Tales of the origins of a seaside restaurant – ROcksalt
Rocksalt is the restaurant overlooking Folkestone Harbour and was the vision of local philanthropist Sir Roger De Haan and his son Josh. #Folkelife talks to Josh about how the restaurant came about.
“We opened Rocksalt in 2011 – it seems so long ago now, when you think about how the town looked then. Dad had this idea that Folkestone needed a decent restaurant that would work as magnet to draw people back to the harbour area of Folkestone. I wasn’t so sure, in fact, I just didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think the regeneration was going quickly enough at the time. Building a restaurant overhanging the sea was quite an undertaking and he really wanted me to be involved. It took a while for me to come round, but the key moment came when he and I were on a climbing holiday in France. I suppose he can be persuasive when tethered together on the side of a mountain!
“We went down the route of building a restaurant – it’s a stunning building by my very old friend Guy Hollaway and it’s in an incredible location. The views are fantastic any time of year. We then needed an operator to run it. We never initially thought we would run the operation. We just thought about building it and we hoped it would help the regeneration. We looked for an operator for a year and spoke to some fantastic people but none of them quite met our requirements. Then I met Mark Sargeant. Mark had just left the Gordon Ramsay Holdings having worked for him for over 10 years and had won a Michelin star with him as Head Chef of Claridges. Mark was from Kent and was looking for something to get his teeth into.
If you Build it, they will come…
“Even up until the day we opened I thought it was a big risk. Opening a restaurant the size of Rocksalt is a very public thing to do in any town but especially in an area of a town that was not on the ‘foody map’. You have to remember back then most of the pubs in the town were drinking pubs, there were a couple of standout restaurants but not many. The Harbour Arm work hadn’t started and the Old High Street and Rendevous Street were really in their infancy.
“What we were doing was shiny and new, and very prominent. My dad’s mantra was ‘If you build it, they will come’, I still wasn’t so sure but I decided to go into business with Mark to operate the restaurant. I felt that he would generate a lot of PR for the town and the restaurant so we had a good fighting chance!”
Top 100 Restaurant list in the first year
“We opened the doors in June 2011 and after a few very minor teething problems that all restaurants have when they open, it’s been very successful.
“In the first year we were open we managed to get into the top 100 restaurants list in the UK. Which isn’t bad considering we are in sleepy Folkestone and the bulk of the list that year, were big city based venues.
“Rocksalt has gone on to do exactly what Dad and I had planned to do 10 years ago on the side of that mountain. We have helped draw people back to the harbour area; not just people who live locally but also many from further afield. We regularly have people who travel down specifically to eat at the restaurant from London and also from the continent.
“Folkestone is experiencing such an amazing resurgence at the moment. The food and drink scene is just superb and, in my opinion, streets ahead of other seaside town for miles. I am just pleased to be in some way part of that.
“Mark and I are very keen to do a food festival, hopefully on the Arm. He’s constantly doing stuff for other chefs around the country, and it’s his turn to bring people down here. Whistable has it’s Oyster Festival, Rye has it’s Scallop Festival and we could have… Whelks! Well, something far more exciting than that, but a festival that encompasses all types of food – fish, vegan, vegetarian and even whelks!”
“We’ve achieved what we set out to do; we’ve created a commercially successful restaurant that serves the locals, and is also worth travelling to. A lot of our “out of town” clients had never been to Folkestone before and now they are regulars, some have even moved here!”