Regular readers might remember my post on Mark Hix’s Oyster & Chop House recipe book. Or maybe it wasn’t that memorable? (One brother bought me the book for my birthday the other week, so it obviously hadn’t made much of an impression on him). Well, in any event, what follows are some notes on the restaurant; these complete my Hix Oyster & Chop House thoughts.
I was at the restaurant a couple of Fridays ago with Mum and Dad, my brothers (minus the youngest runt; it’s not that we don’t like him, he was just out the country) and, bizarrely, someone who is an absolute dead ringer for Cher from the X Factor (I kept on thinking she was about to break into early ’90s rap when she talked; and I was constantly worried she’d try to nick my wallet and phone). The occasion was a nod to each of our birthdays. Dad picked up the tab. Cheers big man.
Last time I was at Hix Oyster & Chop House was in the summer of 2008 – when it was new and the talk of all the critics. It looks largely the same, though I understand there’s been a recent re-fit, so everything is clean and fresh. It’s a light, informal and understated yet smart and stylish space. There are a few pieces of modern British art dotted around; less obviously than at Hix Soho. The menu seemed pretty similar to my previous visit. Or maybe it was familiar because the book covers lots of the dishes? Whatever, the signature ones are there (oysters; chops; steak and oyster pie; hanger steak and bone marrow; shipwreck tart and so on) and all worth a try.
I was late to my own party (sorry), so missed a round of pork scratchings. I heard they were excellent and came with apple sauce. The crew kindly held off, however, on a platter of native oysters and spicy sausages until I finally arrived. Dad, the philistine, didn’t try the molluscs, but thought the sausages were tasty. The rest of us happily chowed down on both. I liked the combination; with the flavour and spice of the sausage lingering on the palate, there was no need to garnish the oyster. I prefer oysters a little more chilled than they were served here.
Some good starters. Mum’s deep fried sprats were large, tasty and served in a generous portion. The wild garlic dipping sauce was subtle and enjoyable. There were a couple of portions of calves’ sweetbreads on the table, which us boys relished. The wild mushroom and smoked bacon sauce was particularly tasty and quite moreish. Dad had sprouting broccoli with pickled walnuts and shavings of a hard cheese. I liked the look of this as a simple and unusual veggie dish. Just an interesting combination, rather than sensational experience, mind. The ox cheeks and green split pea salad with bitter cress was something new for me. Loved the hardness of the split peas against the cold, tender, pink lumps of flesh which fell apart at the touch of a fork. The vinaigrette was tangy but not overpowering and cut the flavours of the meat and pulse really well.
For mains, somewhat accidentally, we three brothers all chose the beef flank and oyster pie. We all liked it; the pie filling was really rich – great sauce – and the pastry top was old school; very buttery and nice and crusty. The eldest of us wasn’t too bothered by the oysters in the sauce, but I enjoyed them and thought they added a lovely salty creaminess. The one on top, which had a herby/bready crust, was ace.
Mum had hake and cockles. Two large portions of fish – possibly too much for someone who is effectively a hobbit. I think it might also have seemed a little bit monotonous and could have done with more garnish to keep her interested. This wasn’t helped by my elder brother’s ordering of only fried sides; all of which were good, btw, but there must have been some spinach or other greens on offer? If not, I transfer the black mark from sibling to restaurant.
Dad had mutton chops. Dark brown and generally quite impressive on the outside, they were pink and juicy and tender on the inside. He liked.
And finally, Cher got her swag on with a hanger steak and baked bone marrow. I’d say this probably looked the most impressive of all of our dishes – the contrast of a dark chargrilled outside and perfectly pink inner was even more appetising on this dish than the mutton. It was a pretty big portion too. The marrow is baked with a similar herby crust mix as is on the oyster.
We had a couple of desserts for the table (butterscotch and cobnut brittle cheesecake (sweet and rich), discovery apple crumble (nothing special)) which were nice but not as remarkable as the Hix Soho chocolate tart. Dad wolfed down some “credit crunch ice-cream” which, before he drowned it in lots of chocolate sauce and cream (I think it’s a new diet fad), looked a little bit like chocolate version of Haagan Daz cookies and cream. He said it was excellent.
Our only real criticism of the evening was that the kitchen’s timing was pretty badly off for both the starter and the main courses; on each occasion we waited for more than 5 minutes for the last of our table’s dishes to be ready. I remember some of the sides we had with our main courses were delayed too. The waits were significant enough to dampen the mood (but that may be because everyone had also been waiting so long that evening for me).
I like this restaurant. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt re the timing – an unlucky coincidence, perhaps. A common comment from the family has been that the food was tasty, though (like my posts) not all of it was memorable. I think that’s probably right: the food is not amazing; but in general, it is quietly and subtly very good. Sprobably what makes the recipe book good – most of the dishes are very achievable because the ethos is well cooked British ingredients that aren’t messed with too much.
The secrets of the kitchen are set out in a book, but if you want to confirm what they should look and taste like, take a trip to Farringdon.
Hix Oyster & Chop House in 3 words
Meat and oysters
I think scratchings, oysters, starters, mains, sides, some desserts for the table and 4 or 5 bottles of wine was about £50 per head.
www.hixoysterandchophouse.co.uk - 36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6BN – 020 7017 1930