A little while ago, I went to see Mark Hix do a cookery demo at Fortnum & Mason. His demo was theoretically about cooking with spelt*, but as I sat watching him, I realised his demonstration was actually a brilliant example of how to cook. As Hix stood at the hob, he chatted to his colleague and sipped white wine – letting the dish bubble away on the hob, stirring every now and then. No stress. No poking or peering. Just leaving the ingredients to come together in the time they needed. The impression you got was that his cooking is all about instinct – knowing when it looks right and tastes right. So we don’t all have 17 years of experience running top restaurants to know when the fish or the dish is cooked to perfection. But we can take on board the fundamentals that he seems to practice – great ingredients (preferably local and seasonal), and cooking with your heart, rather than rigidly from some instructions.
[* no, spelt’s not gluten-free, but I was interested anyway…]
Mark Hix ran the kitchens at the Ivy and Le Caprice, before opening his Oyster and Chop House and various other venues. Since then he has opened in Lyme Regis (Oyster and Fish House), near my all-time favourite beach, Charmouth (I’m a Dorset girl). Unfortunately I couldn’t get to the beach, but I did go to his restaurant in Soho…
Hix Soho is a smart joint. You walk in and, with the wood-panelling and formal table settings, it feels rather clubby. The walls feature works by YBAs including some fish in glass bricks by Damien Hirst. This combination of the traditional and the modern reflects Hix’s signature style – working with old recipes and traditional ingredients, giving them a modern twist.
I started with a (retro) Prawn Cocktail. Delicious, juicy prawns – without the Marie Rose sauce, though, as their version is made with dairy. (The bowl was small – making it fiddly to eat – but that’s just a tiny moan.) And then I moved onto the Red Mullet with Mussels and Sea Beet. I’d never had sea beet before and it was fantastic. It’s like a wild spinach but with overtones of salty-seaside flavours. The fish was beautifully cooked and the different textures and flavours of the dish were a great match. Hix is famous for introducing ingredients such as wood sorrel, sea purslane, rock samphire et al – and regularly goes foraging, as well as fishing in his own boat and checking his lobster pots for the restaurants.
The restaurant isn’t cheap. But if you want wonderful food, full of old-style real flavours and modern interpretations – all cooked gluten-free and dairy-free – this is a great place to go.
A beautiful dish for Valentine’s Day, this is delicious – with sweet succulent lobster, deep, rich tomato flavours, fresh herbs and fiery chilli, and soft pasta. I’ve used the traditional flat-leaf parsley, but I’ve also used mint and basil to add extra aromatic, fresh tastes. This recipe does take time to make – and, of course, you could speed it up enormously by not bothering to remove the seeds from the tomatoes and using boiling water instead of the stock, but finessing the tomatoes like this and adding probably the most beautiful stock you’ll ever make(!) deepens the flavours and makes this a seriously gorgeous dish. (And you’re left with a lobster stock that rocks – use it to make a bisque or a risotto that takes a million miles away from a shop-bought one.)
- 1 large or 2 small cooked lobsters (about 600g/1lb 5oz)
- 1 red chilli, halved and deseeded
- 1 garlic clove
- 1kg/2lb 4oz plum or vine-ripened tomatoes
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 250g/9oz gluten-free spaghetti
- 1 large handful chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
- 2 tbsp finely chopped basil leaves
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 small leek, white part chopped
- 1 celery stick, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 6 parsley stalks without leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- Put the lobster onto a chopping board and flatten the tail. With a heavy knife, cut down the middle of the tail lengthways. Pull off the head and claws and open the claws by breaking the shell with the knife. Remove the flesh from the tail and claws and any from the head. Put the shells in a large saucepan to make the stock and leave the lobster meat to one side.
- Add the remaining ingredients for the stock to the pan, cover with 1.5l/52fl oz/6 cups water and bring just to the boil over a high heat. Turn the heat down to low and leave to simmer, covered with a lid, for 40 minutes. Strain the liquid into a bowl and discard the remaining ingredients.
- Put the chilli and garlic in a mini food processor or spice mill and blend until finely chopped.
- With a sharp knife, cut a cross in the skins of the tomatoes, place in a large, heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave to stand for 2–3 minutes, then take out of the water, peel off the skins, remove the seeds and chop coarsely.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and stir in 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the spaghetti and cook over a medium heat for 8–10 minutes, or according to the instructions on the packet, until soft. Make sure you stir frequently to ensure the pasta doesn’t stick. Drain and rinse well with freshly boiled water, then drain again.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add the chilli and garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Cook for 5–6 minutes until the tomatoes have softened and formed a sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add the lobster. Cook for a couple of minutes. When the pasta and tomato sauce are cooked, add to the pan and stir in well. Add 3 tablespoons of the hot stock and the herbs and stir in thoroughly. Serve immediately.