Mark Hix is a relatively low-key chef in the context of celebrity chefs who are more famous for their handsome faces or outrageous personalities than their skills in the kitchen. He is better known by fellow chefs, food writers and people who are genuinely passionate about food, rather than the Ready Steady Cook-watching public. He used to be head chef at the Ivy, which is, perhaps, where he met many of the celebrity friends who frequent his establishment – he is, by all accounts, a likeable chap and is known for his love of socialising. Hix’s chums in the press all seemed to rush to support him in this new venture, with at least a dozen reviews coming out in the broadsheet weekend papers over the course of two weeks, putting Hix Soho firmly on the foodie map.
All fantastic news for him, but not so great for us trying to secure a table. Even the exceptional arm-twisting skills of the well-connected concierge at the Haymarket Hotel could only secure us a table before 10pm on a midweek night. Determined not to miss out, we tried our luck for lunch the next day. An hour wait didn’t put us off – it really was no hardship to sit at the bar supping Champagne (served in fabulously retro coupe glasses) and casting our beady journalistic eyes over the dining room. That we were two of only four women in a noisy (but not in a deafening way; more in a way of people really enjoying their experience) dining room full of men in suits was a shame – I’m not sure if that’s a reflection on the status of women in business or that Hix Soho attracts a certain type through its doors. But the cool, modernity of the room was slightly at odds with the customers who were, on the whole, attired in pinstripe suites and holding hushed conversations about the next big deal. But the room itself, and particularly the stunning, funky bar area downstairs seems to want to attract a slightly more diverse customer, some might say younger customer. It may be unfair, but I felt the slightly stuffy clientele wouldn’t have really appreciated the beautiful design of the restaurant and certainly not the modern art by the likes of Tracey Emin, Damien Hurst and Noble & Webster adorning the walls and ceilings.
Whilst he doesn’t do the cooking at Hix Soho, Hix is clearly involved in every aspect of the restaurant and spends a great deal of time there (we were rather pleased and a little bit star-struck as the man himself sat sipping his drink next to us at the bar), making sure everything is just right. He is genuinely passionate about what he does and feels strongly about British, seasonal food. There are so many pubs and restaurants up and down the country using this mantra that it’s becoming a little bit of a cliché and, more often than not, it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy. Not with Mark Hix though – he does it better, has been doing it for longer, and he really means it. This truly is simple, modern British cooking at its very best and the sort of food that’s right up my street.
It is pricey though, even by London standards. Our bill, for two, with a shared starter and dessert, including two glasses of Champagne and a 500ml carafe of house wine, was close to £150. At lunchtime. We started with the already infamous Hix take on the classic, ancient dish “Heaven & Earth”. It was indeed heavenly. And earthy: mashed potato, pureé-like in texture, topped with apples and crumbly, spiced black pudding. A lovely, comforting mixture of textures, sweetness and spice that made me think of Christmas.
The Porterhouse steak for two was a hulking kilo of meat on the bone. Fillet and sirloin steak – it doesn’t get much better for a dedicated carnivore and shameless lover of steak. Served perfectly medium rare with a faultless béarnaise sauce and a side order of chips and crisp salad. The simplest of dishes made exceptional by exemplary sourcing, quality product and skilled execution.
The treacle tart was as is should be: gooey, unctious and remeniscent of a great British childhood. The milk ice cream toned it down nicely. I loved that the retro dessert menu was padded out with sweet “nibbles” for people like me who stuff themselves so much on the first two courses and can’t really manage a proper pud. A handful of truffles or a shot of Beefeater gin jelly just to sate the need for a little of something sweet.
Had I been there of an evening, and without engagements stretching before me, I would have been tempted to while away another hour or so in the downstairs bar, with its team of cocktail shaking experts led by award winning mixologist Nick Strangeway, and partaken in one of his adventurous cocktails. The space, is not, despite gossip to the contrary, a private members bar – or will be becoming one. Although it looks and feels very much like one with its cool, quirky design, abundance of squashy sofas and dark, moody vibe. The basement location meant that I could almost have forgotton (or at least chosen to ingore) that it was, in fact, still daylight outside. But I’m a bit old fashioned like that: Champagne in daylight, but never a cocktail. Reason, as if I needed one, to return to Hix Soho very soon when the sun is well past the yard arm.