Mark Hix is one of the leading lights in the reinvention of British food. The Dorset born chef has been championing seasonal produce and regional dishes for decades and has a string of much loved restaurants in London and his native Lyme Regis. Here, he shares his own personal guide to the most delicious Dorset goings on, from foraging to food festivals.
What it was like to grow up in Dorset?
I had a very simple upbringing, I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents who mostly brought me up. I went fishing a lot. My grandfather grew tomatoes and my grandmother cooked: cheap cuts, lambs’ hearts and pork belly.
What local specialities do you recommend visitors try?
The Seaside Boarding House along the coast at Bridport is a hidden gem. It overlooks Chesil beach and is a great spot to sip a G&T (or something stronger) and watch the sun go down.
Describe your ideal day in Dorset
I love fishing and I keep an old vintage speedboat in the harbour at Lyme Regis, it’s a great way to relax and see the bay from a different perspective. I also do a lot of gardening and enjoy growing wild herbs and of course foraging and preserving my finds. Spending time by the sea and away from the city is an important way to let the mind unwind and engage in my favourite pursuits.
You’ve several successful restaurants in London, why was it important to you to open HIX Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis?
I grew up by the sea in Dorset and I was about 10 years old when I started fishing. It’s nice to have somewhere back home and gives me an excuse to visit regularly.
When the weather is good it’s the perfect place for an al fresco lunch on the verandah, half a dozen oysters, some Burrow Hill cider and a great selection of fresh, truly seasonal seafood.
How and why did you set up the Food Rocks Festival?
Food Rocks is a two-day food festival we host every year down on the beach in Lyme. The area is thriving with great food and drink producers and the festival started out as a celebration of these producers and also to give something back to the community. We’re now in our fifth year and our lineup is better than ever. This year we’ll be raising money for local and nationwide charities including the RNLI, the Fishermen’s Mission, the Blue Marine Foundation and Lyme Regis’ Sculpture Trail.
What local ingredients do you most enjoy cooking with?
It goes without saying that you can get excellent seafood here, one of the best spots is The Wetfish shop which specialises in Lyme Regis day boat catch as well as some top selections from Brixham Fish Market every day. Millers Farm Shop is also a great place to pick up fresh fruit and seasonal vegetables.
Can you tell us any local secrets that visitors don’t usually know about?
The Town Mill bakery is a regular haunt of mine whenever I’m in town. This organic bakery is run by Clive and Lucy Cobb who’ve grown it into something of an icon for the area. Also, The Galley Cafe on Broad Street which does an excellent breakfast.
What are the biggest influences on your cooking?
British cuisine – it’s key to what we do at our restaurants. If you’d asked people what British cuisine was twenty years ago, they would have said things like steak and kidney pie. Now, with all of the great produce on our doorstep, British food could be something like baked seabass with rosemary, or crayfish and brandy – dishes that haven’t been traditionally seen as “classic” British dishes. I’m proud to have been part of its revival.
What have been your career highlights so far?
Creating Hix restaurants has certainly been my most rewarding career highlight, we now have five restaurants in the group and they evolve every day so there is never a dull moment. We’ve recently given HIX Soho a refocus with a strong British seafood offering – something that is very close to my heart.
Are there any other chefs from Dorset that you admire?
Not necessarily Dorset but certainly the South West, I’m a big fan of Mitch Tonks, Rick Stein, Nathan Outlaw and Steve Horrell from Roth Bar & Grill.
Image Credits: Lead image courtesy of Mark Hix. Lyme Regis Cobb © iStock/savoilic. Hix Oyster & Fish House courtesy of Mark Hix. Seafood market © iStock/singidavar. Hands kneading dough © iStock/GMVozd. Fish dish courtesy of Mark Hix.