HIX OYSTER AND CHOP HOUSE
And they wandered in
From the city of St. John (Slight Return)
Of course this is where I should have been yesterday to celebrate St George’s Day. If anything shouts, nay, screams Britain (sorry, England) it’s Mark Hix’s food. It was still in soft opening mode though and I was told things weren’t running quite tickety-boo. They still weren't when I visited on opening day. Disappointingly the cooking at the Hix Oyster and Chop House just doesn’t pass muster.
I was dining out with one of my foodie chums which was good because it enabled us to have a reasonable stab at the menu – even my gargantuan (ok, greedy guts) appetite is rather on the wane these days.
I didn’t think much of the room or its furnishings: the table was wobbly, the chairs were uncomfortable and you couldn’t hang your jacket on the back of them. There were loads of ceiling fans that I just found distracting and didn’t seem to serve any purpose other than ornamental. It all came across like an attempt at a slightly upmarket Café Rouge.
The menu looked a bit cut down from the one I’d seen on the website but it still read well with lots of good things to choose from. Oysters were served as at Brown’s with the shells on and with meat still attached which meant much messing around with blunt knives. Irritating. Serving them on seaweed just seems like an affectation to me – ice is, as they say, best by test. They tasted good although I’ve had better natives earlier in the season. They didn’t quite have the depth and length of flavour of the best examples.
Of the starters I preferred the Rabbit Brawn although my dining companion wondered how many rabbits you’d need to make it – their heads being not particularly large. In any case it was dense and meaty and tasted of bunny but the portion was rather parsimonious for £8.25. The little accompanying salad of peas and pea shoots was a good idea and tasted fresh and lively. I know Mr Hix’s aim is to make the dishes as plain as possible but some toast wouldn’t have gone amiss here.
They must have been burning five pound notes to make the Smoked Salmon. It’s the only explanation I can think of why three smallish slivers of farmed salmon come in at £10.75. The taste of smoke dominated.
Skate Knobs were fish nuggets fried in a Panko-like covering. Served in a loose, sharp, caper mayonnaise they’d been fried as well as could be expected but like a lot of similar dishes they had a sort of Findus-like quality about them. The solid chunks of fish flesh within were tasty though.
From what I’ve read, Mark Hix’s aim is to try and give the place the feel of an American Steakhouse (now where’ve I heard that before). So the focus should definitely be on the meat. Unfortunately, this is where the food was weakest.
A Bacon Chop lacked fat and flavour. It was cooked rare (too much so for my taste). I know pork and shellfish is a tried and trusted combination but in this case the cockles and laverbread seemed like they’d come from another dish.
Onglet looked a bit better but there was a burnt taste to the meat which was not pleasant. My dinner companion also noted that it was a bit overcooked. A marrow bone had been split and filled with what I think was a marrow bone gremolata and then baked. It just tasted of baked breadcrumbs to me. The best part of the main courses were the sides. Chips, Onion Rings and Béarnaise were all good. A table next to us had the Porterhouse which looked a much better bet on the meat front.
Puddings, enthusiastically priced at £6.75, were not impressive - they looked as if they’d just been chucked on the plate. Buttermilk drop scones were a bit tough and served with a sickly-sweet honeycomb ice cream. Amadei Chocolate mousse was just that. I liked the truffles.
Service was ok – there were plenty of staff milling around – but there were a couple of hiccups. They supersized our wine from a £24 bottle to a £44 quid one although to be fair when I pointed it out they deducted the difference. Also, looking at the bill later on I noticed they overcharged us on two of the starters. Only by a couple of quid, but still.
I’ve got my doubts about Mark Hix. I’m sure in person he’s a decent enough chap but the media portrayal of him some sort of vanguard of British food strikes me as PR-generated guff because he’s failed to deliver on my last two outings to gaffs he’s been associated with. Of course, he’s not doing the cooking at The Albermarle or Hix Oyster and Chop House, but he was here the night I went so presumably he had some control over the dishes going out. And what went out was pretty mediocre.
Still, mediocre goes down a bomb in London these days – it’s more about the scene, you see – and given the Chop House’s prime location I’m sure it will do very well commercially. There are enough know-nothing City boys and Meeja types in the area to make it so. Me, I’m not a fan of artifice so I’m going to continue patronise Vinoteca round the corner. By far the best option in the nabe in my humble opinion.