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Rocksalt: A beachside beacon of cosmopolitan cool

A shining star that has been at the helm of Kent’s foodie frontier since first opening in 2011, Rocksalt has since continued to uphold its status as the epitome of chic beachside trendiness manifesting as a restaurant.

By Olivia Riccini 

A perfectly balanced mixture of characteristics complete Rocksalt’s slick persona, informing any visitor that Kent has long since entered into a reimagined, sophisticated realm of glorious seaside dining.

A day full of intermittent spring showers has been replaced by an evening of blue skies, now blending into one with the ocean before me lapping calmly at Folkestone’s harbour walls. Overhanging these and looking out across the ocean towards the continent is Rocksalt itself. I gaze upon this contemporary wonder – a marvellous mass of steel and glass that promises mesmerising views before I even step inside to see them. Upon doing so, the interior strikes me as equally impressive. Oozing modernity, a generously stocked bar glitters at one end of the restaurant, while a huge curve of panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows frame traditional scenes of bobbing boats in the harbour outside. 

Like much of Folkestone, Rocksalt is in stark contrast to the traditions of this seaside town it calls home. The hubbub of surrounding heritage has all the elements tourists so love English seaside counties such as Cornwall for, yet its laid-back, unquestionable air of cool confidence echoes the restaurants that sit upon the sun-soaked beaches of Ibiza. However reminiscent of these much-heralded European oceanside destinations, it is these adored attributes that have helped Kent carve out its own persona as a cultured yet cosmopolitan escape by the sea; an identity that Rocksalt embodies seamlessly.

Our table of four is in high spirits, but with surroundings such as these, I believe it impossible not to be. As we clink flutes of Gusbourne’s best sparkling, I observe the stage that is Folkestone’s harbour in the fading evening light before doing an in-depth study of the menu. 

First come the cocktails. An extensive menu that boasts sections according to style (think ‘classics with a twist’ vs ‘spritz’), I opt to choose from the ‘teetotallers’ section. Eventually I whittle it down with much second guessing to a ‘mangapinna’ consisting of pomegranate, agave, Lyre’s 0% tequila and aquafaba. When said beauty is placed in front of me, I am pleased with myself, and naturally, out comes the phone. One thing about Rocksalt that goes without saying is this: everything is Instagrammable. Whether the views act as the subject themselves or play the part of backdrop to a glorious creation from the menu (or in fact, yourself), the natural light and sublime beauty of each creation promise all it takes for the ultimate picture. My cocktail is no exception: a fuchsia pink delight adorned with foam and flowers, this is just as exquisite on the tongue as it is on the eye. A fruity yet wonderfully sharp elixir, its airy aquafaba foam is the dreamiest of textures before the juicy nectar hits the taste buds. 

Rocksalt’s ‘Mangapinna’

After gorging on fluffy warm breads and creamy sea-salted butter, our next big decision comes in the form of starters. An eclectic array of ingredients make up these ingenious little plates, so no matter your taste, something is certain to satisfy. I, ever the salad lover, opt for the blood orange, feta, honeyed walnuts, basil vinaigrette, and Rebel Farmer shoots salad. I realise now, that before even encroaching upon my main, I have already indulged in two products of The Garden of England – Gusbourne and Rebel Farmer. When speaking with the maître d’, I question him on Rocksalt’s ethos. He tells me that despite being big on Kentish produce before economic inflation and the rising costs living in the UK, Rocksalt are now even more firmly dedicated to sourcing as much as they can locally. All the fish – an obvious speciality here at Rocksalt – comes from local waters via local traders, as does most of the menu. “We rethought as much as we could when it came to sourcing ingredients locally, even more so than we did before. This has worked in our favour. Kent has so much to offer and this also means everything is fresher and holds more flavour.” The maître d’ is not wrong and my salad is a perfect example of this. Bursting with freshness, the zesty sweetness of the blood orange entangles sublimely with the sharp savoury vinegar and distinctive feta flavour, the cheese’s soft texture a crumbly contrast to the honeyed walnut, which provide a nutty, candy-like crunch in all this leafy goodness. 

But, you may ask, who is responsible for satisfying this fashionable flavour craving that Folkestone never knew it had? The culinary marvel behind the menu? Chef Marcin Szelka. As we order our mains we are yet to meet Marcin, but this eclectic array of gorgeous sounding dishes has me wondering at his identity. It takes some serious talent for a man with so much on his plate (Rocksalt is one of five siblings, including Little Rock on the beach) to effortlessly and continuously hit the mark when it comes to food and style. A surreal example of this comes in the form of my next dish. As we are next to the sea, I appropriately choose from the ‘fishmonger’ section of the menu (as opposed to the ‘butcher’ or ‘shellfish’ sections) and a dazzling dish is set down before me. Again, the camera is whipped out in awe – the subject this time? Pan-fried sea bass, wild garlic velouté, new potatoes and clams. It is the visual aspects of the wild garlic that delivers the beauty of this dish – a vibrant green velouté creating a stunning pool for the bass to sit in while dainty flowers are scattered amongst pretty clam shells which shimmer an iridescent pearl in the evening light. As with any fish dish, to deliver optimum flavour the fish must be cooked to perfection and of course, this sea bass is exactly that. A crunchy, salty, skin satisfies on first bite, while the soft white meat of the fish is nothing less than heavenly – especially when covered in the buttery garlic velouté and snuggled up nicely with a perfectly cooked new potato on the fork. 

Pan-fried sea bass, wild garlic velouté, new potatoes and clams

Although content and happily full, so in awe are we of our starters and mains, we naturally finish with dessert. Craving a zesty, almost palate-cleansing pud, I decide upon the baked cheesecake with passionfruit and mango sorbet. As expected, this is again beautifully presented: a neat little circle of cheesecake drizzled with passionfruit and crowned with a spherical sorbet scoop. The saltiness of the crumb and the creamy dairy flavour of the cheesecake seamlessly hits the sought after sweet-versus-savoury flavour ratio when met with the tropical notes of mango and citrus sharpness of passion fruit. A divine end to a delectable dinner. What more could one want from a meal upon Kent’s balmy shores?

Baked cheesecake with passionfruit and mango sorbet

@rocksaltfolkestone

www.rocksaltfolkestone.co.uk

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