Introduction

Introduction

By
Mark Hix
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844003921
Photographer
Jason Lowe

After working for 18 years or so in some of the UK’s most talked about restaurants, with legendary restaurateurs King and Corbin – to get places like Le Caprice, The Ivy and Scott’s back on the London restaurant map – I decided it was time to venture off on my own. Of course, I had to leave a fantastic team behind me, as it’s not considered etiquette to rape previous restaurants of all their staff, although this does happen occasionally.

Ratnesh Bagdai, previously finance director at Caprice Holdings, had been badgering me for a while to do something together. Finally, when the old Rudland & Stubbs site became available, I knew it could be the opportunity we had been waiting for. Having an accountant as a business partner is a big advantage with a restaurant. It allows me to concentrate on the creative side, while Ratnesh and his wife Niketa’s team look after the rest of the business. Neglecting to keep up with all that stuff is often why a restaurant fails and closes.

Rudland & Stubbs had been an established fish restaurant on the site, which is a stone’s throw from London’s Smithfield meat market, since the late seventies, but when we acquired the premises early in 2008 It was in need of a new lease of life. We decided to focus the restaurant on the produce the locality is so famous for – meat – and my favourite oysters.

My mate Fergus Henderson, who is similarly centred on British meat, had opened his restaurant, St John, in the area over a decade ago – to great acclaim. Friendly local competition is always a good thing and when I mentioned to Fergus what I was proposing to do, in the Groucho Club one evening, he chuckled and swiftly ordered a round of Negronis to celebrate his new neighbour.

I was keen to evoke the atmosphere of London’s traditional oyster and chop houses, where you could sample the very best of the season’s oysters and a variety of meat cuts. Meat on the bone would be the trademark of this new venture, I decided. Risky perhaps, but no one had really done it before. The interior of the restaurant with its long, well-worn marble bar, tiles and wooden partitioning was well suited to the idea.

In the 1800s, chop houses were popular, civilised places to eat big chunks of meat. And oysters were once cheap London street food. In the good old days, you could sit at a tavern bar and eat oysters to your heart’s content, but the custom died out in London when they became prohibitively expensive. That was until the Wright Brothers and Richard Corrigan started the oyster revival a few years back.

So, an oyster and chop house it was to be. I was somewhat hesitant to stick my name above the door, but Ratnesh and Clare Lattin, my long-term partner, twisted my arm and now I can see that it makes perfect sense. It’s certainly different – my surname is more or less obsolete in the telephone directory.

We didn’t have much money between us, but with a little help from the bank we managed to scrape enough cash together to do a modest refurb. Clare was my buffer for ideas and a huge help in sourcing stuff – from the Duralex glasses to the antique coat hooks. Many of the original features remain intact, however, including the long bar and the wooden flooring and panelling. With the addition of a few quirky pieces of art, including the Noble and Webster neon from the Rivington, and some clever vintage silverware from Margolis, our silverware supplier, the place began to take on a distinctive, informal character of its own.

Together with my head chef Stuart Tattersall, we somehow managed to round up a great team and open in April 2008. Most of the original staff are still with me today. It can be difficult to persuade an ambitious chef to adopt a simple brief – designed to fulfill a specific concept – as so many are set on gaining those red stars. But Stuart understood my philosophy. For me, sourcing great ingredients and doing as little to them as possible – so customers can fully appreciate their true flavours and textures – is a skill in itself. And it’s a challenge to evolve the menu with the seasons, continually making the most of great British produce.

Inevitably, there were a few teething problems to begin with, particularly with the service, but we were well reviewed on our food from day one. It was an encouraging start, not least because Hix Oyster & Fish House was due to open in the summer in Lyme Regis, West Dorset, close to my roots. Two years down the line, both restaurants are running smoothly and we’ve recently opened another, Hix, in London’s Soho.

However, it isn’t just the restaurant business that interests me; I’m equally keen to promote simple, honest cooking at home. The dishes we prepare and cook at the Oyster & Chop House are straightforward and easy to replicate in a home kitchen, so I feel it’s time to share them with you.

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