With HIX restaurants springing up across London at a rate of knots, spreading their ethos of Great British gastronomy far and wide, Mark Hix appears to be a man on a mission.
Since 2008 the chef, who spent 17 years as chef director of Caprice Holdings overseeing The Ivy, has opened 10 restaurants (four at the height of the recession) published six cookbooks on British gastronomy, reinvented the fish finger sandwich* and opened a gastronomically-themed art gallery – all while holding down columns at Esquire and The Independent.
It’s a rap sheet that would make even the hardest working entrepreneur sigh with exhaustion. Having opened Hix Oyster & Chop House in Smithfield in 2008, the Hix group now boasts sites in Southwark, Soho, Shoreditch and Mayfair, not to mention its Dorset outpost, Hix Oyster & Fish House, in Lyme Regis. Adding to this growing empire is HIX City. Previously a Hixter, the group’s scaled down little brother of HIX, the site has now graduated to a full HIX status.
Tucked away in a nook of Devonshire Square near Liverpool Street station, HIX City comprises a restaurant, a subterranean cocktail bar (Mark’s Bar) and an all-weather al fresco terrace sheltered beneath Devonshire Squares vaulted ceiling, surrounded by trees and tinkling fairy lights. While the latter area was appealing, (and one is certain to be popular in the depths of winter when sitting outside with a cocktail seems like a distant dream) we chose to take a seat inside, partly to get a good look at the artwork on show for which HIX restaurants have become known. (A piece of neon light art by Tracey Emin hangs by the bar and if you look to the restaurant’s ceiling you will see a bulbous, grounds-eye view of the city by photographer Peter Newman).
After a long day a cocktail was in order. We went for the bar’s signature serve the Hix Fix, a delightful blend of Nyetimber sparkling wine and Morello cherry eau de vie. Suitably well-oiled, we dove into the menu, which champions Great British, organic, free-range and often foraged produce. Billed as “old school dining at its very best”, its pride in British gastronomy is clear featuring dishes such as hay-baked leg of Launceston lamb, roast rib of Moyallon pork with bramley apple sauce, honey-glazed leg of Jimmy Butler’s free-range ham, sirloin of Glenarm Estate beef and fillets of Loch Duart salmon baked in puff pastry. After hovering on the Portland crab rosti with “land cress” and chives, I plumped for the crispy squid with green chilli, garlic and almonds, which came coated in a lighter-than-air batter (which I was later told was due to the use of gluten-free flour) and a twist of lime – a solid start. My other half’s steak tartare was equally well received.
Continuing the evening’s fondness for fish, I next chose the rather extravagant linguine with Dorset blue lobster and honey bunch tomatoes. There is a tendency to not get your moneys worth when it comes to lobster, and at £29.50 it’s not the cheapest dish on the menu, but full to the brim with meaty lobster it was. As I was gorging on lobster, across the table a copper heating implement arrived on which to receive my husband’s fish curry with steamed basmati rice – a reliably inoffensive dish that stood more than stood up to its humble billing.
While not vast, Hix City does have an interesting by-the-glass wine menu. Featuring a reliable selection of crowd-pleasers, (Barossa Shiraz, Argentine Malbec, Bordeaux) it also contains a few curve balls including a red from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and several of Mark Hix own-brand house wine Tonnix (which sport labels designed by Hix’s pal Tracey Emin) from Pinhao in Portugal’s Douro Valley. (It also has its own Tonnix olive oil sourced from the same estate)
Feeling adventurous, we topped the meal off my sharing an oh-so-moorish Peruvian gold chocolate mousse with honeycomb, paired with a glass of sweet plum sake, on Mark’s advice, which proved to be a winning combination. HIX’s chocolate is made from Peruvian cocoa beans sourced by chocolatier extraordinaire William Harcourt Couze.
As quirky as it is homely, HIX City’s hip aesthetic, strip bar, exposed brickwork and eclectic artwork means it is more than a match for attracting the attention of nearby legions of city workers, despite plenty of competition. Its focus on British ingredients and use of organic and free range produce meanwhile is sure to appeal to the ethically/eco/environmentally-conscious diner. While it does have an air of extravagance about it, HIX City is not pretentious and far from formal, but maintains a streak of casual sophistication that makes it somewhat endearing. If you find yourself in the City, with its vast choice of restaurants and bars, you could do a lot worse than HIX City. Head there for on-trend cocktails, a solid menu and swift service, or simply to peruse its trendy decor.
- 2 Hix Fix cocktails – £20.90
- 1 chilli squid – £10.75
- 1 steak tartare – £10.75
- 1 lobster linguine – £29.50
- 1 fish curry – £18.95
- 1 glass E Series Shiraz/Cabernet, Frankland Estate, Barossa Valley Australia – £9.25
- 1 glass Tonnix Douro Branco 2013, Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhao, – £8.50
- 1 chocolate mousse – £7.50
- 1 glass Daishichi ‘Umeshu’ plum sake 2013, Kishu, Japan – £13.00
Hix City, 9a Devonshire Square, London, EC2M 4AE,
*Mark’s “Fish Dog” food truck launched in the summer of 2012, serving up local fried fish with minted mushy peas and tartare sauce from the back of a converted 1971 Citroen H van.