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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Hix’

Beef and oyster pie or pudding is a classic dish from Victorian times, a time when beef (even the so-called cheap cuts) was expensive and oysters were ten a penny.

Oysters were a staple food of the working class, particularly in London where they were harvested from the Thames or brought in from nearby Whitstable. They were used to bulk out the pie filling and the poorer you were, the higher the ratio of oysters to beef in your pie.

These days, adding oysters to a pie would be deemed extravagant, expect to fork out around £18 for a beef flank and oyster pie at Hix Oyster and Chop House, but I wondered if the reasoning behind adding oysters to a pie to bulk it out could be extended to other ingredients. Granted it’s quite usual to bulk a pie out these days with mushrooms or kidneys but is there another, reasonably cheap ingredient which could also be used to substitute the oysters?

If you’re bold enough to forage, clean and prepare them yourself, snails would be a free ingredient to use, although to buy they’re still relatively cheap. A mollusc just the same as oysters and with a soft, almost mussel-like texture, I was confident they’d give me what I was looking for.

With that thought in mind, a bottle of Bristol Beer Factory Bristol Stout and a can of escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails are revered by the French) in hand, my beef and snale pie was conceived.

Take your usual beef and ale pie ingredients, slow cook for a few hours then stir through some snails before adorning with a pastry top.

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We were up and at it on Saturday morning, hitting the road early for a trip to Lyme Regis, home of Hix Oyster and Fish House. The Fish House has been on my ‘restaurants to visit’ list for a while now so I was excited to be on my way. Fresh British fish can be hard to beat and such a special treat, fitting for a belated birthday lunch.

The restaurant is in a prime location in Lyme Regis on the hillside overlooking the small harbour and, on a sunny day like Saturday, with a view for miles down the Jurassic coastline and out across the glistening sea. The modern ‘beach hut’ has floor to ceiling windows on two sides and the layout of the tables means that you can enjoy the magnificent view wherever you’re sitting.

The menu changes daily and, as you’d expect, is predominantly fish based, though on Saturday there were a few dishes for those who’d prefer meat and a couple of vegetarian starters. It was also great to see so many sea vegetables appearing on the menu.

We kicked off the meal with a glass of Prosecco and some rock oysters, one of each variety between us (Carlingford Lough, Brownsea Island, Portland Royals, Devon Yealms). Wonderfully fresh and tasting of the sea.

From the starters, we chose monkfish cheeks with peas, bacon and tarragon, Fowey mussel and Burrow Hill cider broth and soused Torbay gurnard with sea purslane.

The monkfish cheeks were meaty and tasty but the bacon and tarragon were lost in the peas. Such strong flavours, you’d expect them to stand out. The broth was delicious, topped with a few plump mussels, but to me was more a potage than a broth. More a criticism of the menu writing than the dish itself! The flavour of the soused gurnard was perfect, such a shame that the skin had been left on making it impossible to eat and that in parts the fish was still raw. When we raised the issue with the waitress, we were offered an alternative and chose the Fish House salad. This was a take on a Nicoise with mackerel fillets in place of tuna – nice but not spectacular.

For our main courses we chose grilled fillet of Portland Race sea bass with Atlantic prawns and sea spinach, grilled Dorset Blue lobster with wild garlic and chips (it was my birthday!), grilled Bigbury Bay dabs with green sauce and Barrington potatoes, and chargrilled lamb cutlets with deep-fried sweetbreads and wild garlic.

The sea bass was beautiful and a picture on the plate (the photo doesn’t do it justice).  Disappointing though that the Atlantic prawns had been replaced by clams without a word of explanation or a check to see if the subsitution was acceptable. The lobster was finger licking good and the wild garlic sauce a perfect combination, only to be let down by the seriously late arrival of the chips. The dabs and green sauce were tasty but a salsa verde made by hand rather than in a blender would have really elevated the dish. The lamb cutlets turned out to be one thick and slightly underwhelming chop, though the sweetbreads a crispy and interesting addition to the dish.

The kitchen, which we discovered at this point was running without a head chef owing to a serious knife wound, redeemed itself with the desserts; a refreshing blackcurrant sorbet, a palate cleansing lemon sorbet and a tangy, though untraditional (the cake base ran through the cheese mixture), cheesecake.

The food aside, the service is what let the Fish House down the most. When eating out and paying the relatively high price that this kind of restaurant commands, I like to be made to feel welcome and special. Instead I felt we were just another punter and an imposition, our waitress at her most cheerful as we said goodbye. The restaurant wasn’t busy during our visit and with three waitresses on hand a more personal and friendly touch could have been offered.

We’d heard good reviews before our visit and more since so maybe we just caught them on an off day. Perhaps we’ll be able to go again sometime soon and our experience will live up to the stunning setting. 

If you’re in the area on a bright day and wanting to give it a try, my recommendation would be to head outside onto the balcony with a glass of wine and a tray of oysters to soak up the view and take in the sea air. Watching people out there whilst we were eating, I couldn’t help but think that that’s the good life!

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Mark Hix, British Seasonal Food. I couldn’t have received this book at a better time. Just as I was really starting to think that winter was never going to end and February’s lull of fresh and exciting home-grown vegetables would zap me of all remaining inspiration, I could at last look ahead to March with a gentle reminder of the joys to come with the start of spring. 

I felt the excitement bubbling inside of me knowing that soon purple sprouting broccoli would give rise to spring lamb, which would lead on to asparagus, broad beans, peas and then a plentiful bounty of summer produce, before we could harvest soft fruits and tuck into autumn colours and flavours. I almost felt ready to be able to look forward to next winter too, only this year armed with a month by month handbook to keep me sane. 

Hix shows us that with a dose of creativity, a bit of forethought, not too much planning, a hunt around the hedgerows or seashores and a good source of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables you can really make the most of the great British seasons. Some may see it as a romantic ideal but why not look on it as a challenge? If we open our minds, there’s no reason why we can’t achieve at least some of the food lifestyle changes he suggests. 

British Seasonal Food is about going back to our roots. It holds an abundance of useful information about ingredients, tips on working and shopping with the seasons, not to mention heaps of encouragement. Hix’s passion for British produce is addictive and really shines through in the recipes. Classics, such as faggots, are brought up-to-date, quick and simple meals like cabbage and bacon soup, are combined with the more elaborate, there are inventive demonstrations of under-used cuts of meat and fish (fish collar curry or cod’s tongues perhaps?) and every dish shows off produce at its best. All this will ensure I pull his book off the shelf at least once a month ahead of any other!

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