Stephen Harris’ food is at its best when it is at its rawest and purest. His best dishes consist of three or only two elements, which are at their best and freshest. He manages to bring together contrasting textures and intense flavours like no one else. The result is then often a dish of an unparalleled simplicity and quality.
To make such minimalist compositions work, two things are essential: The product quality and technical dexterity of those who prepare them. At the Sportsman both come together. The quality of the products is phenomenal. The fish is as fresh as it gets in the UK, but its not only the fish: the lamb and pork come from the marshes right across the room and everything else is grown and made on the premises. That should show you that you have perfectionists at work here, people who say that in winter it is tough to serve a salad because “there are no leaves at the moment”. Such an attitude is laudable, especially in a place where the culture of the product is hard to find. As for the second point, the technical side of cooking, the Sportsman is undoubtedly very stable and precise. Every single piece of fish here is served cooked beautifully, which is not always the case with the meat.
That being said, lets get back to the dish. In its ways it is very straightforward and simple. There is the turbot, a sauce made with its smoked roe and a few beach herbs. Nothing else. Mind you, this dish is so tasty that you don’t miss anything else. It is like a serene Japanese or Chinese painting, one where you don’t see much, but what you see is so carefully placed and drawn that it is simply beautiful. Here this is more than true.
Not only because of the turbot’s texture -meaty, firm, gelatinous- but also because of its pure, yet rich flavour. Being wild and coming from the cold waters of the channel, it developed a unique flavour and texture that make it a very singular product. The sauce adds a side to the turbot that a great white Burgundy will love. A creamy, slightly smokey and intense fresh taste of the sea. It has something nearly nutty or almondy that makes it so special. In combination with the herbs and the turbot you have here a dish that is close to what a human being could call perfection.
The list of special dishes that emerge from Stephen Harris’ kitchen could go on and on. Not because he does an awfully fine job sourcing and simply preparing his produce, but because he understands it, knows how little each needs to complement it. That is what makes the Sportsman so special, a place for people who love to eat simple food. Simple and incredibly refined food.