HIX Mayfair review

Don’t let the crisp white linen, expert service and grandiose surroundings of Brown’s Hotel fool you – this restaurant is remarkably relaxed and welcoming.

Don’t let the crisp white linen, expert service and grandiose surroundings fool you – HIX is relaxed and welcoming.

Old school values are very much at home at Mark Hix’s funky Mayfair incarnation of traditional British cuisine. A silver trolley service nestles against wooden panelling, as Ionic columns jut up behind a traditional bar, yet the upholstery’s colour scheme is a bold purple and green, and Tracy Emin declares in pink neon ‘I love you more than I can love’ from her canvas above the fireplace. Diners might echo that same sentiment of love for Hix, after joyously feasting on his traditional menu that retains a playful touch of cool Britannia…

Read my full review for View London, including HIX’s dense slices of Albemarle smoked salmon, tender Scottish Kingairloch red deer with chanterelle mushrooms, and classic treacle tart.

> HIX Mayfair review

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Fast food

Humans are not compelled to eat food where they find it, and this is one of our most important distinctions from other animals, according to food theorist Margaret Visser (1991). Forget opposable thumbs; if you can resist tucking into your ready meal in aisle number 4 of Sainsbury’s, then you have proven your advanced development as a homosapien.

I'll marinade this and serve with sweet potato chips.

I’ll marinade this in soy sauce, and serve it with sweet potato chips.

Think of lions devouring their kill where the animal lies, or cows grazing in the fields. You don’t often see a cow collecting grass and then putting it to one side to have a nibble a bit later. If an animal finds food, and they’re hungry – they just eat it. Simples.

Hibernating creatures like squirrels or bears are perhaps one of the few exceptions to this rule, as they store food to survive the winter. Bears actually go into a ‘topor’ state, where they overeat before retiring to a warm place of inactivity and hibernation – so it’s just a bit like Christmas Day for us, then.

Eating food as and when you find it is a singular way to live, but collecting food to eat later and share with others is an essential way to create communities and social cohesion. It’s the ‘gathering’ in the hunter/gatherer theory of human culture that really comes into play here: hunters find food, but gatherers bring it home.

Quicker tastes better

Yet when I think of all the times I eat immediately, there can still be a deep sense of satisfaction:

Pitt Cue Co on Southbank

Hunters close in for the kill, at Pitt Cue Co meat wagon on the Southbank

  • Eating straight from the fridge has that primal element to it, as you pull slices of meat, random pickles and forgotten salads to make the ultimate sandwich in front of an open, chilled cornucopia.
  • Take aways are almost impossible to resist until you get home. “Just one chip, go on!”
  • Picking fruit straight from the tree, as you forage for blackberries on a walk or pick-your-own on a farm.
  • Street food is a modern, urban reinterpretation of hunting, where foodies track down restaurant quality meals that are served almost immediately (as long as the queue isn’t too long)

Most of the time we may be civilised enough to hunt, gather, and then eat our food at home, but there are certainly times when food tastes better straight away.

What tastes best when you eat it immediately?

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Wilderness Festival: Food Matters

Wilderness Festival

Chefs and restaurants headline this summer’s festivals, as the Wilderness festival (12-14th August) in Cornbury Estate Deer Park, Oxfordshire, has started a new phenomena of putting festival food first.

Food is an essential part of any festival experience, but that usually involves over-cooked chips or a dodgy falafel wrap that doesn’t merit the 20 minute queue. Wilderness Festival are changing all that, however, as Michelin-stared chef, Skye Gyngell from Petersham Nurseries Café and Sam and Sam Clark from Spanish-inspired Moro restaurant will make their festival debuts and ‘headline’ two unique banqueting experiences.

Skye Gyngell, Petersham Nurseries Café

Chef Thomas Hunt will host a seasonal Friday night feast, with Moro cooking up the Saturday night banquet and Skye Gyngell creating a sumptuous Sunday afternoon feast. At £27 for three courses, wine and the most elegant table setting you’ll see at any festival – it’s much better than standing in that queue for the falafel. Moro’s menu, for example, will include tapas and mezze such as prawn ceviche, slow roast pork and chiparones squid. Main course will be a choice of charcoal grilled lamb or grilled aubergine with a rocket salad, with yoghurt cake and pistachios for dessert.

Since every farmer and his entrepreneurial dog seems to run a festival in his field these days, it’s refreshing to find an event that has a genuine point of difference. Curated by the organisers of Secret Garden Party and Lovebox, Wilderness knows a thing or two about how to make a festival feel both authentic and fun.

Sam and Sam Clark, Moro restaurant

The chefs are recognised as artists in their own right who deserve to be listed alongside the other big stars playing this weekend, including Anthony and the Johnsons, Gogol Bordello, Mercury Rev and Laura Marling, as well as featuring the London Folk Guild, a masked ball and a one off late night party ‘Where the wild things are,’ hosted by Secret Garden Party.

Wilderness festival is not all about the food, however, as this multi-arts festival also hosts biology classes, lecture on didactic farming poetry, theatre from the Old Vic, debates and talks, a Wilderness Spa, children’s entertainment, lake swimming, boating and hot tubs!

Tickets are still available from the Wilderness website, starting at £27.50 for one day and up to £120 for the weekend.

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Breakfast in Bed Disaster

Butter the toast and spread the marmalade on thick. Balance the plate of toasted deliciousness atop two cups of hot, freshly brewed PG tips.

Drop the whole lot on the floor.

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Fresh and Famous

I like the idea of chicken being famous…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taken on Broadway Market, Hackney.

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Pigeon Lunch

I finish my lunch in London Fields, and come across pigeons enjoying theirs…

An elderly woman walks through the park each morning, scattering bread crusts and bird seed as she goes. The birds all recognise her – or her battered shopping trolley full of breakfast, more to the point.

Why do only old women and young children feed the birds?

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Leftovers: over catering or over eating?

Reading Jay Rayner’s article on the art of leftovers in the Observer Food Monthly, I find myself nodding in agreement with his enthusiasm for creating a new dish out of last night’s dinner or the remains of my fruit and veg drawer.

Almost all proper leftovers require a hot pan, and a knob of fizzing butter… or a well-seasoned wok, thin egg noodles, oyster sauce, sesame oil, and the brisk slap of chilli. Think leftover potato and cabbage, crusting up nicely in a nimbus of frothy butter for bubble and squeak… or a stir fry of indeterminate provenance, designed to use up fragments of last night’s bird, flavoured with the contents of almost every bottle in the cupboard.

Rather than seeing leftovers as bad planning, Rayner encourages his readers to over cater on purpose. Although dishes that use leftovers can be slightly mongrel in appearance and “less virtuous than the dish which begat them,” the imagination and spontaneity a cook uses to ressurect leftovers can often result in a moment of genius.

One thing Rayner fails to mention however, is that it is really hard to over cater and then not over eat. I live in a shared house, and all too often the smell of food bubbling on the hob will bring my housemates out of the woodwork. It is not uncommon for me to be cooking ‘for one’ (over catering of course) and then find myself serving seven hungry mouths round the table. Of course, sharing food is one of the joys of cooking – but sharing makes leftovers more difficult… I feel a bit tight siphoning off food to hide away in a tupperware, just so I have something left for the day after. Perhaps I should start over-overcatering?…

If you can manage to resist warm, fresh risotto, here is one of my favourite recipes for the leftovers:

Arancini: crispy fried cheesy rice balls

Left over mushroom risotto (about enough for 3-4 people)
200g crimini or other flavourful mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2 balls buffalo Mozzarella, cubed
3 tbsp Plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
250g fresh white breadcrumbs
1.5 litres sunflower oil, for frying

Fry the crimini mushrooms for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Once cool, stir mushrooms with parsley and mozzarella. This is your filling for the arancini.

With wet hands, take a heaped tablespoonful of the risotto and flatten into the palm of your hand. Put a teaspoonful of the Mozzarella mixture in the middle, and mould the rice around it to form a ball. Seal the ball completely so no cheese escapes whilst frying – don’t be too greedy and overfill them. Roll each arancini in flour, shake off the excess flour, then dip each ball in beaten egg and coat in the breadcrumbs. When all your arancini are ready, heat the oil until a bread cube turns golden in 20 seconds. Fry the arancini, in batches, until crisp and golden all over. Drain on kitchen paper.

I can guarantee you there will be no leftovers.

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Award-Winning Writer

We are told to ‘keep it local’ when it comes to buying food, but my food writing has now been recognised on a very local level too.

My home county’s village farm, Fanny’s Farm, ran a marmalade competition last month. Prizes were available for best female, best male and an additional prize for marmalade-inspired memories – all to be judged by JoAnne Good from the BBC London. My mum has been making marmalade for as long as I can remember, so she entered the women’s section, whilst I submitted my Marmalady piece to the writing competition.

We both won first prize!

Well, that’s not strictly true. My sister actually won first prize, but she used my mum’s recipe. Even though Mum didn’t win herself, I’m sure she is still proud to know that her recipe informed the winning marmalade, and her marmalade inspired the winning story.

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Whip cream with a jam jar

I have discovered the most convenient and amusing way to whip a small amount of cream in minutes.

Take a small, clean glass jar and fill it just under half way with double or whipping cream. Shake!

Depending on how fast you can shake the jar, the cream whips to a firm texture in no time. My dinner guests were pretty over excited when a race emerged between two competitive shakers – just make sure the lid is firmly on each jar to avoid catastrophe. 

I’m now wondering what else I can take my jar method to; whisking eggs? frothing milk for cappuccino? mayonnaise? … watch this space.

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Spaghetti with Marmite?

Whilst looking for a Tiramisu recipe online, I came across this recipe for Spaghetti with Marmite instead (am I the only person to get so distracted looking for recipes on the web?)

375g dried spaghetti

50g/ unsalted butter

1 tsp Marmite, to taste

freshly grated parmesan, to serve

  • Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water, according to the packet instructions.
  • When the pasta is almost cooked, melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the Marmite and one tablespoon of the pasta water, mixing thoroughly to dissolve.
  • Reserve half a cup of the pasta water; then drain the pasta and pour the Marmite mixture over the drained spaghetti, adding a little of the reserved pasta water to amalgamate if required.
  • Serve with plenty of grated parmesan.

This recipe comes from Italian cookery writer Anna del Conte, by way of Nigella Lawson. I’m yet to try it – but I think I know what I’m having for tea tonight.

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