Mark Hix: Fishy business
Hot on the heels of his Chop House, Mark Hix has opened a sister restaurant in Lyme Regis – the Oyster and Fish House – which specialises in simply cooked, freshly caught fish. Here he shares with us a few choice catches from the new menu
Saturday 07 June 2008
As you may or may not know, I had my sights set on a restaurant in West Bay back last year – and on getting back to my Dorset roots. Well, that didn't happen for various reasons, including the rising property price every time the news was leaked to the press. Anyway, by pure chance, another site came up down the road in Lyme Regis, and when I took a look at it, I just couldn't say no. Eating while overlooking the sea is one of those rare opportunities in this country, and in my new restaurant you can't help but enjoy the view of the harbour or the coastline wherever you're sitting.
My Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis is a small site, perhaps half the size of the Smithfield restaurant, and even more informal. As its name suggests, it's going to focus on local fish cooked very simply with no frills. There will be some similarities with its City-based sister, like the oysters that will be from the West Country, including nearby fleet oysters from just up the coast. My home-smoked salmon will make an appearance on the menu along with some simple dishes such as whole local crab and cold lobster with mayonnaise or grilled with chips. There will be whiting specials, which appear on the Chop House menu, and maybe fish fingers made with fresh pollack.
If you have to wait for a table or stool on the front terrace, you can hang out in the downstairs bar and check out what's going on in the kitchen – while snacking on some little fishy bits like whelks or soused mackerel, with a chilled glass of something or other.
I'm looking at this place as being a bit of fun for both customers and staff. I've got Jonathan Jeffery – who used to run Brindisa Tapas in Borough Market – front of house, and Mike Barnard, who did a year's stint at The Ivy before running the kitchen in his parents' pub in nearby West Bay, at the stove. I will be spending my weekdays up in London at the Albemarle in Brown's Hotel and at the Chop House, then heading down south for some seafood and fresh air at the weekends.
Things seem to be hotting up in the south-west; my mate Mitch Tonks has recently opened his new restaurant, The Seahorse, in Dartmouth, which I hear is doing really well. I haven't had time to get down there yet myself, but I'm sure it's going to be a great addition to the south-west culinary scene.
Bones and shells are too good for the bin. At home I would strongly recommend freezing excess shellfish bones, fish bones and heads, and making them into soup when you have enough. A good fish restaurant should always have a fresh fish soup of some description on the menu. It's no secret that in restaurants – as in the home – nothing should go to waste, and you also help out the local fishermen by taking irregular-sized fish and excess catch to freeze for the future.
1kg fish and/or shellfish shells, chopped into small chunks, head, tails, scales and all bony bits included
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped and washed
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, de-seeded and roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and roughly chopped
2tbsp of olive oil
A good pinch of saffron
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
3 juniper berries
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 x 230g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 glass of red wine
4 litres fish stock or the equivalent amount of liquid from a good-quality fish stock cube
Salt and pepper
In a large pot heat the oil and gently fry the fish and shellfish shells, vegetables, spices and herbs for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato purée, chopped tomatoes, red wine and fish stock. Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 50 minutes. Blend about one-third of the soup in a liquidiser (bones and all) and return it to the pot and simmer gently for another 20 minutes. Strain the soup through a sieve or conical strainer and re-season if necessary.
Deep-fried skate knobs with caper mayonnaise
Skate knobs, like monkfish cheeks, are one of those fishy bits like offal that often get thrown away. These little tender morsels will often get discarded, along with the head, on fish like skate and monkfish, when they get stripped of their prime cuts on the boat and tossed back into the ocean. Skate knobs can be treated like whitebait or sprats and either breaded or just fried in flour – a great starter or snack. What we do here to help the future fish problem is to extend and utilise the lesser cuts – it's rather like using the less-known cuts of meat and makes the fish go much further in the food chain. Order skate knobs or monkfish cheeks in advance from your fishmonger.
600-800g skate knobs
A cup of milk
Salt and cayenne pepper
Oil for deep frying
For the caper mayonnaise
2tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
2-3tbsp of good-quality mayonnaise
1tbsp chopped parsley
Make the caper mayonnaise by mixing all of the ingredients together. Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Season the flour well with the salt and cayenne pepper then coat the skate knobs well in the flour, shaking off any excess. Put them briefly in the milk then back through the flour. Deep fry them in 2 or 3 batches for 3-4 minutes, or until golden and drain on kitchen paper. Serve with the sauce on the plate or separately.
Mixed grilled fish with samphire
When you have plenty of fish at hand it's rather nice to dish up a mixed grill. Rather like a meaty mixed grill, you can mix and match according to what the fishermen land or what the fishmonger has that takes your fancy. You can dish up a mixture of fish and shellfish for a dramatic look and contrast of colours. It's great in a restaurant because it means you can constantly turn your stock of fish around.
4 scallops, cleaned and left attached to the half shell
4 small or 2 large red mullet
Another fish like brill, plaice, mackerel or whatever takes your fancy
A spoonful or so of corn or vegetable oil for brushing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A handful or two of samphire, trimmed of any woody stalks
Pre-heat a griddle or barbecue, season and brush the fish with a little oil. Grill the fish for a few minutes on each side, and the scallops for just a couple of minutes, flesh side facing the grill.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a saucepan and toss the samphire in it for a minute or so. Arrange all of the fish on a platter and spoon the butter and samphire on top.
A proper crab sandwich
I have fond memories of good crab sandwiches as a kid. In fact, unknowingly, I was quite spoilt living by the sea – having access to the freshest crab and being able to knock up the ultimate crab sandwich. In my school holidays I would be one of the crab pickers, armed with a hammer, a teaspoon for digging out the meat and a bin liner slipped over my head to keep off the splattering juices.
Ideally, you should cook and prepare your own crab. Don't be tempted by the pre-packed stuff, which is often pasteurised to extend its shelf life and a very poor cousin to the real thing. A good crab sandwich needs to be generous and fresh, and it shouldn't be cheap – beware the impostors. Oh, and don't throw the shells away as they make a great bisque or soup (see above).
2 crabs, each about 500–600g, or 1 crab, about 1kg, white and brown meat extracted
2–3 tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Squeeze of lemon juice, to taste (optional)
8 slices of wholemeal bread, about 5mm thick
Softened butter, for spreading
Lemon wedges, to serve
Mix the brown crab meat with 1-2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise, season to taste and add a little lemon juice if you wish. Butter the bread and spread a couple of tablespoonfuls of the brown meat mix on to half of the slices.
Lightly season the white meat and pile it on top of the brown meat. Ideally, you want to use about double the quantity of white meat, although it depends on your taste and how much brown meat you've managed to get out of your crab(s).
Spread a little mayonnaise on to the other slices and place on top of the white meat. Cut in half or into quarters and serve with lemon.
Any leftover crab can be mixed together and spread on to hot buttered toast.
Hix Oyster and Fish House, Cobb House, Lyme Regis, Dorset DT7 3JP (01297 446910; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org). The restaurant opens mid-June
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