I love Soho. While other areas come in and out of fashion (Islington and Notting Hill being noticeably out, and Shoreditch on its way), Soho always has, and probably always will have, that thing that makes it special.
The mix of people - fashionistas, designers, musicians, film makers, market traders, retailers and tourists – and venues - bars, restaurants, and high street and sex shops - is what makes this area London’s true melting pot. You even have a large residential population to complain about the noise and disorder.
So it’s no coincidence that probably the best restaurant I have been to recently, HIX, is located right in the heart of Soho in Brewer Street. HIX has been brought to us by Mark Hix of the Hix Oyster and Chop House in Smithfield, Hix Oyster and Fish House on the coast of Lyme Regis, and HIX Restaurant and Champagne Bar in Selfridges, London. HIX in Soho is his unofficial flagship restaurant, and given his sterling reputation and some great reviews, we decided to use the Northerner’s birthday as an opportunity to check it out.
First, as with all of his other restaurants, it’s a good-looking place. The basement cocktail bar, Mark's Bar, feels very New York (or, as the Northerner suggested, the sadly departed East Rooms) with its tin ceiling tiles and state of the art cocktails. Never one to turn down a drink, we started with the John, John & Tom Collins, and cutely named Mark's Blunder.
The J&T Collins is a mix of Bols Genever, Beefeater London Dry Gin and Jensen Old Tom Gin built over crushed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, caster sugar stretched with soda. The gorgeous Italian barman thought it wasn’t a good aperitif. The Northerner disagreed, as it packed the satisfying kick of a traditional G&T, with the drinkability of homemade lemonade. It was delicious. Mark’s Blunder combines Somerset Kingston Black apple aperitif stirred up with Aperol and is lengthened with sparkling wine. Apparently this is a good aperitif, but it was a little sweet for my taste. However, I still drank it easily enough.
For lunch, I went for the pigeon on toast, which was sweet-meaty flavoursome, and had mixtures of soft and crisp in texture. The Northerner’s duck salad was nearly as good – it was cooked to rare/pink perfection and was a hearty serving. For mains I chose the rib steak from the five slabs of meat presented to me. It’s big in size, and bigger in well-seasoned flavours. However, the Northerner’s whole Dover sole pan fried in butter trumped it. It was perfectly cooked and melt-in-your-mouth flavoursome. For desserts, the Northerner’s fennel tart was much better then expected. Who would have thought that such an aromatic herb would work so well in a dessert? My blackberry jelly was gorgeous to look at, and rich-berry sharp in flavour.
We washed it down with a bottle and a carafe of La Flor Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina 2010 which was reasonably priced at £30, and complemented all of our courses just fine.
The punters were surprisingly mostly male, suited and booted, but very much of the media rather than the banking persuasion. The staff were charming on the verge of being outright flirty, but very efficient and easy on the eye as well, which helped.
HIX isn’t cheap. We ended up spending north of £200, but some places justify a big budget and this is one of them. Much like Soho, I can’t see this place going out of fashion.