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Book review – Hix Oyster & Chop House

15 July 2010

Hix Oyster & Chop House
By Mark Hix
Quadrille Publishing, £25
ISBN 978 184400 392 1

It's just two years since Mark Hix teamed up with Ratnesh Bagdai, former finance director at Caprice Holdings, and launched the Oyster & Chop House off London's Smithfield meat market. Since then, the chef, restaurateur and food writer has opened three more restaurants in his name and last week added the Caterer's 2010 Chef Award to his trophy cabinet.

However, it has taken until now for Hix to release his first stand-alone cookbook, showcasing more than 100 recipes that appear on the menu throughout the year at his first eaterie.

Unsurprisingly, it is oysters and cuts of meat that get the most attention in this 192-page volume. The book kicks off with a miniature encyclopedia of the shellfish, complete with a series of mollusc mugshots to help identify the different British varieties. For those who value their fingers, there's also a handy set of illustrated instructions on how to shuck an oyster properly.

Meat, almost all of which is cooked on the bone at the Oyster & Chop House, gets a similar treatment. Hix dissects the various different cuts of beef, lamb, veal, pork and venison in considerable detail, indicating which are best for grilling and which for slow cooking. Then there is a set of recipes for butters and sauces to accompany the cuts, as well as recipes for other meats not covered in the carnivore's compendium that precedes them.

The rest of the book is a welter of dishes offering a whistle-stop tour of the seasons and divided into: bar, starters, salads, soups, on toast, fish and desserts. Each one is served up with a dollop of commentary from the chef himself, who offers practical advice and anecdotes on the inspiration behind the recipe. But above all, Hix, who is also author of the award-winning British Regional Food, imbues the book with his passion for unusual British produce and foraging. And he references so many local producers and artisans that you start to wonder if he is getting a discount.

But one of the undoubted strengths of this beautifully produced book could also prove to be one of its frustrations - if you want to make these dishes as Hix intended, then be prepared to travel, or at the very least, to improvise.

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