Mark Hix, Hix Restaurants

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th December 2013
Mark Hix is an acclaimed chef, restaurateur and food writer. After 17 years as the chef-director of Caprice holdings, he struck out on his own and opened his first restaurant, Hix Oyster and Chop House near Smithfield Market in London. Now he has a string of outlets to his name including his latest opening, Hixter, in the City of London which opened on 2nd December. He is known for his simple, original take on seasonal British food. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out what motivates and inspires his many menus.   After so many years at Caprice Holdings, why did you decide to strike out on your own and why the oyster and chop concept? One day this restaurant just came up on my email that I was vaguely familiar with in Smithfield, in the meat market and we decided to make the break and do it. So I resigned and at the same time Rocco Forte asked me if I’d do the restaurant [Hix Mayfair] in Brown’s Hotel so suddenly we had that and the Oyster and Chop House. The idea for the Oyster and Chop House didn’t come about until we got the site really. I tend to find a site then decide what to do with it rather than the other way around otherwise you end up looking forever. I’d just written ‘British Regional Food’ and been writing about London and the history of eating in Britain. Taverns were popular eating places in the 1800’s and oysters were a very popular street food back in those days so I decided to bring those things back together and do an oyster and chop house. Did a similar process happen with the Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis in Dorset? Yes, we had just literally opened the Chop House and I got a phone call from a chap called Carl who, when I was a kid, used to run the trampolines and the pleasure boats in West Bay where I was brought up. He had this café that he had converted and rebuilt and he said he thought it would make a good fish restaurant, so we just went from there really. With the opening of Hix Soho and the attached cocktail bar, was that a planned branching out from what you had done before? Not really, again it was very site-specific. There was a basement that was a sushi bar before and the upstairs was a restaurant, so when I walked in I could see it as a kind of downstairs basement bar, which Soho needed really. In terms of the cocktails, the idea was that it would fall hand in hand with what we were doing in the restaurant – British food, very seasonal, using wild ingredients and infusions – that sort of stuff. I worked very closely with Nick Strangeway, an old friend, and we developed a cocktail menu that had a real reference to what we were serving in the restaurant. Your last-but-one venture was Tramshed, which is a really interesting concept; how did you come across the idea of chicken and steak? We got the building and didn’t know what to do with it straight away, but I had wanted to do something focusing on chicken for a while and had always been surprised no one had done so before except Nando's. There’s quite a few steak houses popping up across London, so we thought why not combine the two and offer chicken and steak. Reg Johnson in Goosnargh supplies us with barn-reared Indian Rock chicken. Our Glenarm mighty-marbled beef comes from Shorthorn, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus breeds. Tramshed is also centred around sharing dishes; is that a direction you think British food is increasingly moving in? Yes we do sharing with the chicken so that a whole chicken can be shared between two or three people. It looks good in the room and it’s a good, old-fashioned kind of eating style. I don’t think the British dining scene is necessarily going to move in that direction as a whole. People try everything; they follow trends; someone does one thing and someone copies it, then someone does something else and it moves on. Fish dog is another interesting concept that pushes the Hix brand into the street food market. Do you think street food has a big future in the UK? I think it’s a way that restaurants can go out and do something outside the restaurant that’s a bit of fun and a bit lower key. Food on the streets also needed a bit of an overhaul because many people’s idea of street food is still just greasy hamburgers and hot dogs. The fish dog concept was something we started a couple of years ago as an idea we came up with for a food festival. We just ran with it and it became a success. How would you sum up your food philosophy and how do you apply it to your broad range of outlets? I’ve always had a fairly simple approach to food. We’ve always had a hard and fast rule of no more than three main ingredients on the plate, then there’s the seasonal element obviously. We tend not to mess around with the food too much; it’s just about showing off the main ingredient. Sometimes you only get one ingredient on the plate, so it’s just about being simple and carefully sourcing the ingredients. You’ve been writing about food almost as long as you’ve been cooking it; is that something that you feel naturally goes hand in hand? I’ve been writing for The Independent for about 11 years now and I’d always wanted to write about food. I think more chefs and restaurateurs should do it because there’s so much to share with the general public. I like delving into the history as well; food is as much about history as it is about the product, that’s kind of what makes it interesting. You’ve just opened a new restaurant in London; can you tell us a bit about that? Yes, it’s called Hixter and it’s based in Devonshire Square near Liverpool Street. It’s the second of the chicken and steak restaurants. The idea of Tramshed was that it was always something we could do more of – that simple, accessible chicken and steak concept could be done all over London and other student cities. What’s the next goal for you and where do you see the UK dining scene going in the next few years? We’re going to focus on the chicken and steak concept. I’ve not got another book in my head at the moment although something will come up no doubt! In terms of the UK dining scene, it’s obviously getting a lot simpler which it should be I think, but there’s room for all sorts of cuisines and styles so in general it looks good. View Mark's recipe for Christmas Mess here View Mark's recipe for Roast chicken with new season garlic sauce here  
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 10th December 2013

Mark Hix, Hix Restaurants