by Aimee Hartley
To celebrate the people and the stories behind our artisan wines, we headed down to Whitstable and Seasalter on the Kentish Coast for the day to meet like-minded folk, people who bring the same dedication to their craft in the culinary world.
There is something quite humbling about meeting a craftsman. Whether their craft is making bread, fashioning the food on our plates or tirelessly tending to vines, the end product is always a representation of their passion, hard work and vision.
Our first stop was Whitstable harbour to visit West Whelks, a family-owned operation who supply shellfish such as oysters, whelks and winkles to a bevvy of Michelin star restaurants, including The Sportsman just down the road in Seasalter. West Whelks has been in the West family for 4 generations and father and son, Derek & Graeme, know pretty much everything there is to know about these delicious little blighters.
In our master class we learn that highest number of pearls the West’s have ever found in any one oyster is forty-two (they tend to be more common in rock oysters than natives); that technically anyone can fish and sell native oysters, which are the sweet, succulent ones with a flat shell that Whiststable are famed for; and, that rock oysters can grow to the size of your head and hence the decline of them in today’s restaurant industry.
Having boned up on all things fishy, we head over to meet Steven Harris, Head Chef and founder of the Michelin starred Sportsman in Seasalter. Regardless of the critical acclaim The Sportsman has received over the last few years, Steve remains true to his roots, which was simply to ‘find a pub with a kitchen sink’ and serve food that reflects the history of the local area.
The private dining room greeted us with a table full of delights, including homemade warm pork scratchings and wooden boards piled high with delicious breads and home churned butter with Seasalter salt which we merrily washed down with a glass of 1999 Bruno Paillard Assemblage Reims.
Steve emerged from the kitchen armed with a ginormous slab of seaweed butter that made up the accompaniment to our next course – the delicately flavoured Slip S+ole. With its brisk acidity and lemonyness the Bastianich Ribolla Gialla was made for this dish and waved the flag for this artisan producer dedicated to celebrating this undervalued, native grape variety from Friuli . But it was the Pommard from family-owned Domaine Pascal Bouley that stole the show alongside the partridge, with plenty of whoops and cheers from the crowd. The beauty of Steve’s food is similar to that of a good wine, where once in your mouth the food and the flavours start to change and evolve, challenging and delighting your taste buds all at once.
A massive thank you to Steve and his cavalry for looking after us and to our lovely guests for coming along to our culinary day by the sea.
Rowing the boat: Jack Lewens previous head sommelier at Quo Vadis, Emily O’Hare – head sommelier at River Café, Christina Larssen – head sommelier & consultant for Morton’s club, Nigel Sutclife – consultant. At the helm, captain Willie Lebus and Aimee Hartley, Bibendum.
Bruno Paillard Assemblage Reims 1999
Domaine Pascal Bouley Pommard 2009
Bastianich Vigne Orsone Ribolla Gialla 2010
Jean Reijkaert’s Vire-Clesse ‘Le Mont Chatelaine’ 2010
Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico 2010
Phincas DSG Vineyards Rioja Alavesa 2009
Suavia Soave Classico Monte Carbonare 2011
Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Clos Paradis 2010
Morgan Santa Lucia Highlands Twelve Clones Pinot Noir 2010
Chateau de St-Cosme Gigondas 2010
Sijnn Red 2008