Pecking proverbial milk tops from fine dining establishments across the UK

Monday, 4 May 2009

Hix's Oyster and Chop House, London

36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6BN, England.

Sunday Lunch: 12-3pm, £34.50


It is a little hypocritical for a fan of nouveaux cuisine to chide as a fad restaurants producing simple British cooking based on organic, fresh ingredients. What follows in this review is as much about my scepticism towards such places as it is about the quality of the cooking. The fan of relaxed cooking should then take with a pinch of salt the gripes which follow. We went to Hix’s for Sunday lunch. £32.50 for a set menu of three starters, a main course of roast beef followed by a choice of puddings.

The interior is quite bare but light and with mirrors at the back which cause the illusion of a much bigger eating area around the corner of the bar. There is almost a canteen feel due to the high ceilings, wooden tables and lack of decoration or adornment. No doubt this is intended: paired down settings for no nonsense, unpretentious cooking. The starters and puddings are prepared in front of you in a coking station manned by one chef; the mains were brought up to the restaurant. For Sunday lunch you are served in one sitting at 2pm. I really don’t like the single-sitting approach to serving food for a number of reasons. Most importantly there is always the danger your table will be the one which will be the last served – as indeed was the case for myself and J during our visit – which means your dish has begun its quick descent into tepidity. Secondly, being served in a procession rather contributed in the case of Hix’s to the almost canteen-feel of the meal. To see so many other people devouring the same dish as you somewhat undermines the illusion – something particularly important to the restaurant experience in such cases when you want to feel special – that the restaurant is not mass-producing the same dishes over and over.

Myself and J had intended to go to St John’s and – this being an occurrence that seemingly has happened to quite a few people who end up in Hix’s – finding the former closed wandered over the street to its competitor. Hix’s does not serve food like St John’s, but rather what I might call, not knowing better, extremely good pub food without a ‘cappuccinos’ or a black truffle in sight.

Or perhaps I missed the point. A bowl of fresh peas in their pods arrive as a kind of repost to an amuse bouche. These were quite sweet, if not entirely perfect. Here my dislike of restaurants telling me how wonderful untouched English produce is was stoked. The peas felt like a gimmick to me; a statement of good individual English ingredients can be on their own, without modification. But I don’t need to go to a restaurant, pay £30+ to enjoy ingredients that I could grow in my garden. Indeed, my father toils on an allotment and has grown peas – partly because he’s just picked them and hence they’re much sweeter – which were more enjoyable than these. I want someone to impress me with their culinary technique, not illustrate to me that they realise that organic, fresh ingredients are good (1/10).

The starters came one by one.
First De Beauvoir smoked salmon on toast. The salmon had been made into a thickly-cut
pate, flavoured with lemon and fennel and spread on a slice of toasted crusty white bread. This was a very successful morsel, particularly because of the texture of the salmon which what (3/10). A second starter arrived: a salad of crisp smoked bacon, broad beans, pea shoots and green beans. This was less successful for a number of reasons. Firstly, the repetition of pea shoots was regrettable. While I had not exactly enjoyed my pea pods earlier the fact they were in front of me meant that I did consume a far amount of peas, partly due to the cathartic process of shelling them. Covered with a very light dressing this salad’s predominant flavour was the saltiness of the bacon. The vegetables tasted fresh. But but but. Again, this is ‘just’ an arrangement of good quality ingredients (2/10). The third starter was a boiled Gladys May duck egg with a devilled mayonnaise placed inside a lettuce leaf. Again, a good quality egg no doubt but ‘just’ an egg (2/10). Is it enough for a £30+ lunch to rely predominantly on good quality ingredients? If you answer yes to that question then you are a different kind of restaurant-visitor than I. You can buy Glady May’s eggs in Sainsbury’s – there is no mystery here.

The main course consisting of roast rib of Herefordshire beef, accompanied by a wonderfully voluminous Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, greens, buttered peas (again!) and carrots with gravy. This was good, wholesome fare but did not raise its level beyond good quality gastropub. The beef was on the rare side of medium, not at all chewy though perhaps lacking in flavour a little – as was the gravy. The greens, peas and carrots were of a similar quality to the kind you might get buying organic equivalents in Waitrose – which is no bad thing at all. The Yorkshire puddings were perhaps the highlight; aesthetically impressive huge mountains of bubbly soft batter. The lowlight and for a roast dinner, according to J, entirely unforgiveable were the roast potatoes. Every culinary-minded person has their way of making roast potatoes, which their loudly declare is the best way of doing them. At Hix’s whoever was responsible for the potatoes seemed to have learnt their recipe from my primary school canteen. These were not at all crispy on the outside and very stodgy on the inside. All in all, this was a pretty good roast, potatoes aside. Just I don’t think that’s saying much (2/10).

The desserts menu consisted of three options: a whiskey and walnut tart, a chocolate mousse or a slice of Lancashire cheese with chutney. Both of our party went for the tart, which was accompanied by a huge dollop of Cornish clotted cream. (If there is a word appropriate word for describing a serving of clotted cream it is dollop). We’re quite big fans of walnut tarts in our household and this was a particularly well-made example.

What did other people think? Hix Oyster & Chop House on Urbanspoon