Double celebration for restaurateur Mark Hix

MARK Hix and some of his Lyme Regis-based staff pictured with his manager, Rob Moretto, outside the Oyster & Fish House in Lister Gardens, which commands magnificent views over Lyme Bay (photo by Richard Austin)

TOP chef and restaurant chain boss Mark Hix is cooking up a double celebration – the tenth anniversary of his iconic Lyme Regis restaurant and the sixth anniversary of the successful Food Rocks festival.

HIX Oyster & Fish House in Lister Gardens opened in 2008, since when hundreds of discerning diners have gravitated towards Lyme Regis to taste the culinary delights of one of the most respected chefs in the UK.

Foodies travel from far and wide to dine at Mark’s restaurant in Lyme which commands magnificent views over Lyme Bay and Food Rocks is now firmly established as one of the most popular food festivals in the South West.

With four highly popular restaurants in London as well as HIX Town House guest house in Lyme, Mark is considered to be one of the most creative restaurateurs in the UK and is a highly respected food writer with no fewer than 11 books to his name and countless columns in newspapers and magazines.

Mark’s dedication to sourcing seasonal British food and drink is unrivalled and he is known and respected for supporting and championing British producers. In 2016 Mark received the MBE for his services to hospitality.

Sitting on the terrace of the Oyster & Fish House with views across Lyme Bay, where Mark first honed his culinary skills and love of fishing, he spoke about how by chance he came across the opportunity to take over the distinctive wood-constructed restaurant after receiving a call from the owners of the property, Carl Salter and Merry Bolton, who live next door.

It didn’t take him long to make up his mind and complete the deal, and within weeks Mark had opened the doors to the Oyster & Fish House, his first business venture in his home county, to wide acclaim, especially from food writers who clamoured to taste the new Hix menu.

With Mark’s love of fishing – which continues to this day – its closeness to the sea and his commitment to the sustainability of fish stocks – it was appropriate that HIX Oyster & Fish House should specialise in ingredients from the sea.

Whilst Mark inevitably spends much of his time looking after his London restaurants, he visits his Lyme operation as often as possible and is looking forward to the completion of his new house in Charmouth, again with glorious views over the Dorset coastline, where he will resume his regular Kitchen Table events – tickets for which are highly sought after, people travelling hundreds of miles to see him creating dishes in his own home.

Encouraging young chefs

Mark’s other Dorset interest revolves around his aim to discover and develop the finest young chefs through the establishment of the HIX Academy at Weymouth College, where he first trained – a fully commercial restaurant run by full-time students and supported by professional Hix staff. Mark has always been willing to visit catering colleges to help those determined to make a success in a hugely competitive industry.

Looking back over his ten years in Lyme, Mark says tastes have changed very little and the Hix philosophy of sourcing simple ingredients has lost none of its appeal over the years, with all his restaurants remaining as popular as ever. But he concedes that the hospitality industry, one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, has changed immensely with far more competition, especially in London.

Mark, however, welcomes the explosion of food outlets in Lyme Regis, including the recent arrival of SWIM on the seafront and the refurbishment of the Pilot Boat. He believes that competition is good for other food outlets in the town, with Lyme rapidly becoming a food destination for visitors.

However, he admits that the London market is going through a very tough time with a number of closures of some big players in the capital’s hospitality industry, not least Sir Terrence Conran’s group of three London restaurants, including Les Deux Salons in Soho, which called in the administrators with the loss of 72 jobs early in the summer.

On a recent visit to London I dined at two of his restaurants, HIX Soho and HIXTER at Bankside, and both were clearly doing good business. And the Lyme restaurant, supervised by general manager Ron Moretto, has had a particularly good summer and on some occasions out performs the London businesses.

Food is definitely the rock-n-roll of this era with more TV cooking shows, food festivals and celebrity chefs abounding. Mark dislikes the term “celebrity” and rarely appears on television but not for the want of asking. His official role with the HIX group is managing director and creative director, he doesn’t refer to his chain as an “empire” but as a successful private company.

His laid-back appearance and demeanour hides an astute business acumen with further ambitions for his company and staff. Inevitably his name is linked with every food outlet that comes on the market in Lyme. He is unlikely to match Rick Stein’s domination of the Cornish town of Padstow, now often referred to as ‘Padstein’, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see an addition to the HIX brand locally.

Will it happen? Mark finishes our interview by flashing me one of those cheeky smiles that I interpret as “you never know!”

Woodmead Halls
About Philip Evans 418 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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