The Saturday we drove down to coastal Kent wasn’t quite as sunny as I had envisioned when I first made the reservation at Mark Sargeant’s newly-opened Rocksalt a month ago. But it was dry, not too grey and decent enough weather for seaside eating. We spotted the black angular building perched on Folkestone harbour straightaway – its looming silhouette at odds with the surrounding shellfish-peddling shacks.
Walking in we were greeted with an impressive panoramic view and a bustling roomful of diners. We took a drafty window seat and scanned the largely fish-centric menu (not surprising given the location). Strangely, despite being ravenous we had difficulty choosing from the unimaginative list – I had expected a selection with more flair from the alum of Gordon Ramsay Claridge’s.
We finally settled on sharing a few small bites and starters. A pot of bouncy cockles were fresh but a bit gritty and so over-salted that I resorted to dousing them heavily in vinegar which sadly hid their natural flavour.
Potted Crayfish Tails, served in pretty miniature Staub pots, was delicious – meaty shellfish set in lightly spiced clarified butter. I could have done with more toast to spread it on, but otherwise no complaints.
Josper Baked Mussels were soft, plump and stronger in taste than we were accustomed. I enjoyed the simple preparation that allowed the underlying sweetness of the shellfish to shine through.
Rocksalt Fish Soup was tasty and robust but I missed all the good stuff (cheese, croutons and rouille) the soup usually comes with. It was also a stingy portion for £7 and looked a bit naff sitting on a doily.
Mains were pretty solid. Dover Sole (served with sides of asparagus and new potatoes) flaked off the bone nicely and was spankingly fresh, as one would expect of the Catch of the Day. A steal at £20.
Grilled Lobster and Chips, another special, was a touch over but still juicy and the sweet flesh was lovely slathered with pungent aioli. A small tomato and basil salad came alongside but the kitchen had forgotten the chips which only materialised after gentle prodding. They were good, but could have been crustier.
Mains done, we sat for a good 10-15 minutes staring at our empty plates before someone came to clear the table and offer us desserts. Not keen to repeat the lengthy wait we immediately placed our orders – Raspberry Bakewell for me, and Gypsy Tart for B. My pick was perfect – moist almond sponge over a layer of tart berries sitting in golden shortcrust pastry. I ignored the scoop of clotted cream and just washed large forkfuls down with milk tea.
The Gypsy Tart was well made too, with a thin crisp case and airy caramel filling but even with the lemon zest topped vanilla cream it was too cloying for B (not a fault of the dessert mind, it is meant to be sweet). I ended up splitting my pud with him which I wasn’t best pleased about!
We ended the meal with Rocksalt branded sweets (cute but artificial tasting) and feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Yes, everything was terribly fresh and competitively priced but the unadventurous menu, lacklustre service and sleek modern decor all screamed upscale chain to us.
That said, I don’t want to take away from the fact that Rocksalt (and sister chippy Smokehouse) are clearly a welcome and valued addition to Folkestone Harbour. But for us Londoners who are lucky enough to have a bevy of great fish restaurants at our fingertips, it just isn’t worth a 4-hour schlep there and back.
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