Mark Hix is one of the most respected names in British cooking. He spent 17 years as Chef Director at Caprice Holdings before setting off on his own in 2008 with Hix Oyster & Chop House in Farringdon. You may not know the name ‘Caprice’, but it’s the restaurant group which owns and operates The Ivy, J. Sheekey, 34 Grosvenor Square, Daphne’s and Le Caprice – some huge names on the London culinary scene. It was here that Hix developed his own take on British cuisine and it was from his Farringdon location – Smithfield that he started his own empire.
Hix now runs seven restaurants, with a eighth coming soon. I’ve already reviewed Tramshed, Mark Hix’s “chicken and steak concept” restaurant which I loved. His other joints include the Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis and the well known HIX Soho. But, being the Beeffanatic, I have a reputation to uphold and that is to focus on only the places where beef is king, or at least queen.
Hix Oyster & Chop House, or ‘Hix Smithfield’ as I’ll refer to it going forward, was an early opener on a street that now bustles with hot and novel dining experiences. Though I only moved to London in 2010, even at that point, Cowcross Street near Farringdon station wasn’t nearly the hub of nouveau cuisine that it is today, so I can only imagine what it was like in 2008. Of course, Smithfield Market was London’s historic meat market, so the location is fitting.
Hix Smithfield was once a sausage factory before becoming a fish restaurant and finally the Oyster and Chop House under Mark Hix. The marble countertop dates to the 70s and the floorboards from even earlier. Like in many of his restaurants, the walls are adorned with art from local artists and the decor is a mix of antique lighting and wooden furniture to create simple elegance. However, unlike the Tramshed where there was a mix of people from all walks of life mingling in a hip and airy space, the Smithfield restaurant definitely feels like a business setting to me – which is fine because I went there for a lunch meeting! But it’s not where I would necessarily choose for a dinner with friends – The Tramshed or Hix Soho will do for that.
The steaks and oysters are in a distinctly British style, treading a similar path to Goodman Steak houses. They have a great selection of meats – beef and otherwise – and steaks on the bone. Despite it’s different upscale feel, the prices seemed to be in line with Tramshed, with the first hanger steak with baked bone marrow clocking in at £19.95 and a one kilo Glenarm Estate 75-day aged ribsteak on the bone, for two (or one really hungry person) at £125.00.
In between those you’ll find the Glenarm Estate porterhouse for two – one kilo of beefy deliciousness for £80 or the 300g fillet steak on the bone for £36.50. Being a ribeye man myself, and seeing as it’s probably inappropriate to share something as romantic as a porterhouse for two with a business associate, I went for the Glenarm Estate rib steak on the bone. 500 grams of ribby goodness will set you back £40, or you can double down for one kilogram at £80 if you so choose!
The meat was expertly cooked and clearly was a great cut, but lacked some sort of depth of aging that I’ve tasted elsewhere. Perhaps it was because I didn’t go for the big-boy cuts for two like the porterhouse or the aged ribeye. It’s not that the steak was bad in any way, but I felt there was room for some more meaty flavor. When I compare it to the porterhouse I enjoyed at Mark Hix’s Tramshed, I’d declare the porterhouse the winner over my Smithfield ribeye easily. That said, the steak and experience were the perfect setting for a business lunch as opposed to a friendly night out. I would only see if more different sauces could be added to the menu to spice things up a bit.
All of the Chop House’s sides will cost you £4.75. They include seasonal specials, but the ones on offer at the moment are the potatoes; either buttered, chipped or mashed, a garden salad with minted peas and beans, or creamed spinach with tomato and lovage salad. I didn’t go for any desserts, but what was on their menu looked excellent; I’ll spare you the non-chocolatey ones though, for selfish purposes:
Peruvian Gold chocolate mousse £7.25
Credit Crunch ice cream with hot chocolate sauce £1.90 per scoop
Julian Temperley’s cider brandy and Venezuelan Black truffles £1.00 each.
With Gaucho and Smith’s of Smithfield just around the corner and a Byron and many fancy gastro-pubs nearby Hix’s Cowcross St. location, he has a lot of competition and may have to look at some innovations beyond simple elegance to really thrive in this region. Of course, he is doing something right now that his eight restaurants and bars are thriving across the city. My lunch was good but not spectacular, and didn’t get in the way of a solid lunch meeting. It’s a solid contender in London’s packed meat market and I’m excited to try more of Hix’s restaurants as I eat my way around London’s best beef spots.
Hix Oyster & Chophouse is located at 36-37, Greenhill’s Rents, Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BN, or you can visit their website here.