Bar

Bar

By
Mark Hix
Contains
8 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844003921
Photographer
Jason Lowe

These days, a customer is just as likely to have a great time eating at a bar seat as at a table in a restaurant. We don’t have a bar menu as such, but I have a selection of dishes at the top of the menu that can be eaten with drinks on arrival, or just nibbled on while hanging out at the bar. Often it’s something as simple yet sophisticated as a gull’s egg with mayonnaise, fennel and celery salt, but I also like to include the odd surprise, such as fried broad bean pods. Most of our bar snacks have a seasonal element, not least fresh peas in their pods and heritage radishes, and quite a few are deep-fried, which helps to achieve that savoury nibbling element.

In its previous life as Rudland & Stubbs, the restaurant was a regular destination for lawyers and city boys, who would sit at the bar and order oysters and a drink or two. The week we opened a suited customer walked straight past me at reception to the end of the bar and sat down. I went over and introduced myself but didn’t have the nerve to ask him if he had booked. Roy Walkden promptly told me that the seat he had perched on was his and had been for 20 years. ‘Of course,’ I said and ‘lovely you are trying us.’ He loved the gull’s eggs on the menu – offered by the bowl so you can help yourself to as many as you want. Roy dines with us a couple of times a week and orders the same – a dozen natives, gull’s eggs (when in season) and a glass of Champagne.

I view the bar culture as important. For me it breaks up the informality of a restaurant and makes it real. The bar man, of course, plays a big role, being the entertainer and waiter.

Drinks

It’s not easy in a British-focused restaurant to have a purely British drinks list. Beer, Perry and cider don’t pose a problem, but there are not yet enough quality wine producers to offer an entirely British wine list that will satisfy customers needs and guarantee quality. I do, however, have a couple of great home-produced wines on the menu.

Nyetimber

Made with traditional Champagne variety grapes in West Chiltington, West Sussex, by wine maker Cherie Spriggs, this excellent sparkling wine has been compared with some of the best Champagnes in France; it’s even competed successfully in international competitions.

Bacchus Coddington

Another wine that has secured a place on our list. It is produced from a tiny 1½ acre vineyard near Ledbury in Herefordshire. Denis and Ann Savage planted their Bacchus grapes in 1983, so by British standards it’s quite an established vineyard, albeit on a small scale. In 2008, I managed to secure the whole vintage, which amounts to about 20 cases for the restaurants.

Hix Oyster Ale

When I first opened the Oyster & Chop House, among the bottled beers I chose to sell Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s and Rick Stein’s beers, as a nod to other West Country foodies and because they are bloody good. I later decided I’d like to do my own beer – ideally a dark ale to drink with oysters. Palmers, my local brewery in Bridport, Dorset, suggested re-branding Tally Ho which has been around since I was legally permitted to drink. It seemed just the kind of ale to offer with oysters, so Hix Oyster Ale was added to our beer selection. It proved so popular with guests that I decided to enter it for a Great Taste Award; to my surprise – like my smoked salmon – it won gold. We’ve also found that the ale works really well for braising beef, so it goes into our beef and oyster pie, which has become a signature dish at the restaurant.

Somerset Cider Brandy

To my mind, Julian Temperley is the best drink producer in the country. Not only has he rescued and kept going traditional cider apple varieties to produce excellent cider, but he also makes cider brandy that’s on a par with some of the great Calvados produced in France. There is a single variety Kingston Black apéritif, which is particularly good. Ever resourceful, Julian managed to rescue some of the oak barrels washed up on Branscome beach from the Napoli disaster, which he now uses to age some of his cider brandy, appropriately re-named Shipwreck. We also recently celebrated the release of his 20-year-old cider brandy. Julian’s neighbour’s morello cherries get steeped in his apple eau-de-vie, which we use to make our house cocktail, the Hix Fix.

Tonnix

Last year, Mitch Tonks and I visited one of our wine producers, Quinta de la Rosa, on the Douro in Portugal with our wine merchant John Hutton. On arrival, we were offered glasses of Sophia Sling – the winery’s house cocktail of white port with Fever-Tree tonic, ice and lemon – named after Sophia Bergqvist who owns the vineyard. I’m not sure when white port last passed my lips – probably as a brief taster before marinating foie gras in it many years ago – but it tasted superb. Both Mitch and I immediately placed orders for white port for our restaurants and I added Sophia Sling to our drinks menu.

The following evening, after a tour and a picnic on the vineyard, Mitch suggested we chose a white wine from Quinta de la Rosa to serve with seafood in our restaurants. We all thought it was a great idea and late in the evening around the dinner table we came up with the name Tonnix. Tracey Emin agreed to do the label for us and within about 8 weeks the wine was on sale and flying out of the restaurants. We all, including Tracey, support the RNLI so we decided that 50p per bottle should go to the charity.

Hixfix

This has become the most popular cocktail in all of the restaurants and we often serve it instead of Champagne when we do parties. It was devised when I gave Jonathan Jeffery, our manager at the Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, a jar of Julian Temperley’s morello cherries steeped in his apple eau-de-vie. On my next visit to Lyme, I noticed ‘Hix Fix’ scribed on the window. ‘So what’s that then?’ I asked. ‘A Champagne cocktail made with those cherries,’ Johnny informed me. As I glanced around the room, I noticed there was a Hix Fix on almost every table. I later bought some old-fashioned Champagne saucers, ‘Marie Antoinette 32B cups’ and the Hix Fix took off. Keith Floyd enjoyed a couple before his last lunch at the Oyster & Fish House shortly before he sadly passed away.

Recipes in this Chapter

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