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Archive for July, 2010

Hail Hix

Imagine my excitement when, last Thursday, my fabulous friend Sarah announced that she’d changed her mind about where to take her lovely girlfriend for their anniversary treat, and a reservation at Hix Soho was going begging. I was on the phone to the boyfriend before you could say: “Rare with chips and bearnaise please,” telling him that whatever plans he had for the following night were cancelled, and we were going.

My frenzy of greed turned out to be entirely justified: Hix is fabulous. We started with a couple of cocktails in the bar downstairs, where you sit on comfy chairs of a sensible height (rather than perching on barstoools having your ciculation restricted until your feet drop off and you never see your shoes again) while the friendly barmen worked their mixological magic with entertaining flamboyance. I had a Negroni followed by a perfect dry martini (only a little was served in the glass, the rest in a dear little flagon on ice). The boyfriend had an old-fashioned, then asked for something made with rhubarb bitters, and got a marvellously twee bright orange drink that tasted of Life Savers.

Slightly light-headed, we climbed the stairs to the restaurant, where a total feeding frenzy ensued. We shared a bowl of crackling with apple sauce for dipping. We had loads of excellent bread and butter. I had a bowl of cockles and mussels in a cream and fennel sauce (the only slightly wrong note in the meal, this, but that’s because I don’t love cream with fish) big enough to pass as a main course in many restaurants. He had “heaven and earth” – spicy black pudding with potato and apple, then turbot. I had roast Middlewhite pork with baby turnips and snails – at least I would have done, had I not been brought up short after a couple of mouthfuls, too full to eat another thing.

This is a lovely restaurant. The food is simple, flawlessly executed and lavishly portioned. The service striked the right balance between professional and friendly. But most importantly, it has the elusive atmosphere of fun that deparated those restaurants you feel slightly relieved to leave from those to which you long to return.

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Mmmm, pie. What could be nicer? I had some spinach from the veg box hanging about, but I struggle to do healthful steamed things with it, despite loving the stuff, a lot. So I made these lardy pasties. Aren’t they pretty?

Buy some puff pastry*, roll it out and cut into circles. I made three big ones, using a side plate to cut around, and two small ones using a coffee mug. Place the pastry discs in the fridge to rest. (I cannot stress enough the importance of allowing pastry to rest. It means that nothing made with it is ever really a quick meal, but prevents the shrinkage that so often makes pies go pear-shaped.)

Steam your spinach, refresh and leave to drain. Saute an onion, a couple of garlic cloves and some mushrooms until golden. Grate whatever cheese you have in the fridge that needs using up (I used Wensleydale and gruyere). Squeeze the spinach dry and chop it very finely. Mix with the onion, mushroom and garlic, a generous grating of nutmeg, the cheese and plenty of S&P. You’ll also need to add some sort of non-runny liquid at this stage to hold it all together. A small amount of white sauce would work, as would creme fraiche, cream or yoghurt if you’re feeling vrtuous. I used the garlic cream cheese in the purple tub from Lidl, I confess – I love the stuff and it only needed a couple of tablespoons. Anyway, I think I mentioned that this is not health food.

Allow the mixture to cool a bit. Place a goodly blob on each pastry disc, brush the edges with beaten egg, seal and crimp like crazy (you can see from the pic that despite my best efforts, the little ones still burst their seams a bit). Glaze the pasties with more egg, prick the tops and rest again. Bake at 220 for about 20 minutes.

I made some jacket new potatoes to go with this, and would have made a tomato and basil salad too had time permitted. The spuds are amazing. Rinse them and salt them and bake them in the oven for about 25 minutes. The skins crisp and they have all that wonderful baked potato flavour in a fraction of the time it takes to make full-sized ones. I dipped them in mayonnaise, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Well, only a bit.

* Full disclosure: I have never made puff pastry. Even at the height of my pastry obsession as a teenager, I used to look at Connie Spry’s admirably clear instructions and think: “Can I really be arsed?”

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