HIX: OLD ENGLISH
It seems like most new restaurant openings in London over the past year have been delayed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rung up to make a reservation and ended up telling the owners I’d read about their place over a year ago. So what happened ? The usual story is there was a problem with the planning regulations.
Mark Hix’s new place in Soho though is a startling exception. It seems like a matter of weeks rather than months that Hix was announced and then with very little muss or fuss it’s here. A brief preview period and then straight into opening night last Saturday. Of course DH were there although on this occasion not fielding a full strength team.
Approaching from the outside there’s a touch of the Ivy about the place which given Mr Hix’s past is not surprising. The opaque windows are a distinct advantage though as the West End on a weekend night is not the nicest place to be.
Inside, things are even more impressive. I never visited when it was the ill-fated Amaya but I suspect it never looked like this. It’s a Martin Brudnizki job but looks different to all the others. It’s at once comforting but in a grown-up sort of way. The lighting was just right too, for part of my meal at least but then got turned down which wasn’t so good.
You could come and have a meal at one of the sturdy wooden tables or sit at the bar and have a good time. But you would be missing out because down in the basement is what’s surely going to become the must-visit bar for lovers of the cocktail.
Overseen by the don dada of the cocktail world, Nick Strangeway and manned by some of the top mixers in the business: Charles Vexenat (watch out for his book Mixellany's Annotated Bariana available any day now) and Stanislav, recently arrived from the award winning Merchant Hotel in Belfast it will be the perfect place to while away a evening sipping great cocktails at the low zinc. Much as I did before and, as my head told me the next day, after my meal.
A couple of cocktails to the good, then upstairs to get stuck in. First I’d have to say that this is one of the best looking menus I’ve come across in a long time. I really did want to eat all of it. It’s just a crying shame that because of glaring personality defects I can never get anyone to join me apart from HS. And he has to because he’s my Brother. Still, I gave it as good a go as I could although back in the day it would be a case of somebody stop me.
Prices are on the high side but we’re talking about the very best ingredients here so as long as the kitchen handles them properly then the dishes will deliver, which they did in my case.
There were Pork Scratchings on the menu so I don’t really have to say anything else apart from they went very well with half a bottle of Lustau 'Papirusa' Manzanilla.
A plate of sweet little Queenie Scallops had been scattered with some bacon and herb and grilled in their shells. This was a dish for which no cutlery was required, just strong teeth and a flexible tongue to get to all the precious juices.
With these lovelies I tried out some (quite a lot, actually) of a wine Mr Hix was handing around: Les Foulards Rouges 'La Soif du Mal'. A new one on me it’s a natural red wine which had a slight spritz, even a little refreshing sourness.
Although by choice I’m a carnivore I’m still a great believer in eating as much seafood as possible if the quality is exceptional - which it is here. Seashore salad combines whatever’s particularly fresh on the day into a taste of the seaside which today meant Cockles, Mussels, Scallops, Oysters. There might have been some razor clams and sea kale in there as well.
Calf’s offal is to my mind the best of all animals innards because of its delicate taste. On my plate three big hunks of Liver, Kidneys and Sweetbread from Jack O’Shea came on some creamed onions. It was all cooked nice and pink although a little bit more resting wouldn’t have gone amiss, but it was the right idea for offal this fresh. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered with the onions – Magdalen used to do a similar dish served just with some crisp sage leaves and a hunk of lemon. Chips were excellent.
I must have insisted on trying every variety of Ice Cream because I got two bowls of the stuff, complete with Brandy Snaps. I seem to remember it was very nice but can’t be 100% sure as things were getting a leetle hazy around this time.
There may also have some PX action in there as well as plenty of bollocks talked (by me). But sometimes these things just happen and if they’re going to happen there’s probably not a better place for them to er, happen than Hix. File under sure-fire hit.