Mark Hix, author of “British Regional Food,” creator of restaurants serving seasonal produce from Colchester rocks to Shetland Isles halibut, is getting tired of visiting restaurants serving seasonal British regional food.
“It’s all getting so preachy,” he says.
Hix opened his sixth establishment last week and this time he’s gone off piste. Hix Belgravia offers dishes from around the world, so it’s goodbye beef flank and oyster pie, and hello Vietnamese chicken broth, and pumpkin and gorgonzola cannelloni.
The dining room looks like the lounge of an airport hotel from the 1970s, a decade that is finally acquiring a patina of chic. The menu also has retro elements (lobster thermidor, anyone?) and is catholic in its flamboyant embrace of diverse cuisines when so many are Calvinist in their insistence on the purity of concept and integrity of execution.
Hix is more like a disc jockey, sampling the Vietnamese broth from his friend Hieu Trung Bui at Cay Tre or the crispy baby squid from Alan Yau at Yauatcha. The squid is my favorite starter: It comes with chili, garlic and almonds, with a lime on the side. The balance of sweetness and acidity is just right until you hit the red chili, which detonates in your mouth.
The ceviche with plantain, taro root & sweet potato crisps is also good, though the seasoning was a bit timid the second time I tried it. Ceviche is suddenly everywhere in new London restaurants. The crisps are a colorful and unusual accompaniment. I can also recommend the Red Sea prawn cocktail, with big juicy prawns. Senorio ham with grilled Catalan tomato also has real flavor -- and a price tag of 21 pounds ($33).
Belgravia is an affluent and expensive area and Hix reflects this in his prices: Most mains cost between 20 pounds and 30 pounds, plus sides, and there’s caviar if you are just feeling peckish at 60 pounds for a starter.
The pasta section is well worth visiting, particularly the pici with duck ragu, which has a deep flavor and an interesting texture thanks to the addition of some crispy duck skin. The cannelloni, and the tagliolini with langoustines and chili are other starters I enjoyed.
Among the mains, the red sea prawn and pumpkin curry with basmati rice and toasted coconut is well seasoned yet mild and fruity. The rack of Glencoe red deer with sweet-and-sour cherries is another dish not to miss. There’s also a range of steaks, while the decent burger (made with rump) comes with club sauce -- ketchup and American mustard. There are also plenty of British dishes if you don’t fancy pick ‘n’ mix world cuisine.
Amedei milk chocolate fondue with marshmallows to share (15 pounds) is likely to become the most popular dessert, although I always have a spot for Hix jellies, represented here by Yorkshire rhubarb and Champagne with bergamot ripple ice cream.
The kitchen is headed by Kevin Gratton, who once worked for Marco Pierre White before becoming head chef at Le Caprice.
The wine list is broad and tempting, with about 20 options by the glass or carafe. Wines I have enjoyed include the Massaya Classic Red, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2008 (37.50 pounds a bottle); Petit Chablis, Domaine du Colombier 2010 (40 pounds); and Marsanne Qupee, Santa Ynez Valley, California 2010 (53.75 pounds).
Upstairs, there’s a Mark’s Bar and I suspect Hix Belgravia will become a destination for Hix’s friends, including the artists whose works are on the walls. Nick Strangeway (ex-Hawksmoor and Hix) mixes the cocktails. Hix owns the restaurant, inside the Hotel Belgraves, rather than just being a consultant.
As usual in the early days of Hix establishments -- the restaurant opened on Feb. 1 -- the service is topsy turvy. That’s fine if you are friendly with Hix or just in a relaxed mood, but might be infuriating if you were in a hurry or else looking at the prices and wondering what you were paying for.
Hix has become one of the most creative and influential restaurateurs in London. A couple of years from now, there may be a fashion for world cuisine. You have to accept that individual dishes may lose some of their distinction in a multicultural restaurant environment. But I enjoy the quirkiness of Hix Belgravia and I can’t wait to go back.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? You might just drop in for a bowl of pasta. If you are out for a good time, 75 pounds a person is easily achieved.
Sound level? In these early days, it’s about 75 decibels.
Inside tip? Table two is good for people spotting.
Special feature? Contemporary art on the walls.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
Hix Belgravia is at Hotel Belgraves, Pont Street, London, SW1X 9EJ. Tel. +44-20-3189-4850.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)