Hix Soho

It’s pretty darn hard to beat the pleasure of a four hour lunch.

Once they were the domain of advertising executives and frock wearing ladies sporting lipstick a curious shade of coral. To me they are now a sure sign that it is Saturday.

On Sundays there are shirts to wash and phone contracts to scrub.  Yet Saturdays bring a sense relief that one week is over, before the panic when you realise another one is about begin.

I haven’t found many better places to luxuriate in this limbo than Hix Soho.

You might come here for a few reasons.  Perhaps someone who dresses snappier than you said you should.  You might have been stumbling out of the nearby sex shops and become intrigued by the heavy set door on Brewer Street.  You may have long been a fan of Mark Hix’s writings on British food, or his outposts in Spitalfields, Dorset, Selfridges and The Abemarle.  Or you may just be hankering for a darn good piece of gunard.

Today’s lunch brings together twenty ‘foodies’- all who would rankle and wrinkle their faces at that descriptor.
(It’s the first day of two days in a masterclass run by The Guardian on food writing. One of the last things we did before we left for lunch was make a list of all the food-associated words that made our skin crawl. Here are some of mine; ‘nom’ ‘yum’ ‘tasty’ and ‘moist’. The most commonly hated term of all, was ‘foodie’.)

We’ve come to Hix for lunch and we’ve been sequestered downstairs at a long table in the wood panelled bar, flanked by a variety of jars and bottles more commonly seen in an apothecary. We’ve been placed here to not disturb too many other patrons. The couple in the corner attempting to have a romantic tipple and a nibble didn’t get that memo. They soon leave, perturbed.

Set three course menus often feel like a suitcase packed by your mother. Within it you’ll find sensible suggestions but rarely anything as exciting or well fitting as you might have chosen for yourself.  As seasonal and sound as today’s menu is, it falls a little into this trap.

A starter of hare salad takes advantage of the remaining days of game season. There’s a gentle bed of whipped artichokes, punctuated by the gritty rubble of brittle pork fat. On my plate there’s also some absent minded whisps of sweet potato crisps . These are refugees from a larger pile offered as the pork substitute on a Muslim colleague’s plate. Not that I’m complaining about my free gift with purchase. They bring a sturdy note to the chord of flavours at play.

A main course showcases two gunard fillets in a man sized serving. The flesh is calmingly white and draped over the top is a figure eight of limpid seashore vegetables.

The sea kale has a ballast of minerals and salt. Clattering around the side are a collection of open mouthed cockles.  To the right there’s a bowl of skinless and parsley flecked boiled pink fir apple potatoes. To the left is purple sprouting broccoli, which lacks the advertised shade, but is cheerfully accessorised with a dandruff of crispy breadcrumbs.

Dessert is the pinnacle. It’s a plump, dwarfish castle of buttermilk pudding with segments of blood orange and a moat of citrus jelly.

Festooned on top is a jaunty cap of softened and sweetened peel. The pudding is a step-sister of panna cotta, cut by the lactic tang of buttermilk. It has a texture not dissimilar to a collar of yogurt found hugging the top of a new pot.  It’s gluggy, steadying and plate scrapingly good.

The final tastes are Hix jellies. These are hedonism constrained to a squat glass. Essentially they’re a grown up jelly shooter. At the bottom is a rousing jelly combination of champagne and English apple brandy infused with cherry. Crowning that is whipped cream and a nipple of macerated cherry.  One is great fun. Two spells trouble.  At this stage we have the confusing luxury of concluding the meal and not knowing if it was a splurge or a steal- the bill has been pre paid as part of our course registration. With that in mind, fashioning a traditional review is tricky. The only barometer is whether it was time well spent.

It is worth saying that this is not the first time I have been to Hix. 

On another Saturday, not too long ago I similarly laid waste to an afternoon’s practical plans. It was upstairs beneath the imaginative flights of fancy care of some of Britain’s leading artistic lights.  My dining companions and I first became distracted by a generous portion of pork scratching and soda bread that smelled as if it had been daubed with treacle.  We then sat happily and ate fat fish fingers which were perched on a lurid pile of mushy peas and picked at a sweet spotted dick as thick as a muddy bog.

There were glasses of the house Oyster ale to start, and whenever one of us would contemplate leaving the other would think better of it and reach again for the wine.

To whittle away an afternoon in that sort of company, at this sort of place is a fine thing indeed. I highly recommend it. 

Hix Soho
70 Brewer St
Westminster, London W1F 9
Tel: 020 7292 3518

Hix on Urbanspoon

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