March 3 (Bloomberg) -- Chef Mark Hix’s new restaurant and bar in the City financial district has a piece of kit in the kitchen that helps distinguish Hixter from its meaty cousins.
It’s a broiler made by Montague Co., a California company that traces its history to the Gold Rush era, when one Wilfred Weed Montague started his business selling pots and pans before moving up the food chain to French-style kitchen ranges.
Order a cut such as the 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) rib on the bone for two to three to share -- 65 pounds ($108) with chips and bearnaise sauce -- at Hixter and you should see the impact of the equipment.
The char is extraordinary and brings out the flavor of the Glernarm Mighty Marbled beef, dry-aged for 28 to 45 days in Himalayan rock-salt bricks in Northern Ireland.
Hix says he inherited the broiler from Sushinho, a Brazilian-Japanese venue that briefly occupied the site of Hixter on Devonshire Square, near Liverpool Street station. He’s lucky like that. At Hix Soho, he took over a fancy kitchen installed for a short-lived Japanese restaurant called Aaya.
If I say Hixter is surprisingly good, it’s not because I expected Hix to open a bad restaurant. He is consistent, and Mark’s Bar (below Hix Soho) is still one of my favorite places to drink in London after more than four years.
It’s just that the steak-and-chicken formula at Hixter is based on his Tramshed in nearby Shoreditch -- from the Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers through the upended birds, impaled on a spike, feet pointing in the same style of Sushisamba. Happily, Hixter feels less frenetic, with more choice of things to eat.
The menu starts with snacks, including those Yorkshire puddings -- which taste better than ever -- and chicken and beef croquettes with chervil mayonnaise. Marinated Manx queenies (scallops) come with blood orange and chives or there’s ham hock with pease pudding. I just go for the oysters.
It’s the mains where things let rip. Leaving aside the fine barn-reared Indian Rock chicken -- it’s a breed, not a music genre -- with chips, I head for the chicken & lobster stargazy pie, a new variant on a classic Hix dish. (Here’s a recipe for his rabbit & crayfish version.)
The pastry alone is reason enough to try it. While it would be a terminological inexactitude to say the rest is the icing on the cake, I assume you get the idea that it is pretty good. Chicken and egg (17.50 pounds) is also fun. It’s an old-fashioned breaded escalope with a Burford brown egg, anchovies and capers.
The Hixter BLC (25 pounds) is another winning dish. It’s like a club sandwich, with beef, lobster and chicken. I’d always want to order it, except that the one-kilogram rib on the bone is just so good. One guest I went with ordered it on the side. It’s rare I meet someone with a bigger appetite than mine.
The wine list is short and to the point. I tend to go for the Massaya Classic Red, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon 2010, at 11.75 pounds a glass or 47.50 a bottle. Zinfandel, Frog’s Leap, Napa Valley 2011 is 69 pounds a bottle.
Typically of a Hix restaurant, the exposed-brick walls are lined with the works of the chef’s young British artist friends. They pictures are carefully lit and it’s a great look. Art in restaurants is often just terribly dull. Here, it’s not.
Before Hixter opened, I wondered if Hix might be running out of steam after opening restaurants in Clerkenwell, Soho, Shoreditch and Mayfair, not to mention at Selfridges.
Hixter, 9a Devonshire Square, The City, London, EC2M 4AE. Information: http://www.hixter.co.uk/ or +44-20-7220-9498.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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