When one has a food writer sister who begins visiting London as often as she can, it is difficult not to feel dragged into the reviewing and trying of new and not so new restaurants.
So during the last weekend of March our first gourmet stop was Hix Soho. I got excited by reading the menu and the information on their website. Apparently very British, but traditionally British; Hix’ suppliers are clearly listed, his efforts towards sustainable fish explained; the menu is extensive, with mouthwatering propositions and a good choice of drinks, including four ciders (which would have made my husband happy). We braved the #26march mayhem in central London, fighting past hordes of drunken protesters, broken glass from smashed bank windows and the usual crowd of west end goers, with more naked legs and vertigo heels than in a burlesque show.
Noise, noise, noise…
As soon as we entered the dining room, past a bouncer and the cloakroom, I had reminiscence of past meals in striking surroundings as this was the site of the smart Japanese Aaya, a victim of the credit crunch. However now gone where the lights above the bar, the flowers and the smart decor. Instead, Parisian style wooden chairs, mismatched shapes of tables and bubble lights appeared before us – behind, the bar, which once felt like an attractive feature of the room, now a strangely positioned, bulky shape where a handful of people sat on high chairs.
But what immediately hit us was the noise – loud, like a Friday night busy pub. Too loud. We sat at our table and swiftly got the menus. Not so swiftly our orders were taken.
The staff were very friendly once they actually paid us any attention, but to get to this stage was not easy. Anyway, the noise begun to ruin our evening quite quickly. We ordered our food eventually, after being asked twice if we wanted to see the meat board (‘no we don’t, we are not at some Argentinian steak chain’).
The first set of dishes arrived faster than the orders had been taken. My starter of ‘Beets with Blue Monday was good and light, and my sister’s Duck Salad was also a successful combination. What was a complete rip off (particularly at over £9) was my husband’s Cured meat dish. A wooden chopping board with a bunch of slices of Italian style cured meats, with no flavour and no garnish nor bread. By now his mood had begun to darken, possibly also to match the surroundings as the room is as dark as it is loud.
While waiting for the mains, we busied ourselves by observing the people and the artwork (as it was quite difficult to have a conversation). The clientele was very mixed: some normal figures (amongst which I do count ourselves too) and some very boisterous, attention seeking individuals. Makes me question the validity of the food versus the location and the ‘see and be seen’ attitude (made me think of Cipriani).
We devoted our attention to the ‘art works’ hanging from the ceiling and the bar. For someone who supports MSC certified fish and sustainable fishing, a bunch of plexiglass encased fish floating above the barmen (from the artist known as Damien Hirst) is quite a hypocrite choice; the same goes for the diamante encrusted shark jaw floating above the stairs to the bar. The rest of the ‘art’ was just as interesting (round neon lights, floating bricks, wall mounted tree roots). The result, to us, was just to make the room a messy array of different looks. I truly missed the sober elegance of Aaya.
Our mains arrived. My sister was lucky with her choice: Hanger steak with roast bone marrow was a good sized portion and cooked to her request (rare) while the bone marrow added texture and flavour. She loved her dish. Unfortunately myself and my husband were not so lucky. His Fish fingers were ugly looking, tasted and had the same consistency of a famous frozen brand, and the mushy peas’ flavour was completely overpowered by the mint they had added. The chips were average.
My main was the worst and I wish I had actually told the staff how bad it was. Mackerel and seashore vegetables and rapeseed oil was totally tasteless. The mackerel was so uncooked it was soggy and frankly, unpleasant to eat, while the seashore vegetables consisted of a leaf of spinach and some sea weeds. I’m not sure I was supposed to eat the sea weeds – I tried them as I was hungry and they were terrible. Thanks to the leaf of spinach I was able to stomach the mackerel which would have been inedible otherwise. Apart from its consistency, there was no flavour at all: no herb, no spice, no condiment, no salt, no butter… no nothing, let alone rapeseed oil. Left me starving.
We were given the dessert menu, as we thought at least we should give Hix the benefit of the doubt but after 10 minutes waiting for anyone to take our order, we gave up. We even had to ask for the bill twice. The lack of communication between the staff was quite poor – it felt like a restaurant on the first day of opening.
With prices almost as high as Dinner (or any other high end London restaurant), Hix Soho completely misses the mark, delivering mixed quality food (from very good to very bad) in a environment that does not prompt us to ever want to go back.