Hix first arrived in London aged 18, with a dream of pursuing a career as a chef. After rising up the ranks at Caprice, where he was made Chef Director, Hix’s big break came in 2008 when he spotted his dream space in Smithfield Market and opened Hix Oyster & Chop House. It was a simple concept that really worked. Almost a decade later, Hix has a further six restaurants, street food vans (Fish Dogs) and even his own festival (Food Rocks). Hix spoke to us about his story and the lessons he's learnt along the way.
When did you first think about a career in the food business?
I sort of fell into cooking. My grandparents brought me up, so I was left to fend for myself. I went fishing a lot. My grandfather grew tomatoes and my grandmother cooked: cheap cuts, lambs’ hearts and pork belly. There was also Laurie Mills, my tutor at Weymouth College. He was the one that encouraged me to pack my chef knives and move to London.
How has the food scene changed since you first came to London?
The move towards simplicity has been happening for a few years now, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. I think it reflects the more basic way that people want to eat out these days. It definitely makes sense for chefs.
The choice we have these days is phenomenal. However, democracy comes at a price – the rise in the number of restaurant openings has brought its own challenges – rents are high and competition is fierce. Our customers have more choice than ever, and staff are increasingly difficult to find.
Tell us about how your first restaurant came about?
In 2008, I spotted an email about a site opportunity that I was vaguely familiar with in Smithfield, in the meat market. My business partner and I couldn’t resist it, so we worked together to open Hix Oyster & Chop House. I resigned from Caprice Holdings, and at the same time, Rocco Forte asked me if I’d do the restaurant [Hix Mayfair] in Brown’s Hotel, so suddenly we had that and the Oyster & Chop House.
That must have been a challenge. Were there any moments when you felt like you couldn’t do it? What’s got you through them?
For sure, but these difficult moments make you learn and grow stronger!
From one restaurant to a portfolio of six (and a festival!), what’s been key to your success?
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 Sea Bass 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’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
Some valuable advice for those starting out in this industry: work as hard as you can, play a bit hard too but just make sure you learn as much as possible.
Why has art played such a big role in your restaurants?
Restaurants can be very boring spaces, overly designed and just dull boring interiors. Spaces need life and soul, and I suppose the art helps create that. It also means that a lot of the artists dine at my restaurants, and so we have a lot of customers from the arts and creative world – all of that makes for a bit of fun.
If you could transform any space in London into your own restaurant, which would it be?
The Tramshed. I used to look at the building and dream about what a great restaurant it would make. The concept to serve simply steak and chicken was born of my desire to eat simply and simplify the restaurant experience. We wanted to eliminate having too much choice and do just a few things really well. We use Peter Hannan’s steak and Goosnargh chickens.
Who or where do you turn to for inspiration?
There is a whole list of people I admire – those who have inspired me in my career, such as chefs Anton Edelmann, Anton Mosimann, Fergus Henderson and Alice Waters, and the food writer Elizabeth David.
Mantra to live by?
You've made it as one of Britain's top restauranteurs. Is there anything on your list you still want to achieve?
Who knows? We’re always thinking, always exploring new ideas.