Sam Harrington-Lowe makes it down to Rockwater in the wet, and finds the food is fantastic, but the service something of a shambles…
My visit to Rockwater didn’t start particularly well, if I’m honest. It was lashing with rain as I staggered along the seafront, something that I absolutely accept was not their fault. But what definitely was down to them was the way I was handled when I arrived.
Firstly, it was rammed. And I’m genuinely very happy for them – it’s been a ghastly year for hospitality. So don’t imagine that I’m not pleased or sympathetic. But I stood like a lemon by the entrance whilst two very young waitresses addressed some kind of issue between themselves, something to do with the till, whilst people barged past me in and out of the front door, going to smoke and so on.
I wasn’t even acknowledged. You know, ‘Hallo there, would you mind waiting two seconds whilst we sort this out?’ They just cracked on, looking worried and fiddling with their hair, leaving me hanging there, jostled and increasingly irritatable. Eventually they fixed whatever it was, and one of them looked at me and apologised, I’ll give her that. But it was an unfortunate start.
I was told my companion hadn’t arrived yet, and directed to the lounge area where I was told I’d be collected once my friend arrived. I asked for a gin martini. Or perhaps I should say I yelled for a gin martini, trying to be heard over the noise of girl gangs lunching loudly with gallons of prosecco.
…the poor girl looked at me blankly. She had no idea what a gin martini was – but then why should she? She looked about 12 years old
No word of a lie, the poor girl looked at me blankly. She had no idea what a gin martini was – but then why should she? She looked about 12 years old. I looked briefly at the bar and felt some vague hope. “Just tell that guy there (mixing cocktails) that I want a bone-dry dirty gin martini. He’ll know,” I said, and sat down.
Not feeling particularly rushed, I people-watched for a bit and waited for said drink. Then my friend texted that she was here, and they’d seated her at our table, and to let me know when I arrived. Realising they’d completely missed joining the dots, I told her to stay put and went to find her myself. Trying to flag down one of the half a million waiting staff was impossible. I figured my martini would find me eventually.
My mate, on the other hand, had been told I hadn’t arrived yet – and considering the amount of attention I was given when I landed I was hardly surprised. But I sat down, and we squawked happily at each other for a bit, a little overwhelmed by all the noise and people, and eventually my drink found me.
Service and drinks?
I’m not going to grumble too much about the fact that my olives were clearly from some kind of herby marinade because the martini was actually excellent. Bone dry, ice cold, and – I suspect – stirred, not shaken – which pleases me enormously.
It’s very hard, however, to be cross with the staff. I can forgive that kind of thing in a new establishment, particularly one that’s been closed through no fault of its own for months
Once we were sitting down, there followed a spell of time where about four different people came to our table to ask if everything was okay, take orders, bring drinks and so on. Despite this, they forgot the water, and the olives we’d asked for to have with our aperitifs didn’t actually arrive until after the main course.
It’s very hard, however, to be cross with the staff. At least two of them apologised profusely on several occasions, explaining that they’d only just started and were learning on the job. And they were all very sweet. I can forgive that kind of thing in a new establishment, particularly one that’s been closed through no fault of its own for months. We gave in to the chaos ultimately and just giggled through most of the madness.
What I WILL say though, without reservation, is that we were absolutely knocked out by the quality of the food and drink. The excellent cocktails, the wine – perfectly chilled, in good glasses. And the food!
Tell us about the food…
We both went for the same things, which is a bit rubbish perhaps for a review, but we found there were outstanding options and we both wanted them. We went for Catch of the Day – which was seabass, served exactly as I like it; crispy skin, semi-translucent flesh, and drenched in butter and capers. The enormous pile of extremely purple buttery crushed potatoes nearly did for me, and I loved the greens/kale with coconut shavings. Yeah, sounds weird right? It worked, trust me.
With the main course we opted for a Picpoul, which was excellent. The wine list is short and sweet, which I always prefer. Have courage in your wine buying and don’t swamp the diner. If I had a grumble it would be that I’d like to see far more local wines on there. I could only find one from the UK that was obviously on the list.
And as for pud, we both chose a Raspberry & Pistachio tart thing with cream etc which was an absolute dream. Crisp but dense buttery pastry, moist pistachio layer, not too sweet. Perfect fresh raspberries and the thickest fruit cream you ever did see. It really was heavenly, and I loved the bits and bobs scattered around the plate, offering welcome texture; nuts, freeze dried raspberries, crushed almond wafer things. The fact that it wasn’t overly sweet meant that my friend was able to enjoy a chilled glass of rose alongside too. Happy daze.
Rockwater is in a great location. It’s about a million times better than anything that’s been there before, and the venue is gorgeous. The food and drink is really very good – there’s clearly some experience and expertise both behind the bar and in the kitchens. But the delightful FOH staff are utterly chaotic, although very charming.
The whole experience felt like a bit of a mismatch – like a Mayfair venue with Little Chef service – but it wouldn’t stop me going back. Besides, we ended up loving our waitress who was an absolute darling. We were particularly pleased to have her, and not the one on the next table who served one guy a sauce-covered meal that she’d literally been clutching to her bosom. He didn’t seem to care though, and neither did we.
This is a fun joint, full of energy. It’s not a place for a quiet romantic meal, although I don’t know what it’s like upstairs in the sun, that’s probably a different vibe. As for me, I’ll give them a couple more weeks to get settled and go back. I’ve got a menu to work through.
Gin Martini £11
WIDE variety of gins and tonics – average £12
Catch of the Day – sea bass £15
2019 Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine La Croix Gratiot £8 175ml / £29.50 bottle
2019 Luberon Rosé, Famille Perrin £7.85 175ml / £29 bottle
Raspberry & Pistachio Tart £7