Eggs On The Roof Reviews

Brit­ish Sea­son­al Food by Mark Hix
Pub­lished in paper­back on March 4th 2011 (Quad­rille, £14.99)
Pho­to­graphy © Jason Lowe

Jason Lowe
Mark Hix grew up in a house so close to the sea in Dor­set that he could spot mack­er­el from his bed­room win­dow. At school he learned how to kill and pluck chick­ens and after les­sons would sidle over to the pier to go prawning with his mates.
Brought up by his grand­par­ents, Hix describes eat­ing simple sup­pers of noth­ing more than his Grandad’s homegrown toma­toes served with dark brown Sarson’s malt vin­eg­ar, salt and buttered bread. Or a bowl of freshly boiled onions with melted but­ter. His Gran swore the home-grown onions would keep colds away, but he sus­pec­ted they ate them because they were cheap. It was ‘a simple house­hold’ where there was ‘noth­ing posh, just hon­est, earthy ingredi­ents.’ His evoc­a­tions of a frugal but happy child­hood make Brit­ish Sea­son­al Food a quirkily charm­ing book. The recipes make it a great one.
While Mark Hix was eat­ing toma­toes and Sarson’s by the sea, I was eat­ing beet­root dipped in the same brand of vin­eg­ar a few miles along the coast. I recog­nise the child­hood he describes. But what he has suc­ceeded in doing is trans­form­ing those fleet­ing memor­ies of sea air, shrimp­ing, home-grown cucum­bers and his Grandad’s prized chrys­an­them­ums into a style of cook­ing that’s strik­ingly ori­gin­al.
The recipes he describes for razor clams with hedgerow gar­lic, skate cheeks, cod’s tongues, rab­bit brawn, lovage leaf frit­ters and fried green toma­toes in beer bat­ter are hon­est but supremely art­ful dishes that com­bine loc­al, home-grown and for­aged ingredi­ents to magic­al effect. I ima­gine his Gran would have sniffed that the recipes are ‘too fancy’. My Great Aunt, pro­vider of the beet­root of my child­hood, cer­tainly would have done.
Hix is notori­ous for his energy and has a fero­cious appet­ite for work. True to his grand­par­ents’ val­ues he still for­ages for wild mush­rooms and sea­shore plants because oth­er­wise it would be ‘like ignor­ing free food.’ Brit­ish Sea­son­al Food, in this new paper­back edi­tion, includes recipes for soused gurn­ard with sea purslane, fried duck’s egg with brown shrimps and sprue asparagus, as well as eld­er­flower ice cream, apple may­on­naise and homemade cel­ery salt. Most are rel­at­ively straight­for­ward to make, if some­times chal­len­ging to shop for.
Mark Hix now has three Lon­don res­taur­ants as well as Hix Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis, a few miles west of his old child­hood home. He has the kind of crumpled, creased face that Gor­don Ram­say used to have and arms like a no-non­sense hos­pit­al mat­ron. But his food is del­ic­ate, exquis­ite and inspired.
This is the first Eggs on the Roof book review. There will be more reviews later in the year.

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