You won’t often see chef Mark Hix on TV or in the tabloids, but that hasn’t stopped him becoming something of a celebrity on the London food scene. His first restaurant near Smithfield Market is popular with EC1’s smartly suited lunch crowd, while his newer Soho eatery attracts younger food-lovers and the pre and post-theatre set. With restaurants in Mayfair, Selfridges and Dorset to look after, it’s a miracle he found time to write a book.
But we’re very glad he did. ‘Hix Oyster & Chop House’ features over 100 recipes that showcase his signature style. If you’ve eaten at the restaurant, you will know what to expect – freshly shucked oysters, manly meat dishes and impeccably sourced produce. There are no fancy foams or dainty plates; just gutsy, full-flavoured British fare.
At the centre of the book is a meat manual where beautifully photographed cuts of beef, lamb, veal, pork and venison are accompanied by carnivorous cooking tips. Hix sings the praises of meat on the bone and explains which cuts are best for grilling and slow-cooking. Home cooks are encouraged to become good friends with their local butcher and to try cheaper, more flavoursome cuts of meat. (As you may have guessed, vegetarians might want to skip this book and stick to Ottolenghi.)
After an excellent chapter on oyster varieties and shucking techniques, the recipes are divided into no-nonsense sections like ‘meat’, ‘fish’, ‘soups’ and ‘salads’. From the ‘on toast’ chapter, we loved the simple but luxurious Dorset crab on brown bread and red mullet on white bloomer with vivid green crushed broad beans and peas. Salads are fresh and light, full of lesser known veg, and soups are elevated above the ordinary with ingredients like crayfish, grouse and wild rabbit.
The fish dishes are simple enough to become mid-week suppers but it’s the meaty mains that are the real stars. Hix’s roast chicken with garlic sauce is perfect on Sundays, leaving delicious leftovers for the week ahead, and the ribs in barbecue sauce would go down well with younger foodies. For dinner parties, or just to show off, try the classic beef and oyster pie or the mutton chop curry, fragrant with saffron and roasted spices. Hix’s recipe intros often contain helpful hints and the recipes themselves, while occasionally time-consuming, are surprisingly fuss-free. Decadent puds aren’t really Hix’s strong point so the ‘Desserts’ chapter is short and made up of retro British sweets like trifle, shipwreck tart and rice pudding.
The ‘bar’ chapter is great if you’re having a Come Dine With Me moment and want to impress your guests with some posh pre-dinner nibbles. We liked the easy-to-make vegetable crisps and more adventurous options like quail’s egg shooters and pork crackling with Bramley Apple sauce. Sadly, the book doesn’t include any cocktail recipes from the award-winning ‘Mark’s Bar’ so you’ll just have to visit his Soho restaurant for those.
If you liked his restaurants, you’ll love his book – especially if you’re passionate about great meat, fresh fish and ‘old world’ dishes. There isn’t a huge amount for vegetarians but we were surprised by the light, seasonal salads and snack-friendly ‘on toast’ options. Have a flick through in your local bookshop or order online today – you won’t be disappointed.