Sunday, 28 March 2010

Hix Oyster & Chop House

Getting to Hix’s was an interesting experience. As a South of the River girl with a long term history of adverse events occurring on past visits to East London, this was comparatively new territory for me. Stories of a restaurant located within spitting distance of Smithfields Market, one of the best meat markets in the world, serving fantastic steak was enough for me to brave the journey. I had been telling anyone who would listen from Wednesday onwards in great detail about the huge juicy steak that I would be eating come Saturday night so there was a lot of anticipation.

After consulting the net the logistics looked simple enough, tube to Farringdon and a 2 minute walk. This would have been fine had some mentalist at Transport for London not decided that this would be a good day to a) close two of the three lines that serve Farringdon b) close Farringdon station itself and c) not put this on the TFL website. I hate arriving late for a restaurant booking and I especially hate arriving flustered. It always, always results in the need for a big fat cocktail (well on second thoughts this part isn’t so bad so maybe I should arrive flustered more often). The restaurant staff were lovely about it so, bar a taxi across East London, no damage done. The restaurant is actually very well located down a secluded little side street just off Cowcross Street.

I started with the house cocktail known as a “Hix Fix”. Consisting of eau de vie soaked morello cherries and champagne; it was delicious but I would have liked more than one isolated cherry for my £14 (yes £14, we’re in Ritz price territory here...) . It was served in a beautiful flat, 1920’s style champagne goblet which always scores bonus points with me. Mr H opted for Mark Hix’s own brew of beer, the Hix Oyster Ale. I also liked the touch of being offered either a glass or tankard (what man is going to turn down a tankard!?) The ale itself was very dark with a bit of a treacly aftertaste. Real ale is not my thing but I’m told it was quite yummy.

As a result of a lifelong love affair with anything porcine, I couldn’t resist nibbling on some pork crackling whilst I pored over the menu. It was served with a warm apple sauce which was the right side of sweet with a little bit of a tang. For me, the actual crackling was too hard. You genuinely felt at points that dental damage could occur, perhaps it was partly because the crackling was cold. For me the perfect crackling is salty and biting causes a firm crunch and leaves your lips shiny with hot grease.

Before ordering, a “steak tray” was brought round with all the different cuts being offered that evening. We opted to share the 1kilo Porterhouse as a result which has both the sirloin and the fillet on either side of a T-bone. The hangEr steak did look really beautiful though (and this was confirmed when I was later caught gawping at a neighbouring table’s plates so if I were to go again I would definitely try this. At £16 for a very large portion this made it even more of an attractive choice.

My starter was smoked salmon served with warm slices of Corrigan’s soda bread which had a nice sweet nutty flavour to it. The salmon had been home smoked by Mark Hix at his farm in Dorset. It did have a fantastically deep smoky flavour to it that you just don’t get in most other smoked salmon but I am terribly spoilt by having a Dad who home smokes his only salmon amongst other food. I think his is the best salmon in the world but then again Mr Hix’s tasted the same so in some ways that is the ultimate compliment.

Mr H opted for the ham hock terrine with piccalilli. I had been put off this option by the description which included lots of references to jelly but in hindsight I really wish I had picked it (or is this just yet another case of food envy?) It wasn’t too jellyey at all and the piccalilli was very tasty,a light amount of curry and spice and not overly tangy but strong enough to cut through the fat and jelly of the terrine. It was also a whacking great portion so I did manage to scrounge a good amount.

The porterhouse steak was a triumph. Cooked rare to perfection before being sliced at our table, we barely managed to finish it all between us. Definitely a cut I will be looking out for again. A side order of crispy "allumette" french style chips was served in a little metal bucket and three types of mustard appeared alongside.

Dessert involved choosing three portions between us. The sloe gin jelly shots were lovely but wouldn’t have been enough to constitute a dessert on their own so we added a slice of almond and cherry somerset eau de vie tarte with cherry cream. The cream was a bright pink and less sweet than I had expected with a slightly tart tang to it. I liked it very much but Mr H didn’t.

Our second dessert-proper was a steamed ginger pudding with custard. Now he won’t mind me saying this but being a northerner this was always more likely to be more of a winner with Mr H. Anything steamed is great but add custard and to him; that’s heaven on a plate. 
Both these desserts were accompanied by a glass of Lustau Pedro Ximenez (a well known friend that I know if always guaranteed to give me a sickeningly sweet blast of pure raisin nectar) and a glass of Jurancon for Mr H and the steamed pudding.

If I’m honest although much of my meal was delightful due to fabulous ingredients and good cooking I probably wouldn’t go again. We did really indulge in everything that we wanted from the menu but at £100 a head this still felt a bit pricey. It also didn’t feel as though you had had a special night out, it was just a bit too cool for school. The clientele are very casual and all a bit too Hoxton/Shoreditch trendy for me, but that’s just a personal thing. This hyper trendy vibe was enhanced by the Sue Webster and Tracey Emin art work on the walls and the offer of Stephen Webster jewellery designed for the restaurant. If oversized, black-rimmed glasses and drainpipe jeans on men are your thing you’d probably love it. Oh and definitely not for vegetarians!

36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6BN Tel: 020 7017 1930

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

The Wharf, Teddington

Teddington wasn't what I had expected; only a few minutes by train from London but you can tell in no uncertain terms that you have left the sprawling metropolis! People talk to one another and are positively falling over themselves to voluntarily offer directions to lost looking visitors. About a ten minute walk from the station, down a high street filled with little boutiques and gifty type shops (I wasn’t allowed to stop....), you reach the river. The Wharf is located alongside the river next to the RNLI lifeboat station. It is housed in a light airy purpose-built modern building with a large bar area on the ground floor then restaurant areas on a mezzanine upper floor and in a big room overlooking the river. I really like the way that the building has been designed and furnished. It matches the service that you receive; welcoming and unpretentious.

I need to caveat anything I write here with the fact that I went to The Wharf on the day of an England rugby international at Twickenham. I suspect that this may have led to my having a very different experience to that of a normal day. Nonetheless it was a very good experience and I would definitely go back to the Wharf for a quieter meal. I think that having compared the “Rugby Day” menu with the normal menu, more emphasis had been put on stomach filling, “man food” than normal (indeed this was a good call as about 70% of the main courses coming out of the kitchen appeared to be burgers) The normal menu has much more of a lilt towards thai fusion food and use of seafood.

I started with a ham hock terrine which was definitely on the meaty side and a very good portion size. It was more in the style of a French “Rillette” terrine than a pate type one. Ham based terrines can often be quite salty but this one was not overly so and had bits of peppercorn which added nice bursts of flavour. I wish I could have tried the accompanying chutney (grape and pumpkin) as it looked delicious but the old pumpkin allergy prevented it and no alternative was offered. Others ordered the goats cheese salad which was roundly praised.

My main course of duck confit was tasty and not dry in the way that confit sometimes can be. The sauce was a bit on the runny side and there wasn’t much of it, equally whilst nice and garlicky, the potato gratin was a densely packed cube of thin potato leaves with not much cream/sauce interleafing it. Upon reading that back it sounds quite negative but I’m probably being picky as I did really enjoy it. I am told that the Wharf burger was a very good burger and did tempt me for a couple of minutes bearing in mind the rugby that lay ahead.

The definite shining highlight of the meal was dessert; a bread and butter pudding with toffee sauce. I’m definitely more of a savoury creature so this reaction surprised me. Unlike the potato gratin the pudding was really squidgy and oozy and the custard had just the right amount of vanilla without being overpowering. The raisins were plump and burst in your mouth offering a fruity antidote to the sweetness of the sticky toffee sauce drizzled over the plate.

Similar oohs and aaahs were coming from the other side of the table at their desserts so I think this is a course that the Wharf does well. Other options included Mango and Kaffir Lime Leaf Crème Brûlée and Caramelised Lemon Tart with marinated berries.

The wine list is not very extensive but matches the dishes on the menu well and I really enjoyed my Marlborough sauvignon blanc. The rest of the table only had praise for the pinot noir they ordered.

My only real gripe would be that whilst I don’t mind supplemental fees to a set menu price for a particularly nice dish or ingredient, I do think that a £7 supplement for a steak is quite extreme for what is essentially a gastropub on the river (despite the chefs fairly illustrious hotel restaurant background). The price for two courses when the supplement was added was rapidly heading towards central London decent restaurant prices.

All in all, The Wharf is a local gem and offered up a meal and dining experience that I really enjoyed and the restaurant is one I would make a beeline for if I was in the area again.

Highlights: desserts and the view over the river
Lowlights: the sauce with the duck confit
22 Manor Road
Teddington, Middlesex TW11 8BG
020 8977 6333

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Images © The Wharf, 2006
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