We bungled the arrival time but got a warm welcome anyway, in no way diminished by our request further to skew the cooking schedule by detouring to the bar for a badly needed drink before taking our table. There is no draft beer but there are good bottles, including an oyster ale bottled for Hix to his recipe. The selection of sherries was welcome too.
The greeter at St. John could profit by lessons from the (most attractive) woman who guided us to our excellent table after drinks. Then the waiter arrived and the entire enterprise tanked (except for the Berry Brothers & Rudd Special Claret; why don’t more restaurants serve Berry’s superb proprietary bottles?). He was both unctuous and insistent to the point of sneering when we decided to forego his recommendations, or demands. It was just that the Editor had not traveled from coastal New England to eat steamed lobster and neither of us wanted plain grilled steak. These pushes, not incidentally, were the most expensive if least interesting items on our menus, but in retrospect may have been a good idea.
Over our protestations the waiter insisted on lugging a tray of cut steaks covered in plastic wrap up to our table. It was not just that we already had disavowed any interest in them; this Morton’s of Chicago gimmick is off-putting in its own right. The plastic does nothing to increase the allure of the meat. Besides, in a real restaurant (unlike Morton’s, a chain that pre-cuts and measures everything before it reaches an individual restaurant, including grill times for every steak or chop, rather than spending the money to retain experienced cooks) the chef, not his customers, should be best placed to judge the cuts. We were amused rather than irritated at this point, musing that the dogged devotion of one moron to a rigidly theatrical sales protocol could not wreck the effort of Hix & Co. in the kitchen. Such is the power of print, and of reputation.
They chose the big one.
The food, however, was ghastly. Except for some greasy sprats battered with glue and deep fried in underheated fat, the theme of the night was salt. A starter of razor clams was symptomatic. Razors are a wonderful raw ingredient and difficult to destroy, but Hix’s kitchen met the challenge. Instead of simply grilled and sauced, the clams were chopped into bits and returned to their shell with too many morsels of bacon prior to cremation. The resulting rubber balls tasted of nothing but salt.
Main courses were no better. A salty bacon chop seemed garnished with even more salt; it was painful on the tongue. The biggest disappointment, however, was the signature beef and oyster pie. Everything went wrong there. The top crust--no base or side pastry, the minimal time and effort were taken to cover premade filling--was unpleasantly gravelly, the result of an attempt to overshorten a crust made from overcoarse flour. The beef was overcooked and oversalted, and had no oystery tang at all. Instead, a single oversized oyster squatted between the filling and crust. It was rubberized, and overage or overcooked and only just edible.
We did not stay for dessert.
Hix Oyster & Chop House
36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6BN
Tel. 020 7017 1930
All this is a shame, and if we were braver and richer would risk Hix Oyster and Chop again. Maybe Mr. Hix is overextended; it has happened to American celebrity chefs, too many of whom build chains by riding the reputations of their original restaurant to monetary riches and culinary ruin. He cannot have been onsite the night of our visit. Maybe it just was an off night for his subordinates. We hope so.