is kind of their special late night. This is where I tend to get bread as well and local cider.

                        Right next store, Magma wines. I love this place and have had the pleasure of consuming many fantastic bottles of wine selected by Mike. If you need to pair a wine with anything he is your man. On the other hand if all you want is something to take home with you and start sipping on a soggy afternoon he is also your man! Small but tempting selection of spirits as well. My favourite piece of advice from Mike after purchasing some Sipsmith gin was that if I wanted to make a martini of it, which I should, the only amount vermouth he recommended I use with this gin is the idea that there is vermouth somewhere in the world (yet not in my glass!).

                        Other bits
                        Delicatessen - Can't remember the name of it, on Harbour st. Small but satisfying selection of mainly Italian cured meats, cheeses, olives, oils, some baked goods as well. If you start with the Cheese Box, then Magma wines and make a last stop here you have all the makings for a fantastic picnic. Perhaps pick up some oysters to add to that.

                        Farmers Market - Very small indoors farmers market every other Saturday at St Marys Hall on Oxford Street. Great sausage supplier in here, they also sell other meats. There are a couple but these have a number of different meats and flavours including lamb, spicy beef amongst many others. Also a good local veg guy when I'm looking for something new.

                        Spring to fall Harbour food stalls - On the harbour, French cheeses, sausages, bread, olives, fruit stalls. Typically open Spring through early fall. There is also a little cafe outside, they play music here on weekends in the summer. Lovely place to sit and have a glass of Whitstable Bay Ale on a sunny afternoon (we do get them sometimes).

                        That's the long / short of it I think!

                    2. Off to Whitstable for a wedding next weekend and have been tasked with booking dinner the night before. Wheelers is already fully booked! Pearsons is my next choice but I was wondering if the upstairs dining room is more formal or if it's still a pub-y atmosphere? Looking for something a little more casual than the wedding reception, which will be dinner for 300!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: gembellina

                        In that case I would recommend JoJo's. They are located on the Tankerton slopes just a 10-15 minute walk from Harbour street / High street. Great small plates, casual atmosphere. It's BYOB though so pick up some wine at Magma before you go! And book ahead they get busy on the weekends.

                        I wouldn't say the upstairs to Pearson's is formal but I think JoJo's may be a better fit for what you are looking for and the food is great.

                        1. re: gembellina


                          I don't usually post to the UK board but would thoroughly recommend the Petit Poisson at Herne Bay. Excellent seafood. It is rare these days that we enjoy a faultless meal - this was one.

                          In Whitstable itself, whatever you do, avoid William & Brown Tapas which was not at all good

                          1. re: Harters

                            Thanks to both of you. I'll be visiting family nearby not long after the wedding so will have to try all of the recommendations. I'm just sad we're driving some friends back and can't stop off at The Sportsman :(

                            1. re: gembellina

                              You could persuade your friends to try the Sportsmen, if they don't want to, then time for new friends, it is worth the effort to change them.

                              1. re: PhilD

                                Yep, ditch the friends. Pork scratchings > friends ;)