Sunday, 8 January 2012

New Year's Hix

Lose yourself with a Nick Strangeway cocktail in Mark's Bar downstairs at Hix

I don’t make New Year's resolutions. I just don’t. Whether it’s down to laziness or divertive sensibilities, I’ve never been wont to shackle myself to a half-arsed promise I’ve made to myself.

Except this year, I do. I’m at dinner in the Draft House. It’s New Year’s Day, all ten of us weary with effort. In hungover despair one happy chap asks us all to declare what resolutions we have made. Slight panic. And then I remember that I’d been to the V&A not long ago, peered at Annie Lennox’s trousers and Grace Jones’ marvellous sculptured body in the Postmodernism exhibition. Perhaps I can make something up about that.

So I do - something about being more cultural. But I'm actually hiding a more guilty secret, and couldn’t quite bring myself to announce this to everyone else.

I’ve given up red meat for January.

I'm not sure when or where I came to this decision, or what influence I was under at the time. This is all a bit shock-horror for me. I’m already struggling to turn my head from the Draft House burger. I opt for macaroni cheese instead to comfort me through the pain.

Cue dinner last Friday night. Where better to really test how good I am than a place admired for chops and steakage.

Woe. I am at Hix.

Best part of the pig? Can't resist a spot of crackling with Bramley apple.

I’m deep in the Soho joint from ex-Mr Caprice Holdings that opened in 2009. Surrounded by models, fat cats and joyous art (Sarah Lucas’ Fray Bentos pie mobiles a humorous jib at my predicament), I really think I’m going to buckle and just go meat.

Gluttons for punishment, we ask to see the steak board to ramp up the temptation. We consider the virtue of the rib chop, the Barnsley chop, the rose veal, the Porterhouse. Oh the Porterhouse - so angry-looking and huge in all its rumpy, sirloiny, fillety glory.

‘But no!’ I say to myself while crunching through shards of salt-flecked pork crackling dipped in Bramley apple sauce. ‘Tear yourself away from the dastardly red of carnal lust’. Well, actually the boyfriend reminds me of my said resolution and suggests perhaps that I might like the Dover Sole instead. Why, of course I do. Yes.

Heaven and Earth. No purgatory, thank you.

We share with the much lauded Heaven and Earth starter. A meatball-sized sphere of black pud kept in shape with the merest hint of caul fat, atop a cloud of buttery apple and potato mash.

Digging in.

Broadstairs Dover Sole.

Then the beast of a Dover Sole on the bone arrives, all chargrilled and meaty - bigger than most of the chops on that board. Its coat of criss-crossed chargrill gives the usually delicate flesh a punchy flavour and the slather of creamy bearnaise and cut of lemon juice elevates this simple dish. It's fresh and unfussy, and a fresh, unfussy herby lettuce-heart salad accompanies.

Gamekeeper's Pie

My boyfriend tucks into gamekeepers pie - venison packed in pastry goodness, piped with parsnip mash - each piped dot with a caramelised light casing that bursts when bit. The venison gravy is deep and sweet and the meat is dark and falls apart through the care shown with slow-cooking. (I decide, as I chew, that this resolution thing doesn’t count if the meat is not on my plate.)

Bakewell pudding

Dessert is joyous. Mouthfuls of spotted dick with custard, and flakey, crisp Bakewell pudding with almond ice-cream - a naughty cube of almond brittle hiding in the scoop, which in my tipsy state is as exciting as a kinder-egg to a five-year-old on a long car-trip to Wales.

A less than spotted dick. Custard-covered pud.

Onto Mark’s Bar downstairs, which, in my mind is one of the main reasons to come to Hix. Nick Strangeway’s cocktails are superb - intelligent and considered, without being try-hard. A couple of these usually make me superb at bar billiards and walk funny. All I know is that I’m won over (or conquered by) a Temperley Sour, which is ostensibly a well-dressed Somerset cider in a coupe glass and an egg-white top, but on second and third sip - so much more.

By the end of the night I make another New Year’s resolution. Steak board and cocktail menu, I resolve to conquer you.

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66-70 Brewer Street
020 7292 3518