Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Sandra Vijandi
“There are a lot more restaurants and different styles of cuisine in Soho. You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here…”
In and around our city, Hix restaurants have taken up home in some of London’s most evocative locations. From Smithfield Market to Shoreditch and, of course, Soho, celebrated chef, restaurateur and food writer Mark Hix is renowned for his original take on British gastronomy and firm thumb on the London restaurant scene.
With an exceptional knowledge of ingredients with provenance, Mark Hix is frequently lauded as one of London’s most eminent restaurateurs. He has a monthly column in Esquire, a weekly column in The Independent, and is the author of a number of cookbooks on British cuisine.
Hix was born in West Bay, Bridport, about 10 miles down the coast from Lyme Regis, where he now owns a restaurant. “I didn’t appreciate it when I was a kid,” he says. “When you’re brought up by the seaside, you never do. I spent a lot of my time swimming, fishing and playing golf, but I just took it all for granted.” When he moved to London, where he still lives, he became distant from the coast that’d been at the centre of his upbringing. “I go down to Dorset about three times a month now to keep an eye on the business and have a bit of time out,” he says. “I really appreciate the area now – there’s nowhere else like it.”
After spending 17 years at Caprice Holdings as Chef Director, Hix made the decision in 2008 to go solo –opening his first restaurant, the well established Hix Oyster & Chop House in Smithfield. Following the success of his first restaurant, he has since gone on to open a further seven establishments, including Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, the chicken and steak concept restaurant, Tramshed, in Shoreditch, and the well-known HIX Soho.
Hix has known his business partner, Ratnesh Bagdai, since the beginning of his restaurant career at Caprice Holdings, where Bagdai worked as finance director “In 2008 we heard about a site opportunity we couldn’t resist and got together to open Hix Oyster & Chop House”. The two decided to make the break, with the first Hix Restaurant appearing on the London restaurant scene. “I resigned and at the same time Rocco Forte asked me if I’d do a restaurant in Brown’s Hotel (Hix Mayfair). Suddenly, we had that and the Oyster and Chop House.”
With the success of Hix Restaurants in full swing, it wasn’t long before Hix came to launch another venture in Soho –the eponymous Hix Soho. The restaurant opened its doors five years ago to much acclaim, despite being surrounded by hefty competition such as Chris and Jeremy’s Zedel. “The restaurant business is a funny old world – just when you think consolidation is the order of the day, the opportunity to acquire a great new site comes up and you find that you cannot turn it down” says Mark. “And what I mean by a ‘great site’ is this: somewhere where you don’t have to dig too deep into your pockets to do a good refurbishment, which has the added bonus of being a perfect central location.”
Mark has always had a relatively simple approach to food and cuisine, with each of his restaurants themselves having happened organically when the time and location were a perfect match. Hix has a hard and fast rule: no more than three main ingredients on the plate. “Then there’s the seasonal element, obviously. We tend not to mess around with the food too much. It’s just about showing off the main ingredient. Sometimes you only get one ingredient on the plate, so it’s just about being simple and carefully sourcing the ingredients.”While each restaurant has its own distinct character, they all share the same experience of simple British cooking.
Mark Hix has long been an advocate of the Soho neighbourhood and its restaurant scene, citing Soho as, historically, the capital of London dining. Hix has watched the various as different styles of cuisine have come and gone over the years in Soho, an area once saturated with Italian restaurants.“You can eat anything at almost any time of the day here,”he says. “It attracts a lot of good chefs and restaurateurs – the business is there. I remember, when I was working at Le Caprice, Quaglino’s opened, and we all wondered where everyone was going to come from for a big restaurant like that. But now there are so many restaurants and they all seem to be busy. There are obviously more people eating out because there is more choice –I don’t know where they used to go in the old days.”With Hixter Bankside having opened its doors July last year, I remain curious as to the next location of one of Hix’s restaurants. Whatever the case, it is certain his place as one of London’s most prolific restaurateurs is set in stone.