It’s 2017 people and like it or not we’ve got a whole new year to look forward to, so it’s time to get up and get on in order to make the absolute most out of the coming twelve months. The period through the winter brings with it cosy warm feelings when you come in out of the cold, but also it’s time to recover after spanking the bank account into submission and adapt to a new you. And adapt we must because there will always be new challenges to face and food to eat; so tell our groaning belt buckles to be damned, let your ever-more frightened wallets know who’s boss and we will start 2017 with a restaurant review, when food is probably the absolute last thing you want to read about!
Rocksalt is a well known institution in Folkstone; it has sat on the dock looking out over the sea for a few years now and looking at the testimonies that grace their website, it’s been loved for a good few of those. I visited just before Christmas with a couple of friends of mine whom I shall refer to here as ‘Big Boy’ and ‘The Lady’, not just for cheap laughs but also an attempt to keep their anonymity in the face of the enormous internet fame that will inevitably follow publication of this article.
Rocksalt – the Grande Dame of Folkstone harbour
Ostensibly a fish restaurant, Rocksalt caters for tastes across the board in some lavish surroundings. The decor is stark but tasteful and the entry hall has a large window so you can peer directly into the kitchen and gorp at the busy team behind the pass. The whole dining area has been set out to make the most of the views out to the sea, which are unquestionably gorgeous for sea lovers such as myself. The bar and the rest of the staff were polite and perfectly presented; so far, so good.
The kitchen brought out some bread, which came with butter sprinkled with sea salt and smoked pork crumb, crispy fried seaweed and some taramasalata.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the tara, and I’m afraid that even piping it very neatly into a huge oyster shell didn’t win me over this time either. The seaweed was nice but a bit burnt too which wasn’t the best start to a meal that I’ve had. The butter itself was lovely and to be honest I didn’t think you could improve on butter spread on sourdough but after the addition of some smoky pork crumb bits I was glad to be proved wrong.
We moved to the starters and my bouillabaisse was deep, rich and tasty. In the traditional way, it came with toast (more sourdough, mmmm), a separate mustard sauce and grated cheese. I know that you are supposed to spread the sauce on the toast, dip in the soup then sprinkle cheese on, but quite frankly to hell with that! I just dived in and enjoyed the bowl as it was and very nice it was too.
‘Big Boy’ was just as excited about his lobster pasty, it certainly did look pretty. I noticed that the bisque was thick and creamy and a great colour; he assured me that the taste matched the presentation.
Shellfish and pork – can Rocksalt match the two?
We moved to the main course and as Mrs P will tell you, I am an absolute sucker for shellfish. In this instance I first chose the mussels, then changed my mind at the last second and went for the pork and cockles – I was really interested to see just how the pork could match up to the distinctive flavour of the shellfish.
The collar of pork itself was nice, if a little chewy, and the greens were punchy with the buttery sauce. The studs of apple were nice and fresh too, which didn’t sit too well with the cockles but stick to the pork with the apple or the pork with the cockles and you are good to go. I also ordered the triple cooked chips which are now ubiquitous across all fine dining aspiring eateries in the UK. Unfortunately, as their popularity expands, so too does the tendency to get them wrong and the examples here with their leathery skins and dense centre were about as far from Mr. Blumenthals vision of the perfect pomme frite as is possible to get. A shame perhaps as that shouldn’t put you off the quality of the rest of the cooking, but a shame which does rather stick out nevertheless.
Having said that though ‘The Lady’ loved her mackerel so much that she polished off the lot with no hint of difficulty so that is certainly a good sign.
Conclusion – Is Rocksalt past it’s prime?
All in all, I think Rocksalt is a solid example of decent quality food with fine dining aspiration. The fact that I have used the word ‘nice’ five times in this review should tell you everything really. Because it is nice, there’s no doubt about it, and I would be more than happy to go back and have another dinner there. If you ever find yourself in Folkestone you should go as well – support local sustainable fishing and make sure you play your part in raising the profile of Folkestone. But, the truth is: it probably won’t excite you to do it. Where is the soul? Where is the enthusiasm? Everything seems so controlled here that it’s just like any one of the hundreds of South Coast fish restaurants you can find between Margate and Plymouth. What is there about Rocksalt that marks them out? I’m afraid I just couldn’t find it.