Last night we went to a restaurant I have been wanting to try for ages - Hix Oyster & Chop House. I've been reading reviews for months, and they all sounded right up my street - seasonal, British and largely meaty.
In fact, the reviews had sounded so good that I had suggested it to friends of ours when they were looking for somewhere nice to go earlier this year. They loved it, and have been back since, so it was the natural choice when the four of us were trying to choose somewhere really nice for a pre-silly season dinner.
We started - as all my favourite meals do - with champagne. First time in ages I have seen champagne saucers, instead of flutes! It was Waris et Filles, which isn't a house I am familiar with, but I did like that there is a daughter going into the wine business, after seeing so many "et fils" names. It wasn't as dry as I usually like, but it was very nice. Paul decided that he felt like beer, and had the very pleasant Chalky's Bite - named for Rick Stein's late lamented dog and flavoured with wild fennel.
I had a really difficult time choosing a starter - so many tasty options! But because I have the sense of humour of a 12 year old boy, I eventually chose the skate knobs deep-fried with caper mayonnaise. The word "knob" makes me giggle. These were very soft chunks of white fish - the cheeks, apparently - crumbed and fried to a perfect crunchy outside. The caper mayonnaise was a bit much; delicious, but it needed a bit more sharpness to cut through the richness of the mayonnaise. The gherkins are in a tartare sauce for a reason!
Paul had oysters - it is an oyster house - from the seasonal list and he was a bit disappointed. The 3 Maldon rock oysters were OK - maybe 6.5/10 - but the 3 (quite expensive) Colchester oysters were so awful he says he won't eat oysters for months. We'll see how firm his resolve is when we are at the Sydney Fish Market in about 6 weeks...
On the other hand, our friends were very happy with their starters.
A dish of Norfolk wild mushrooms with scallions was fantastic. A cute little ceramic hotpot was unlidded to reveal a big pile of steaming mushrooms in a range of shapes and sizes, with lengths of scallions throughout. It looked sort of Chinese-y, but the flavours were very European and autumnal. Very successful!
I think the pick of the starters was the heritage pumpkin, goat's curd and pickled walnut salad.
A pile of mixed leaves sat atop a thick slice of pumpkin - which I think had been roasted whole and then sliced and basted in a sweetish soy dressing. A quenelle of really fresh gorgeous goat's curd, slices of pickled walnut and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds completed the dish.
I'm not the hugest fan of pickled walnuts. If I have one a year I am happy (particularly if that one comes alongside the Great Queen St beef burger on dripping toast...) but the flavours of the sweet dense pumpkin and fresh, milky curd went so well with the sharp pickle that I saw them in a whole new way.
As a main course, Norm and I had amazing Orkney lamb chump chops. I honestly never thought I would see the day when one single lamb chop was a meal! Normally when Paul barbecues them I eat about 4 (and only stop so that there will be leftovers for eating cold). But this lamb chop was something else again. Unfortunately the picture was horrible, so you won't get to see it! But it was easily the size of my hand and about an inch thick. It was served on a bed of perfectly caramelly roasted shallots and cloves of garlic, and it was just the right shade of pink in the middle.
Paul chose wild rabbit braised in cider. He quizzed the (very sweet) French waiter about the rabbit, to make sure that it hadn't been hanging until its head fell off. The waiter thought that was very funny and reassured him that it would be young and tender. And it was. There was a lot of cinnamon and sweet spicing in it; I thought it was delicious, almost like a tagine, but Paul thought it was a bit too sweet for his palate. He didn't have much luck last night!
Penny went for posh nursery food with pollock fish fingers and mushy peas. And when she asked for brown vinegar they brought it to her without raising an eyebrow, which is nice.
As side dishes we ordered some chips (very good), bubble & squeak (delicious) and fried green tomatoes. The tomatoes were battered and deepfried, and I think they should have been cut thicker - as it was there was a hard deep-fried carapace with the tiniest sliver of tomato in the middle.
Typically, only Penny and I braved pudding. As she's a Northern girl, and we are just past Guy Fawkes night, she couldn't go past the parkin with caramel sauce. This was undoubtedly the lightest, fluffiest parkin that has ever been seen - a spiced sponge pudding really.
I had a pear poached in perry, served with clotted cream. It was lovely! The pear must have been perfect to begin with, because it was perfectly tender right through to the core, with no mushy bits. And clotted cream is always good.
The wine list let them down a bit. There were very few bottles for less than £50 and a lot for extremely silly amounts of money, so we ended up having pleasant but average wines that really didn't do justice to the food.
The atmosphere was really good. Lots of white tiles - which apparently were traditional in old London chop houses - make it quite light, and complement the high ceilings. Impressively the acoustics are excellent, so there is a nice buzz but you can't hear what the people at the next table are saying and you can hear what the people at your table are saying. Quite a feat to create a place where you could have a romantic dinner without it being all hushed tones and plate scrapings, but at the same time you could have a fun dinner with a group.
All in all? It was good. Not brilliant, but certainly good enough to recommend and go back to.