As most will know, Rocksalt is the baby of Mark Sargeant, formerly head chef at Claridge's and the opening of his first restaurant is something of a talking point for the food community. That said, not all of these words have been positive, but having read every review I can find, none seem overly harsh, though Mr Sargeant seems less than pleased with the blogger coverage thus far. As I now sit down to write our own post of a meal that we really didn't enjoy, that fact is unlikely to change.
First though, the restaurant is stunning. With Roger de Haan as a backer (who with his brother Peter is reported to be worth £800mn) it would seem that no expense has been spared in Sargeant bringing his dream to life. Fortunately, the weather was good enough for us to sit outside on the expansive terrace which offers stunning views of the harbour and the Channel outside the harbour walls. It is a nice situation in which to take lunch.
Sadly after that, things became a little more disappointing. Sitting looking out at fishing boats, we felt compelled to choose seafood options throughout though they do have a 'Butcher' section to the menu offering 32 day aged beef, pork belly and salt marsh lamb on the menu.
The whole menu, we have to say, sounds good and, having made the journey down to the coast, were keen to try as much as possible off it. Accordingly, for starters, we went with: Smoked coley brandade, Dressed crab with harissa and toast, Potted crayfish tails, and Tankard of grilled prawns.
The crab came first but the crab was hard to discern: it was so overpowered by the harissa that it could have been anything, or nothing. Interestingly, The Telegraph's review of Rocksalt dated 17 July complained that 'the harissa dressing was underpowering - really more of a pink hue than a flavour'. We wonder if they are now over compensating having taken that on board.
The coley brandade was salty and fishy but lacked depth of flavour, being somewhat watery. The prawns seemed liked they had been marinated in some kind of oil that detracted from the raw ingredient while the coated crayfish tails looked to us on first appearance unappetising and almost out of place in the Staub cocotte pot. Not one of these plates did we finish.
The monkfish itself was perhaps the best of the day's offering and was cooked well and ate well. Sadly the marrowfat peas it came with weighed the dish down and I wonder how much better the dish would have been with some sparkling garden peas. Equally, instead of luscious lardons of bacon, it was chopped up rashers that seemed flimsy in comparison.
The squid meanwhile looked good but came whole not sliced and on cutting in to the squid tube, a white creamy like substance oozed from it, leading us to believe that it had not been properly cleaned out (this can be seen in the third picture below). It pretty much ended the dish there.
We notice the 'duck fat chips' of earlier reviews have now become 'beef dripping chips' but the chips lacked crunch while the larger chips were undercooked in the middle.
Finally, a hardly dressed salad looked just sad on the plate and was barely touched.
Service, a common criticism in early reviews, was friendly but still patchy. A second bottle of Coke when ordered was duly brought to the table with a glass filled with ice (tick) but the first empty Coke bottle and empty glass were simply left on the table (fail). Easy things really. To their credit, some front of house staff did notice and did care that we seemed indifferent to our meal and asked what they could do; sadly very little.
We took the bill and left without wanting to explore desserts. We understand that the restaurant is not seeking to do what might be called 'posh London food' or 'Michelin star food' but we never expected that of Rocksalt and it's not what we were looking for. One of the best meals of our lives was at Rafa's in Spain where local fish is cooked on a plancha and served, no sides, no salads, and it's seafood heaven. We loved The Company Shed in its own raw way, selling the daily catch on PVC wipe dry table cloths. But here, sadly, at Rocksalt, the ingredients failed to shine.
With starters, mains and sides, we ordered eight plates in total, and here's the thing: we didn't clear a single one of them. For a restaurant on a road called Fishmarket, that has its structural supports in the very fabric of the harbour, and for a chef with an unquestionable pedigree, it was to say the least a disappointment. Amongst four seafood starters and two seafood mains, not only was there no epiphany, but sadly, for us, it didn't even make the mark.
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