To steer away from the Mark Hix repertoire is to substitute air with water. As the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And so lunch at Hix Soho presents some familiar recipes from some uncommon ingredients, but what sets the establishment apart from the other West End troff is an attention to detail often over-looked by less superior chefs and restaurateurs.
There is a full-flexing of the Hix artillery, from his roots in Dorset, fishing, to more steadfast, British selections such as crispy pork (not nearly thick and artery-clogging enough to call a ‘scratching’).
So much seems to flourish from Hix these days that there’s barely time to reflect on his past achievements (Le Caprice, The Ivy, Scott’s) before some new addition or accolade is extended. Centering on the simplicity – yet fascinating – subject of British seasonal food, Hix presents an array of recipes that not only comprehend the seasons but also become a diverse collection of meritorious menus.
A rosy-pink hare salad with whipped artichoke had the marshmallow lightness of a nimble pudding; the fillets of hare had a smooth texture without being tough and giving the mouth a lunchtime workout, while artichoke puree added sweetness otherwise absent. Pork crisps were a carbohydrate decoration, beautifully curling before devoured with a crunching enthusiasm.
Fresh bread lay on the table, the warm, dough aroma creeping through the nostrils, and a circular knob of butter by its side just waiting to melt away.
The personality replacement in Hix’s absence was Richard Corrigan, who brought with him his own soda bread from the kitchen; however close he and Hix are, clearly it’s not an attachment that allows them to break bread, more of playground jest, “My bread’s better than your bread…” Still, the man exposes great gusto at the dining table, bashing the heavy-wooden table with his fists like hams.
I had a very good fillet of red gurnard (a sustainable fish we should be eating more of), served first-rate, the meaty flesh falling away easily and the butter absorbing in all the right places to produce a satisfying melt. Savory hints of the sea lay within the cockles, the small, meaty mollusks crunchy and salty, evoking childhood memories of poking fingers in rock pools.
Purple sprouting broccoli and pink fir apple potatoes accompanied the gurnard, perhaps two of the most peculiar sounding vegetable accompaniments? The broccoli kept its water content, which left a disappointing watery base when added to the fishplate, but the potatoes were bold, buttery cuts that oozed sunlight.
Buttermilk pudding with blood oranges was alive with summer colour, while outside – still in the throes of February – the sky dribbled its discontent on to an unhappy Soho crowd. Below, in the depths of Brewer Street, the citrus sting of grated orange peel on a domed buttermilk pudding cleansed the palate and seeped in a little sunlight and curling ambrosial blood orange segments, as ruby-vivid and teasing as Angelina Jolie’s lips, presented a Sanguinello smile.