Hix at the Albemarle

“Game may contain shot”.

If you hadn’t already twigged from the hunter green soft furnishings, oak paneled walls and door men in top hats and livery that Hix at the Albemarle is a very British kind of place, then that footnote on the menu should do it.

For us, the allure of lunch at Hix at the Albemarle was threefold.

1) It was a bad morning. When you find out that the second murder trial you’ve been ground through has also returned a hung jury, you want to reach for liquor.

2) The reputation of Mark Hix was well known to us. Mr Hix was once executive head chef of the Ivy and Le Caprice. There are now five locations in London that live under the Hix banner, each clamoring to unearth inventive ways to celebrate the best in seasonal British produce.

3) At the Albemarle they do a good looking three course set lunch menu for 30 pounds a head. There’s something about the certainty and civility of a set lunch that I like.

So, on a grey sort of day we jaunt off through Soho. We potter past Sothebys and diamond retailers, past shoe stores that I fear to tread in, and down to Brown’s hotel on Albemarle Street. Brown’s is London’s oldest operating five-star hotel. It was opened in 1837 by James Brown, one of Lord Byron’s valets. These days it manages to house some of Britain’s grandest dining traditions and some of its most engaging contemporary art.

The dining room is long and rectangular, with a wood hued interior broken up with light from windows facing the street and some startling pieces of modern art. Above the fireplace at the far end of the room is the neon pink capitalized cursive of Tracey Emin’s “I Loved You, More Than I Can Love” . Around the room are tables dressed in pressed white cloth, topped with shiny silver salt and pepper shakers . Above them are other works from emerging British artists like Toby Ziegler. The chairs are rounded and encourage you go make yourself comfortable. As do the suit-wearing staff.

The guests are a mottle of bankers, three generations of women out lunching and PR fillies who seem to have perfected the art of working TTT, ttt (Tuesday to Thursday, ten til two). Most join us in opting for the set menu at lunch, though for those searching for even more certainty in their life, each day of the week is assigned a specific roast which comes from a dining trolley.

In the set menu there are three options per course, each providing an intriguing take on a classic ingredient. For entrée it could be parsnip soup with crab apple. We opt for St Austell Bay mussels, with Burrow Hill cider vinegar and Orkney Bacon. It arrives as 25 mussels in a pot, jostling with shallots and batons of bacon.

On the table there’s warmed house made bread which is primed for dunking into the mussel’s briney depths.

Its opposing player is wood pigeon on toast. It’s a tartine style presentation of lightly charred toast, smeared with a murky blend of liver, topped with a church fete of textures.

There’s some roasted bird’s breast which borders on stringy, the tiny delighted plop of elderberries- like dwarf currants, and the crunch of cobnuts. Adding extra colour and flavor are some roasting juices and a handful of cress. It’s gobsmackingly good.

Add to both a glass of refreshingly dry pink wine (unlisted on the wine list, but happily poured by the glass) and you’ve got the start of an indulgent mid-week lunch.

Throughout the rest of the dining room main courses are trotting down traditional gender lines. It’s hard to spy a female in the room who isn’t enjoying the pan friend Newland Megrim sole- filleted with impressive dexterity tableside by the floor staff.

Similarly, there are few men who aren’t ploughing through the seasoned hangar steak, cooked medium rare and pre sliced, in case the exertion was too much for you.

The steak is accompanied by a hefty, halved marrow bone, housing a stuffing made from the gelatinous glee of the marrow, bound with breadcrumbs and herbs.

One dessert between two is more than sufficient. We opt for a cox’s apple and damson plum pie with vanilla ice cream. Short and stout, the pastry crumbles like a forgotten sand castle. The bottom of the pie is crisp, the inside gooey and sticky with a slightly tart puree of crimson fruit.

There are truffles with espresso, and complimentary glasses of sauternes when waitstaff learn of our recent relocation to their fine shores.

It’s escapist dining at its best.

Some minor quibbles; at the commencement of the meal a campari and orange comes in a glass so slender and tall it’s nigh impossible for a strapping man to sip from it without constantly bashing his nose against a block of ice, and main courses could do with some additional vegetable supporting acts. Those who ordered the sole enjoyed boiled potatoes, but to my English granny, a meal always involved protein and three veg.

In summary; Hix at the Albemarle is a fine location, using sparkling technique in the kitchen to make the best of what is seasonal and unique to England’s shores. It’s the kind of place you could easily come for a business lunch, a slap up meal, or bring your mum.

And for us Hix gave us a place to take refuge, gather our confidence and reason that while the judicial system on the other side of the world may be nothing short of barking mad, there are plenty of locations in the Empire where civility and sense still prevail.

HIX at The Albemarle
Brown’s Hotel, 33 – 34 Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4BP
Tel: +44 (0)20 7493 6020

HIX at The Albemarle on Urbanspoon

{ 1 Comment }
  1. "Short and stout, the pastry crumbles like a forgotten sand castle." – what a beautiful simile!

    Your writing always makes me smile, even though the reason behind this lunch makes me want to punch something, hard.


Leave a comment


{ 1 Trackback }