Chops from Smithfield, Oysters from Borough Market, cocktails in Soho – it’s a food lovers tour of London. Luckily for those not willing to delve into the tourist dens that this would require though, Mark Hix’s new cookery book from the Oyster and Chop House restaurant brings all this to your doorstep, even if it’s on your doorstep already. Hix introduces the reader to the stalwarts of London’s food industry, and even aside from the cookery techniques, it’s likely you’ll discover many things you didn’t know; from the original professions of Borough’s Wright Brothers, Keith Floyd’s favourite variety of oysters (Helford Natives, since you asked) and the processes behind the Hix artisan smoked salmon. This book even includes what is tantamount to a butchery course through photography.
For those wishing to impress their friends with elegant reworkings of British classic dishes, or those who’d rather nest at home rather than throw themselves into the formality and financial outlay of a night out, his restaurant style cooking is communicated in Hix’s trademark simplicity and straight-forward British character. Symptomatic of this is a chapter ingeniously titled “On Toast”, which details an array of dishes suitable as teatime treats or starters. The indulgently frivilous bar-fare seems to be the key difference between kitchen-level cooking, and domestic (unless scotching a quails egg is your standard Sunday morning routine). If you’re looking for molecular gastronomy or culinary foam though, Hix himself may well show you the door.
This book is true to form – the Cuprinol Woodstain of cookbooks – so don’t add it to your vegetarian friend’s Christmas list unless you’re hoping for conversion. In-depth information and some beautiful photographs highlighting the subtle differences between the many varieties of oyster are detailed (many more than has been seen on the menu at Hix, gathered in one go, in fairness), whilst also delving into details of the landscape in which they’re grown as well as the harvesting techniques.
As you’d expect from a man who gave name to his own ale and Emin-labelled Tonnix, a good number of the dishes enjoy are booze-infused, with Cockle, Parsley and Cider Broth, Scrumpy-battered Onions, and Oyster Marys. Sadly though, whilst mentioning the infamous Hix Fix (enjoyed as a pre-prandial by the soon-to-be late Keith Floyd) there’s no cocktail recipes – you’ll have to schlep it over to Soho for those still.
Whilst it’s a beautiful read, whether this book is intended to make you cook the dishes is another matter entirely. The book itself is covered in a stain-magnet brown paper cover, which is liable to get marked merely from salivating over it, let alone weathering the tribulations of a kitchen. And wait. Is that, is that… Comic Sans?! Good grief. That’s enough to put anyone off their food.
Anyone prepared to go follow this book’s advice though will be amply rewarded with novel taste combinations and sound sourcing advice, and will probably find going to one of Hix’s 3 London joints – Smithfield, Soho or Selfridges – an even more enjoyable experience for understanding the processes, background and artistry involved in the creation of these dishes.
Available now for around £25