After several toddler-filled, bikini-less years, it was finally time for a holiday abroad, so we booked a family ‘glamping’ holiday in Normandy. Glamping is very similar to camping but the creepy crawlies terrorise you whilst you lie in proper beds as opposed to a sleeping bag.
This trip involved a long cross-country drive with an overnight stopover at the entrance to the Chunnel. I was almost resigned to the idea of having to eat a ‘ping’ meal from the microwaves of Hotel Generica, when I pulled some useful information from my food obsessed sub -conscious.
Hadn’t Mark Sargeant opened a fish restaurant in Folkstone a year ago? I’d followed the build up on Twitter before it opened and he had tweeted some complimentary things about the design of North Star deli. However, it’s a 530 mile round trip from home, so a visit was to be now or never.
When I’d called earlier in the day, they told me they couldn’t fit us in until 9.30pm, but there may be a cancellation. That hope fuelled the journey down to the Kent coast and we arrived with plenty of time to look around.
First impressions of Folkestone? Well I now know the answer to ‘what do we do with the drunken sailor?’ - We obviously put him in charge of town planning. After negotiating the ‘this way, back the other way, back the way you came’ one way system, we finally parked up by a seagull the size of a dog, a meter that refused our Northern pound coins and a sweary mid-afternoon fight outside Lidl.
With our hands over the children’s ears we ushered them towards the harbour. The folk of Folkstone have had a bit of a go with a ‘creative quarter’ and it was a joy to see old fashioned seafood kiosks doing a brisk trade in cockles and mussels, but other than that, it’s pretty run down. It was a hot day and, with my vest top covering my belly, I felt seriously overdressed and under-tattooed.
Absolutely desperate for a drink and a chill out, we butted round the town square between the entrances of sticky carpeted hotels and grotty pubs like a live pinball game until finally, through the historic arch of the old fish market, we saw it.
Rocksalt’s modern, black timber façade rose up to greet us. I burst past the bouncer through the tall glass doors like Hercules having completed his final task. Sara, the Austrian manager turned out to be every bit as charming in real life as she did on the phone. Between her look of sympathy and my enthusiastic nodding dog impression, the cornered head chef was left no other option but to allow us a table at 6.45pm - this was perfect and still left time for a quick drink overlooking the harbour in the pleasant upstairs bar (which, of course, I’d have known about if I’d spent a bit more time looking through their website.)
Rocksalt is co-owned by Mark Sargeant, who worked extensively under Gordon Ramsay and now appears regularly on the telly. His business partner is a son of the De Haan family who own the Saga group, making them the second richest family in Kent – after the people that own the local tattoo parlour obviously.
Every detail has been taken into consideration from the location, fit-out design, uniform, menu and suppliers. They even play ‘The Shipping Forecast’ through speakers in the toilets for a bit of sea faring atmosphere. Despite this high level of detail and control, it still shows a real sense of humour and an independent personality.
Bonus points to the genius who came up with the idea of providing kids with an Etch-a- Sketch which kept them busy throughout dinner. Rocksalt are more than happy to accommodate children and the ‘Small Fry’ menu (£9) includes a main course and ice cream or baked Alaska. Our 4 yr old loved being able to pour his own gravy onto his sausage and mash out of his own little jug. Details - children like them.
The menu has been designed with a curt nod across the English Channel, which can be seen through the floor to ceiling glass wall. Mark and his team are as proud of the suppliers and produce we have on this side of the water as the French are over there. Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible and are cooked simply to speak for themselves. The restaurant has built a good relationship with the Folkstone Trawler Company, in order to command the pick of the catch. Seasonal vegetables come from their ‘garden’ – which must mean Kent, ‘the garden of England’.
The prospect of a week gorging cheese in Normandy meant I wanted to ‘save myself’ so ‘Millhouse radishes with anchovy sauce’ £2.50 were a perfect start. The reasonable price meant I had no problem re-investing my starter allowance on a glass of Grüner Ventliner 2010 £8.25/175ml.
Pat said his mussels ‘Marinière’ (£7.50) were perfectly cooked and had obviously been freshly plucked from the sea that day. They’d been baked in a Josper Grill which is basically a hugely sophisticated £18,000 indoor BBQ.
I ordered ‘Josper Baked Mackerel with Tomatoes and Fennel’ (£12.50) which hit the spot with its smoky charred skin. Pat fancied the local ‘Salt Marsh Lamb Rump with Rosemary Sauce’ (£17.50) which came from nearby Romney Marsh (didn’t he used to play for City?) It was cooked perfectly rare, as requested, and came with a beautifully soft and charred garlic bulb which we loved. Various side orders were on offer for an additional £2.50.
All in all, the bill came to around £100 for a family of 4 with drinks. This was at least twice what a meal would have cost in the chain hotel and more than twice as enjoyable. If you find yourselves in Folkestone, go. Not because it’s the only decent place to eat within the city boundaries, but because it’s actually quite lovely.