I haven’t had chicken with feet before. I even went as far as having a little nibble on the cartilaginous toes before giving up and reverting to breast with plenty of crispy skin.
Mark Hix hijacked the Orangery at this year’s Port Eliot Festival for two evening sittings with a very well-priced £45 menu of three courses. And with him came not only roast chicken with toes for two, but his signature style which sits at the very opposite end of ‘cheffy.’
“I have a ‘less is more’ philosophy,” he explains. “I get a lot of energy from my granddad. His homegrown tomatoes with Sarson’s vinegar were all about the ingredients.”
In the same way, Mark describes how his eight restaurants, from Lyme Regis to Shoreditch, ‘don’t mess around with ingredients.’ With names such as Oyster and Chop House, Oyster & Fish, and the concept of chicken and steak at The Tramshed, customers are in for (you guessed it) a slab of meat, a piece of fish or a pile of oysters: “We have no more than three named ingredients in each dish, no foam and no coulis.”
He hones down the Hix philosophy a little further: “Words like ‘hand-dived’ drive me mad, restaurants use words like ‘free-range’ but have no idea where the chicken comes from. We are the only restaurant that names the breed of chicken we use.” And hence the feet: no battery chicken would ever have feet in good enough condition to showcase on a carving dish.
“Eating out should be an enjoyable education – if the waiter tells you about the chicken and where it’s from then you leave with a little bit of knowledge.”
Mark is also well-known for his love of art; he not only commissioned Damien Hirst to come up with the cow and cockerel installation at Tramshed, but his commercial Cock ‘n’ Bull gallery beneath the restaurant supports lesser known artists.
His love of art makes sense if you consider his view of dining out: “It should be no different than going to the theatre. You should remember it for the rest of the week.” I raise my glass of Temperley Sour (Somerset cider brandy, Somerset Pomona and lemon and apple juice) to that Mr Hix.
As for the food – other than the slightly stalky green salad with it, the roast Indian Rock chicken was exceptional (after asking for a doggy bag we received a whole new roast chicken which went down very well for camp breakfast the next morning), the starters were simple British old school fare such as smoked salmon and pork terrine with piccalilli and the dessert was a most incredibly light and fruity Eton Mess with an artistic balance of acidity and sweetness. “The best roast chicken I have eaten,” became a bit of a Port Eliot catchphrase for the rest of the weekend.
All photos by Fred Wobus