Impeccable produce from the fields and coast of Kent flatters the wine list at this relaxed restaurant, says Neil Gerrard
W hen he first opened Rocksalt in Folkestone, chef Mark Sargeant declared that he wanted the unfashionable town on east Kent's coast to be the next Padstow.
It took something of a leap of imagination back then, and even seven years on it's a bit of a stretch, but there are signs that his ambition may yet turn into reality. While hardly yet enough of a culinary hotspot to make a member of the Stein family sit up and take notice, there are some promising newcomers to the area, and the latest of those is David Hart.
t is a chef of 19 years' standing and a veteran of what he calls the "east Kent circuit". He spent a couple of years at the Granville pub in Lower Hardres near Canterbury when it was owned by Stephen Harris, who runs the Sportsman at Seasalter near Whitstable, before spending a year at the Sportsman itself.
kestone is his latest port of call, with the Folkestone Wine Company, which he runs with his partner Polly Pleasence, who is front of house. Set in what used to be a former tea room in the town's creative quarter, it's a relaxed affair, with daily menus chalked up on the blackboard and two adjoining rooms that between them can accommodate 24 diners.
nch bistro is the mode of cooking Hart knows and loves, but he doesn't attribute any one particular style to Folkestone Wine Company. "I am more led by my stomach and what I like eating," he says. "My natural greed writes the menu - that and being strictly seasonal."
The simple but beautifully executed cooking, presented in generous portions on mismatching crockery, definitely has shades of the Sportsman, but it's not the only influence. Hart reels off a list, all led by quality produce, including St John, Moro, River Café and Skye Gyngell.
The wine, though, is just as important as the food, hence the name. "I have a huge passion for wine, much more as an enthusiast than an expert," Hart says. "It started off with drinking nice Burgundy with Steve at the Sportsman. He very kindly would pour you a half glass of something really delicious at the end of service and that got me hooked."
The aim with the food is therefore to keep it very simple and to flatter the wines. On the day The Caterer speaks to him, he is making a cassoulet (£13), which comes from an old Shaun Hill recipe for Boston baked beans.
Hart says: "After having experimented for ages trying to get cassoulet right for the Frog and Scot, using all these authentic recipes with bacon rinds and duck fat, and breaking the crust and stirring it back in, I found that this old recipe for Boston baked beans, along with a confit of really good-quality pork and duck and Toulouse sausage, is an absolute winner."
t has found plenty of inspiration from local Kentish produce, not least from nearby Ottinge Court Farm, one of the very few unpasteurised dairy producers in the UK, which produces "outstanding" milk, cream and yogurt. Its produce appears in a dish of braised chicory, caramelised and deglazed with sherry vinegar, with Puy lentils, a purée of winter vegetables and served with Ottinge Court Farm crème fraÁ®che, toasted hazelnuts and herbs (£12.50).
"It's a vegetarian dish that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike love, and it's one of my favourites as well," Hart says.
Meanwhile, seafood comes from Griggs in nearby Hythe, including rock oysters from West Mersea, which are "as good as I have ever had", according to Hart. So far, the restaurant, which averages about 150 covers a week and is open Wednesday evenings for dinner, Thursday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and on Sunday for lunch, has been "busier than expected".
In the meantime, he retains a "massive focus" on getting ingredients in fresh every day. He says: "We prepare it to order and then the next day the fridges are more or less bare and you start again. I think it was a Fernand Point quote about starting the day fresh, with nothing on the stove and starting from scratch. I am very happy in this kitchen cooking exactly what I want to cook every day."
From the menu
Blood orange, fennel and goats' curd £6
Alpine ham, celeriac rémoulade £7
Parmesan gnocchi, cavolo nero pesto, egg yolk £10
Brill fillet, crab bisque and fennel £16
Roast pear on French toast, crème fraÁ®che, honey and lime £6.50
Chocolate tart, hazelnuts, coffee sauce, Ottinge Court Farm cream £6.50
Sample wines from the menu
2016 'Clos des Allées' Muscadet, Luneau-Papin, Loire £30
2015 'En Cresher' St Véran, Domaine Daniel Barraud, Burgundy £45
2016 'Bout d'Zan' Mas de Libian Rhône/Ardèche £27
2010 ChÁ¢teau le Crock, Saint-Estèphe, Bordeaux £68
Church Street, Folkestone CT20 1SE
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