Hix Oyster and Fish House – In Memoriam
Over a decade ago, one of the many highlights of walking part of the magnificent South West Coastal Path was a stop-off in Lyme Regis and a chance to dine at the Hix Oyster and Fish House, a high-end restaurant established by Mark Hix in 2008. In short, it was both a memorable experience and a respite for aching legs.
Sadly, it closed in April 2020, along with the rest of the Hix restaurant empire, yet another victim of Covid-19. I’d always hoped to return there and now I never can.
Anyway, here is the article I wrote about it for a long-forgotten magazine. I’ve published it again in mourning. For a place gone but, unlike so many of its peers, far from forgotten. I hope you’ll take a minute or so to read it. Update: it’s said that mark Hix has re-aquired the property, so hopefully a new version will emege, phoenix-like, from the ashes!
The Cobb at Lyme Regis, “is quite simply the most beautiful sea rampart on the south coast of England. And not only because it is, as the guide books say, redolent of seven hundred years of English history. Because ships sailed to meet the Armada from it, because Monmouth landed beside it, but finally because it is a superb fragment of folk art”. John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1969.
And now the Cobb has a restaurant worthy of it – the Hix Oyster and Fish House. The restaurant is in a restored pavilion in the reopened Lister Gardens, with commanding views out over Lyme Bay.
Indeed, the view out over the Cobb from our table at the front of the restaurant is magnificent. Arguably the best on this Jurassic coast. On a fine day, it beats the Mediterranean hands down. Having spent a week walking eighty-odd miles along this coast, I am fully qualified to know. To the port side are uninterrupted views of Lyme Bay that stretch past the Cassata-Cliffs of Golden Cap on to distant Portland Bill. On our bow and to starboard is Lyme Harbour. While we dined, twinkling harbour lights and metronomic lighthouse flashes gradually replaced the lingering sunset.
Inside, the relatively small space for 45 covers appears larger than it is because of floor to ceiling windows on all sides. The décor is New England-ish; bare white-painted tables and chairs, oak beams and boards. Simple, attractive and refreshingly informal.
There’s plenty to say about Mark Hix. Hailing from West Bay, he’s a Dorset boy that went to school in Weymouth, with a house locally in Charmouth. His CV includes stints at the Hilton, Grosvenor, Le Caprice and The Ivy. The Hix Oyster and Chop House opened near Smithfield market in London’s Farringdon in April 2008. Just two months later came the Hix Oyster and Fish House at Lyme Regis. More restaurants followed. He’s also won numerous awards, for his cuisine and for food writing and he was a weekly columnist for the Independent newspaper.
Time to Dine
Returning to the meal, while the menu caters for vegetarians and red meat eaters, fish is, of course, the star of the show. It would be almost perverse to order anything else. While we deliberated, an amuse-bouche of samphire in tempura was seasonal and delicious. The salty young bright green shoots encased in ultra-light crispy batter were a herald of good things to come.
A glass of something fizzy was required. Hence Champagne Waris et Filles Brut NV, growers in Avize, offered lemon and biscuit flavours. Meanwhile, a Hix Fix cocktail was also a big hit, being Morello cherry laced with Somerset eau de vie and topped up with Champagne.
Oysters and Fish
A platter of fresh oysters is the best way to start. There were Natives from Brownsea and Loch Ryan plus Rocks from Portland, Malden and the Camel Estuary. These came on a bed of bladderwrack; they needed nothing more adding to their creamy succulence. However, lemon, mignonette and Tabasco were all pressed into service. For me, the Brownsea’s edged it, but all were delicious, especially in the company of a glass of Lustau’s salty Papirusa Manzanilla sherry. Indeed, there are few better pairings.
I found the main course of Thornback Ray irresistible, perfectly cooked in a rich sauce of butter and capers. The culinary highlight of the evening though was Silver Mullet served on a bed of spiced split peas, with cumin being a subtle and memorable foil for this oilier fish.
These dishes lived up to the Hix philosophy of ultra-fresh ingredients skilfully cooked and presented without flounces. They came with side orders of samphire and tomato salad. Perhaps the samphire was just a little too wilted. In compensation, there were several varieties of tomato, visually artful and offering surprisingly different flavours. To drink we settled on excellent glasses of Côtes du Luberon Blanc from Perrin’s La Vieille Ferme and a Picpoul de Pinet by Domaine Félines Jourdan.
Now for dessert. There was Chocolate mousse, a masterclass in intensity. This was admirably washed down by a glass of 2005 Maury from Domaine des Schistes.
The wine list
The wine list features classic whites, as you might expect, including Burgundies from the Brett Brothers and Carillon. More highlights are Dry Riesling from Van Volxem, Kiwi Sauvie from Dog Point and Lis Neris’ superb Pinot Grigio. Meanwhile, reds include Pinot Noirs from René Engel and Felton Road. There’s also a selection of beers, including Hix Oyster Ale and Hix IPA, brews by Palmers in nearby Bridport.
Hix isn’t a cheap date but rest assured that it’s a superb experience in every way. However, this hugely enjoyable treat was a deserved reward for all that walking!
Hix Oyster and Fish House