In the second of two Menuwatches on Mark Hix's new ventures, Suki King visits Hix Oyster & Chop House in London
The first two months that Hix Oyster & Chop House - close to Smithfield Market on London's Cowcross Street - has been operating have exceeded even owner Mark Hix's most optimistic forecasts, with more than 200 diners visiting each day.
The restaurant is Hix's first solo venture - he was formerly chef-director of Caprice Holdings - and he admits to being bowled over by how quickly it has got up and running and established such a loyal clientele.
"Every lunch and dinner, we're packed," he says. "We have 65 seats inside and 10 outside and we're finding we need to re-lay tables at both services. Diners are a real mix of people - there's an arty crowd from the East End, lots of barristers and lawyers from nearby legal-land, and business people from the City."
What attracts such a diverse clientele is the restaurant's solidly British ethos, with British oysters and British meat showcased in simple presentations. "We source everything directly from farms and have daily deliveries so everything is really fresh," Hix says. "The menu changes twice daily to reflect what is good and what is seasonal."
The oysters are particularly popular to start, adds Hix. Typically, these might include the options of Colchester Rocks, Duchy of Cornwall Specials, Maldon Rocks and Lindisfarne oysters (all at £1.95 each).
Other recent options to start have included soft-boiled Gladys May duck egg with Goodmans Worcestershire asparagus soldiers (£10.25), rabbit brawn with pea shoot salad (£8.75) and salted ox cheek and green bean salad (£8.75).
"At main, we're finding the roast Woolley Park Farm free-range chicken with garlic sauce (£32), which is carved tableside for two or three diners to share, is selling really strongly, as is the porterhouse steak for two (£47.50)," Hix says.
Serving meat on the bone is a key principle of the restaurant, he adds, so that it has the best flavour possible. Those with carnivorous tastes can also indulge in the likes of sirloin on the bone (£24.50), hanger steak with baked bone marrow (£12.75) and fillet on the bone (£28.50).
Meanwhile, fish lovers might find main-course options of grilled native lobster and chips (£29.75) or whole grilled John Dory with rosemary (£19.50) to their liking, and vegetarians typically have the likes of St George's mushrooms and Welsh onion cake (£12.50) to keep them happy. Side dishes are ordered separately and include moreish fried onions in scrumpy batter (£3.25), spring bubble and squeak (£3.75) and watercress, rapeseed and shallot salad (£3.25).
Desserts stay true to the restaurant's home-spun focus, as with Jersey creamed rice with prunes (£6.75), Yorkshire rhubarb fool (£6.75) or a plate of British cheese, such as Gorwydd Caerphilly or Barkham Blue (£7).
Hix is supported by a 10-strong brigade at the restaurant, and a total of 15 front-of-house staff work across the 12 services a week - the restaurant closes for Saturday lunch and Sunday dinner only. "We are also considering whether to open for breakfast because of the strong demand," Hix adds.
Also on the menu
- Ox tongue with radishes, £7.75
- De Beauvoir smoked salmon "Hix cure", £10.75
- Peter Gotts black pudding, rabbit and pennywort salad, £12.75
- Whole grilled lemon sole, £19
- Barnsley lamb chop and grilled kidney, £16.50
- Beef flank and oyster pie, £14
- English raspberries with Cornish clotted cream, £6.75
- Buttermilk drop scones with honeycomb ice-cream and Yorkshire rhubarb, £6.75
- Whisky and walnut tart, £6.75
Away from the stove
One of the restaurants I'll go out of my way to visit is Hamilton's in Weymouth. It's got a lovely setting on the seafront overlooking Weymouth Bay, has a really nice ambience and serves simple, consistently good food.
Hamilton's, 4-5 Brunswick Terrace, Weymouth, Dorset. Tel: 01305 789544. Website: www.hamiltonsrestaurant.co.uk