Rocksalt, Folkestone: tried and tested

The opening of Rocksalt was so hyped up that Kent Life decided to leave a visit until the restaurant was nearly a year old. So – was it worth the wait?

A shore thing

The opening of Rocksalt was so hyped up that Kent Life decided to leave a visit until the restaurant was nearly a year old. So – was it worth the wait?

With Roger de Haan behind it, like so many regeneration projects in Folkestone, and Mark ‘Sarge’ Sargeant, one-time head chef at Claridge's and a prot�g�e of Gordon Ramsay at its helm, Rocksalt arrived on the restaurant scene last June with serious culinary clout.

Just a stone’s throw from de Haan’s special project, The Creative Quarter, you can’t miss the dramatic curved dark timber building right on the old harbour front. 

“It’s sort of half a Martello Tower, half London-by-the-sea,” whispered My Talented Writer Friend as we walked through a stylish bar with Cherner chairs and a marble facade to get to the smart yet informal dining bit.

Cantilevered over the harbour, a floor-to-ceiling glass wall gives every table a sea view (France on a clear day) and comfortable green leather banquettes line the wall, again all facing seawards.

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The main section of the restaurant has lime-washed oak flooring and dark timber tables, while the far end of the room can be sectioned off by glass doors to create a private dining space for up to 24 people.

Outside, a sweeping terrace literally overhangs the harbour's edge and is inevitably very popular on sunny days. I’ll have to return to enjoy that experience –MTFW and I were there on a dark, wet evening so didn’t get sea views and sunshine, but we did enjoy watching the tide rush into the harbour and the colourful lights reflected in the inky waters.

At night, the restaurant possibly lacks a bit of atmosphere and I would have liked to see some artwork on the very dark curved, walls, especially given Folkestone’s strong cultural heart and Rocksalt’s own position – an artist’s dream.

But the food’s the thing, and the fish served here couldn’t be fresher – after all, it’s straight off the bobbing day boats moored right beneath the terrace – and for carnivores, Mark uses meat bred in the surrounding fertile countryside and marshlands.

The menu is certainly enticing: you get a choice of appetisers as well as first courses and salads, then the mains are divided into ‘shellfish’, ‘fishmonger’ and ‘catch of the day’, followed by ‘butcher’,‘vegetarian’ and ‘daily specials.’ You get the picture.

I started with scallops served with poached rhubarb and while it was the prettiest plateful imaginable, the rhubarb really did overpower the delicate fish. More rhubarb with scallops than vice versa.

MTFW fared better with her cured sea bream with lime and chilli, enjoying the clean, fresh flavours and impressed by the use of coriander micro-herbs from Watts Farm in Orpington.

Despite being tempted by the likes of slow-cooked Monkshill Park pork belly and Salt Marsh lamb rump, we both kept to a fishy theme and baked Folkestone cod with plenty of creamy parsley sauce and my local mackerel with white beans and herb vinaigrette both proved a hit. You’ll probably need to add extra veg though, at �2.50 a go.

Puddings are enticing – vanilla rice pudding with Armagnac prunes got a thumbs up as ‘posh comfort food’ and my poached pear with honey ice cream was saved from over-sweetness by a subtle, almost savoury hint of cinnamon.

An extensive wine list ignores local options but there’s a decent range by the glass, including an Australian Chardonnay called Spitting Spider. Well, how could we resist?

And as well as the new flagship, Sarge also hast a flash chippy round the corner (The Smokehouse). We await developments with interest and look forward to a sunny daytime return visit.

THE ESSENTIALS

Where: Rocksalt

01303 212 070

What: stylish, modern seafood restaurant

What’s the damage: scallops with rhubarb �12, baked cod with parsley sauce �16.50, Kentish Gypsy Tart �5.25

When: Tue-Sat and Sun (lunch only), 12pm-3.30pm and 7pm-10.30pm

TAKE 3 SEAFOOD RESTAURANTS IN YOUR AREA

Hythe Bay Seafood Restaurant

Marine Parade, Hythe CT21 6AW

01303 233844. 

and The Esplanade, Dover CT17 9FS

01304 207740

Choose from two seafront restaurants, both of which belong to the family that also runs Eastwell Manor hotel, near Ashford. Tuck into seafood bisque or grilled sardines followed by pan-fried skate with capers and black butter, or a mighty Hythe Bay seafood platter while enjoying the panormaic views.

Open: daily, morning coffee and drinks from the bar served from 10am, full restaurant service 12pm-10pm.

Fish on the Green

Church Lane, Bearsted Green, Maidstone ME14 4EJ

01622 738300

Enviably located on ‘one of the prettiest village greens in England’, this former stable block to the original coaching inn, The Walnut Tree (now The Oak on the Green) has been completely renovated to provide a simple, stylish dining room with a small pre-dinner drinks bar. With an entry in the 2010 Michelin Guide and its first AA Rosette, the reputation of Fish on the Green is growing apace and its menu showcases trawler fresh fish and shellfish, plus local salad and farm produce, including Kentish Limousin beef.

Open: Sun 12pm-4.30pm, closed Mon, Tue-Thu 12pm-2.30 and 6.30-9.30pm, Fri and Sat 12pm-2.30pm and 6.30-10pm

Seafood Brasserie & Oyster Bar

Sankey’s, 39 Mount Ephraim 

Tunbridge Wells TN4 8AA 

01892 511422 

This family owned and run business has been operating in and around the Tunbridge Wells area for more than 50 years. As well as a popular pub with open fires, cask ales and beers from around the world, the Seafood Brasserie & Oyster Bar in the old cellars specialises in the freshest wet fish and shellfish from around the British coast, both direct and from Sankey’s own award-winning fishmongers. The atmosphere is informal, relaxed and very friendly.

Open: Tue-Sat 12pm-3pm and 6pm-10pm. Also open for Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day and Easter Sunday.

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