THE esteem in which top chef Mark Hix is held in the culinary world was demonstrated when The Daily Telegraph magazine last weekend published a cover story on how the Lyme Regis restaurateur lost his empire and has had to start again rebuilding his business and reputation.
In a six-page feature entitled ‘Mark Hix: I’ve lost everything so I’m starting again with a food truck’, Mark explains to food writer and broadcaster William Sitwell why he is making a fresh start and opens his heart about the disappointment of losing control of the chain of restaurants that carried his name, including the much lauded HIX Oyster & Fish House in Lyme.
In his intro Sitwell wrote: “Chef Mark Hix had it all: fame critical acclaim and five restaurants employing 130 staff. And then, as COVID-19 hit his food empire, was left in tatters.”
Those of us in Lyme, however, know Mark as the laid-back local (he was born in Bridport), a happy-go-lucky chap despite the 24/7 pressure of running a restaurant empire, keen fisherman and host of the highly successful Food Rocks festival in Lyme which has raised thousands of pounds for his favourite charities, the RNLI and The Fishermen’s Mission, an event which brought a number of celebrities to town.
He is also a great art enthusiast, a friend of Tracey Emin who was an occasional visitor to the Oyster & Fish House drawing sketches of diners’ napkins and, it was rumoured, partied so long at the restaurant on one occasion that she had to sleep on the floor.
Marks’s love of art was well represented in all his restaurants, especially the Tramshed, now closed, which provide a home for Damien Hirst’s famous part of his Natural History series, ‘Cock and Bull’ – a Hereford cow and cockerel preserved in a steel and glass tank of formaldehyde – suspended from the restaurant ceiling.
Sitwell’s article described Mark as a “food-industry legend with his name associated with some of London’s most popular and swankiest restaurants, from The Ivy to Le Caprice, and establishments from extravagant Mayfair to trendy Shoreditch”.
The article also chronicles how his business suffered a “catastrophic collapse” just before lockdown and how he “lost everything”.
Mark describes how he has started again by launching the HIX Oyster & Fish Truck which he has stationed in the car park of Felicity’s Farm Shop at Morcombelake, only a short distance from his house in Charmouth.
Mark is quoted as saying: “I’ve started again from scratch. I’m a fishmonger,” adding that his former head chef Jeremy ‘Jez’ Bird helped him out and they “slogged their guts out” for four days to make £140 each.
The interview was clearly conducted before Mark was able to reveal that he was fighting to get the Oyster & Fish House in Lyme back under his control. And he achieved exactly that – reopening the Lister Gardens’ venue last month when the premises crowded with some of his regular customers throughout the day.
Hix brand lives on
So the Hix love affair with his West Dorset roots lives on. I thought Mark looked more relaxed on his opening day than I have seen him for ages, paying close attention to all the dishes on his new menu as they left the kitchen.
Unfortunately, he has not been able to retain the HIX Townhouse bed and breakfast establishment in Pound Street. But the Hix brand lives on in Lyme and that is a good thing – people travel huge distances just to eat at the Oyster & Fish House which probably has the best views of any restaurant along the south coast.
One disappointment has troubled Mark, however. He is surprised and angry that his application for a liquor licence has been opposed by one of Lyme’s most senior councillors, deputy mayor Stan Williams, who has been waging a 30-year battle against the owners of the property over alleged land encroachment.
Mark told LymeOnline: “I don‘t know what his problem is. His fight is not mine. It’s not a new licence after all. There’s been one at the Fish House for donkey’s years.
“I am just the tenant. You would have thought that a councillor would welcome the return of a business which attracts custom from all over the country and provides year-long employment.”