A mobile of Fray Bentos pies gently twirls in the white high-ceilinged room as David Hasslehoff tucks into his hanger steak with baked bone marrow. A fluorescent finger part-designed by Sue Webster points the way to “Mark’s Bar” downstairs where Nicky Clarke, James Nesbitt, Joe Warwick and Monica Brown rub shoulders on mahogany leather sofas. They’re all sipping outrageously sippable negronis crafted by that mixological wizard Nick Strangeway. Mummified fish, that Damien Hirst has trapped in formaldehyde dangle from the ceiling of the Martin Brudnizki designed interior. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped into a private members’ club, or an art gallery perhaps. This is in fact Mark Hix’s latest venture on Brewer Street, and it’s bloody brilliant.
It’s the third time I’ve been here in the past week and the place only officially opens to the public on Saturday. But when I drop in on Wednesday evening, the place is saturated with friends and family. Tonight it’s Friday and everything is half price, because they’re still not open, but nonetheless, it’s packed to the rafters. The menu reads a like a love letter to food, think Manx queenies (scallops) with wild boar bacon and herbs, ox cheek with mixed beets, horseradish and chickweed or pheasant, chanterelle and chestnut soup. And those are just the starters. Mark advises on a selection and we are soon tucking in to a luxurious Cornish fish soup, heaving with gurnard and red mullet and replete with Julian Temperley’s cider brandy. Even the bread and butter is spot on, a big rustic hug of warmth. Our cod’s cheeks, tongues and throats with girolles arrives and it is astonishingly tasty. It somehow manages to combine incredible delicacy with a meaty clout; the whole dish embroidered with a silky spring onion-flecked sauce. I shamelessly lick the plate clean.
We have “heaven and earth” which turns out to be a gigantic fluffy meatball of black pudding with apples and potatoes, it breaks open in a fug of steamy herbal goodness. Wild duck with salsify and elderberries is pure sex on toast, and my lamb and oyster pie is easily the best I’ve ever had. The salt marsh mutton, kidney and oysters combine to magnificent effect, the meat sits dense and tender in its intensely lamby gravy, under a flaky, buttery lid. It immediately falls apart upon contact with the spoon, the oysters dripping with Neptunian juices and the plump kidneys making the whole dish rock. I am temporarily possessed by the ghost of the former restaurant that occupied this site, Aaya, and find myself wanting to down the gravy from the bottom of my pie dish ramen style. The deep fried Pollack with chips and mushy peas is crisp, greaseless and spankingly fresh. It’s served with a boat of home made tartare sauce and a bottle of Sarson’s vinegar. I love that. It’s the tiny touches like this that make it feel personal and not like just another stuffy restaurant.
We drink Les Foulards Rouges, Soif du Mal, which is 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache and 100% delicious. It’s rough and cloudy with some incredible strains of apple and pear. Stuffed to eruption point, we order pudding. The stomach is begging me to stop but my tastebuds are demanding that I press on to culinary Moscow. The lemon trifle is lush, creamy and light, the limoncello notes sashay over the tongue. Defeated, we head downstairs where people are chilling out, drinking gorgeous cocktails and generally having a ball.
It’s here that we pick up on one very major problem with this place and it’s a rather serious predicament that I very much doubt they are ever going to be able to iron out. In fact, I can predict that this fault will only gradually worsen… You see, the thing is, there’s a definite hex about Hix, and once you’re in there, I’m afraid it’s very, very difficult, if not impossible to ever leave.….just don’t say I didn’t warn you.