Smart British food brightens Soho

<strong>Hix</strong><br /><strong>66-70, Brewer Street, London, W1F 9TR<br />Tel: 020 7292 3518 </strong><br /><strong>FOOD <br />SERVICE <br />ATMOSPHERE <br /></strong>Cost in restaurant per person without wine: &pound;55<br /><br />IF I had a friend who was sceptical about the claims of British food to be world-class, I might well take him to a Mark Hix restaurant. Hix was formerly the executive head chef for Caprice Holdings, an empire which includes the Ivy and Le Caprice, and this is his third restaurant, following one in Lyme Regis and another in Smithfield. This one is called simply, but in upper-case letters, HIX. I am unsure if this shows modesty, or is a sign of impending megalomania. <br /><br />The new place is easy to miss, being behind a large, featureless wooden door at the Regent Street end of Brewer Street. Once inside, the room is surprisingly large, light and high-ceilinged, with a friendlier atmosphere than a lot of fine-dining restaurants, which often mistakenly believe that they are temples to food, rather than glorified pie-and-mash shops. HIX smacks of a refreshingly matter-of-fact attitude to grub. The bits of modern art hanging about, by the likes of Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, add a touch of pretension, but they are fun. On the weekday lunchtime that we went, the place was buzzy with a smart crowd. <br /><br />The menu is a selection of British food&rsquo;s greatest hits, with starters including oysters; pheasant, chanterelle and chestnut soup; ox cheeks; and duck on toast with elderberries. <br /><br />The wine list is long, but I was tempted by a bottle of Hix pale ale, from Dorset. This was served in a pewter tankard, as if I were a ruddy-faced retired stockbroker and we were in a pub in Surrey. As everybody else sat about supping from glasses, I felt a bit of a berk. But the beer was <br />delicious.<br /><br />Food-wise, we decided to go fishy. I&rsquo;ve recently started choosing the cruellest-sounding dishes I can find (foie gras, calf-fed lamb, veal, I can&rsquo;t get enough. My heart leapt when I saw &ldquo;hedgehog&rdquo; on the menu at HIX, but on closer inspection this was hedgehog mushrooms, an accompaniment to a pan-fried dab with whelks.) So a dish of cod&rsquo;s tongues proved irresistible. They were beautiful, very like skate cheeks. Another starter of spider crab was stunning, and massive.<br /><br /><strong>MASSIVE TURBOT</strong><br />My friend had baby squid (&ldquo;eating whole animals is the way forwards&rdquo; he reckons) with a fried egg and some of the cephalopods&rsquo; ink. All the starters were perfection, in fact. To tell the truth, they would have been enough for me.<br />&nbsp;<br />Which was just as well, really, since this was where things went wrong. We waited yonks for our mains, and when they arrived I had been served the wrong dish. Why is it that everywhere I eat at the moment the service falls down? I keep getting wine I haven&rsquo;t ordered, bills that aren&rsquo;t mine, and either the wrong food or no food. London&rsquo;s restaurants can now claim to be as good as those anywhere in terms of food, but service needs to be improved.<br /><br />So anyway, we eventually got our mains. I had a massive turbot whose flesh was clean, tasty and meaty, although it was a little too salty. A plaice was another enormous slab of flesh and tasted beautiful, although it was a little too close to raw in the middle. (By the way, it cost &pound;18.25, and the turbot &pound;19.75: HIX is not cheap.) A mayonnaise made with lots of tarragon was a stellar accompaniment to a plate of broccoli. Chips were great.<br /><br />Other mains included hangar steak with baked bone marrow, roe deer chop with celeriac mash and sea buckthorn berries, monkfish cheek and lobster curry, and offal with creamed onions. All sounded amazing, and I have no doubt they are. The wait for the mains meant that we didn&rsquo;t have time for dessert, so I can&rsquo;t comment on them, but coffee was spot on. <br /><br />HIX is a fine restaurant, the food is fantastic, and the whole experience is bang on trend. If you have a beer, though, ask for a glass. <br /><br /><strong>IN A NUTSHELL:</strong><br />A-grade British food from one of London&rsquo;s hottest chefs, served in a pleasant and airy room. The menu reads like a roll-call of British cuisine&rsquo;s greatest hits, with lots of whole fish and innovative meat like ox cheeks and steak with baked bone marrow.<br />