After the UK National Restaurant Awards: Q&A with Stephen Harris, chef-patron of Michelin-starred pub The Sportsman

Stephen Harris 2

On 27 June, the National Restaurant Awards announced its top 100 restaurants in the UK for 2016; and it was Seasalter based The Sportsman who topped the list.

The awards are voted for by an academy that is made up of more than 150 industry experts including chefs, restaurateurs, food writers and critics and other food experts and gastronomes, from across all regions of the UK.

Each voter is given seven votes based on their best restaurant experiences from the last 12 months. Votes are listed in order of preference and must be for restaurants both in their ‘home’ region and outside it. Once all votes are cast, they are added up by Restaurant Magazine to create the list. In the event of a tied number of votes, the preference ‘weighting’ comes into play.

The Sportsman has been under chef-patron Stephen Harris’ watchful eye since 1999 and held its Michelin star since 2008.

Following the National Restaurant Awards ceremony, we caught up with Stephen to hear his thoughts on winning the award as well as looking at what the future has in store for The Sportsman.

Congratulations on winning this award. What does this mean for you and your restaurant?

To come top on this list is incredible and very humbling; I’m not often humbled but this is humbling.

The thing that gives me huge pride over winning and why I look at this award ceremony as very honest, is the fact that I never entered myself for it and neither did any of the other restaurants that won – we depend on 150 independent industry experts.

Pot roast red cabbage, apple and fresh cheese

Do you feel that awards help grow your business and get more diners through the door?

In a way, yes. The reason I say that is because I haven’t actually met a chef that hasn’t won an award yet. So we can see that there are plenty of award ceremonies in the industry but having awards like these where you don’t actually enter in yourself are the most telling and, as I said before, the most honest. From that point of view, yes I believe these awards help us get more diners through the door.

Great to hear these awards help your business. Do you feel that awards such as this one give your business a certain amount of gravitas and recognition?

There is no doubt about that! Since taking over The Sportsman, I always wanted to have diners enjoy my food in a relaxed atmosphere and I can see that the industry is now moving away from calling a restaurant fantastic just because it has silver service and you need to dress up to be there. In my mind, that is what this list and these awards represent and showcase; it’s a list that is very in touch with the current food scene and it is not afraid to recognise curry houses and kebab shops as well – because they have the best curry and the best kebab.

That’s the real value that I see when looking at these awards, they are open to recognising the very latest things happening in the industry, which makes it a very exciting list.

Huts (1)

How do you use the awards and accolades your restaurant wins to help promote your business?

These type of awards are my promotion. I have an old fashioned view; I believe the best way to build a restaurant is to stay in your kitchen and build a good menu that people enjoy coming to eat.

When we opened The Sportsman, that’s exactly what we did and we relied on the fact that if the food is good enough, our diners will tell their friends about us and then their friends will tell their friends and so on.

That’s a good approach. Will you and your team celebrate?

I will organise a party to celebrate but besides that nothing much. The main thing for us at the moment is to keep doing what we’re doing and hope more people will come to enjoy our food.

Roast rack and slow braised shoulder of Monkshill Farm lamb

Is there one thing that you believe helped to win this award?

No, we just keep it simple. We’re literally a pub, my staff don’t wear uniforms and our chefs focus solely on the food. I want people that are happy in their work. I don’t want people to be too formal, I think that ruins the atmosphere.

Seeing how we came up in the number one spot, just being people like us as we are; wouldn’t it be ridiculous if we changed it?

Sportsman pana. from across the marshes

Completely agree with you. So what’s next for The Sportsman?

Simple – keep doing what we’re doing and keep The Sportsman as is. It’s clear that our diners love us for that. We are also looking into doing a book that will give The Sportsman more personality and that will look at stories from behind the scenes. This should come out Christmas 2017. There might be some TV appearances, however that is somewhere in the distance so we’ll have to see how it goes.

Here’s the top 10 UK restaurant winners at this year’s National Restaurant Awards:

  1. The Sportsman, Kent
  2. Barrafina Adelaide Street, London
  3. The Ledbury, London
  4. Hedone, London
  5. Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac
  6. The Clove Club, London
  7. Piquet, London
  8. L’Enclume, Cartmel
  9. Lyle’s, London
  10. The River Café, London

Photos courtesy of The Sportsman and National Restaurant Awards


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