OK, let's get it out in the open. I know Mark Hix. You know Mark Hix. He works just a few pages up from here. He lets the magazine team hold their Christmas party in his house. But does that mean I'm not going to review his new Soho restaurant? No it certainly does not. After all, you've arrived at this part of the magazine via Hix's pages, so you, of all people, will want to know what he's up to.
Of course, it would be embarrassing if I didn't like his new place; we'd have to pass with eyes averted when we met on the contents page. But with Hix's track-record, how likely is that to happen? From his days at Le Caprice and the Ivy, through his own restaurants in Smithfield and Dorset, he has pretty much set the template for the way we eat now. Emphasising the seasonal and regional, highlighting forgotten British dishes and showcasing brilliant produce from local food heroes, Hix's inspirational work as a chef, restaurateur and writer exemplifies all that's best about the British food renaissance.
His latest restaurant, Hix, is his most ambitious project to date. Showing a turn of speed that might surprise the editor who has to chase him for his copy, he snapped up the substantial premises recently vacated by the haughtily cool, but doomed, Japanese restaurant Aaya.
After a freakishly short refurbishment, the handsome, high-ceilinged room, which always had a touch of midtown Manhattan about it, has reopened with a Hix twist (which isn't, but should be, a cocktail served in the gorgeous downstairs bar). An experienced team has been recruited, many of whom have previously worked with Hix, in an attempt to avoid the bookings chaos that undermined the launch of Hix's Oyster and Chop House. Kevin Gratton, ex-head chef of Le Caprice and Scott's, has been given charge of the kitchen, while the subterranean bar is home to cocktail maestro Nick Strangeway.
Mark was hovering nervously when I sprang my not-so-surprise visit, accompanied by the editor and food editor of this magazine. Mind you, by visiting in the week after the official opening, we were relatively late adopters; for several weeks, "Been to Hix's?" seemed to have been the standard greeting for media and restaurant people alike.
The stark lines of the modern room have been softened by Georgian panelling, Ivy-style leaded windows and sturdy wooden tables; mobiles donated by Mark's artworld buddies, including Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, lend quirkiness, as does the usual Hixabilia of vintage foodie ephemera.
As you'll know if you've eaten in one of Hix's restaurants, the recipes he produces for this magazine aren't just for show. The daily changing menu here – slightly fishier than the Chop House – is glorious, and full of dishes you will have slavered over on these pages. I was glad to have the input of Madeleine, our food editor, for whom many of the dishes were like old friends. "Ah yes, he's doing the Heaven and Earth," she mused knowingly.
As of course I knew (ahem), Heaven and Earth is Mark's interpretation of a German dish, an inspired teaming of soft, loose-textured black pudding, akin to Spanish morcilla, with mashed potato sweetened with apple and onion. A tart of sprouting broccoli and Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire cheese tasted wonderful, but the puff pastry base was dismissed as "a bit cardboardy". Best of the starters was the unpromising sounding cod's tongues – actually bite-sized morsels of the less favoured bits of cod, including cheeks and collar – in an unctuous, oriental-style one-pot dish, with girolles and spring onions.
Hix has long campaigned for the return of mutton to our tables; here it appears in a Herdwick mutton, kidney and oyster pie. The thrillingly strong flavour of the mutton under a suet crust stirred some memory of childhood; maybe I was once fed mutton rather than lamb, though the precise distinction between the two is not something to dwell on at this stage in life.
Laurence, the editor, feasted from the menu's upper reaches; his roasted mixed shellfish (£35) included top-notch lobster, Manx queenies, whelks and prawns, in a garlic and butter sauce, with a tangle of what might have been sea kale. A very different seafood dish was Madeleine's Anglo-Indian-style curry of monkfish cheek and crab claw, the accompanying rice zingy with curry leaves.
Desserts included an individual Bramley apple pie, and an autumnal reworking of Mark's winning dessert from the Great British Menu, featuring blackberries suspended in a shimmering jelly made with Kingston black cider.
Our bill came to around £60 a head before service, including a bottle of St Veran (£36.50). We peeled ourselves away reluctantly, resisting the lure of a lost afternoon in that moody bar, whose kilims, mid-century-modern furniture and pinstriped armchairs make it one of the most attractive party pads in town.
Hix is a true independent (and Independent) spirit. He has opened this place with just a business partner and a couple of investors. The result is a great new restaurant, which already feels like a copper-bottomed success. Now, Mark, about this year's Christmas party...
Hix, 66-70 Brewer Street, London W1 (020-7292 3518)
Around £60 a head including wine and service
Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"Reuse content