Mark Hix ran the Caprice empire for many years, and his many books on British cooking are piled high on the new restaurant's shelves.
The room hasn't really changed from the Rudland & Stubbs days -- black furniture and bar, white table cloths and walls and an unpolished wooden floor. The decor vibe is somehow modern yet comforting, and reminiscent of the near-by St John. The only additions seem bizarre -- a slightly messy looking open-plan service station in the middle of the room, and what we think is supposed to be an open-plan oyster kitchen but on our 9pm+ visit looked more like a washing up area.
The place hasn't been open long, so I guess service-wise it may take them a bit longer to get into their stride. There were plenty of free tables, but we were told to wait at the bar for 10 minutes. Luckily, their table-laying skills proved more efficient than they'd estimated and we were ushered to a table as soon as we'd balanced our bums on the high stools.
The menu was an interesting read, with plenty of unusual dishes. I was tempted by the St George's mushrooms, which I'd never heard of before, and chose to have them in the guinea fowl soup (£6.50). When I ordered, the waiter beamed and said it was very good. It arrived in a miniature lidded pot, and I momentarily wondered if I'd underestimated my hunger. But it proved surprisingly filling, creamy and indeed delicious. The husband snuck a good few mouthfuls.
He had decided to test their chops, opting for a bacon one, served with a pile of cockles(£12.75) and laverbread. The latter, it turns out, isn't bread at all, but some kind of seaweed and a much prized delicacy in Wales, where they have it with bacon and cockles for breakfast! It was very tasty, with the salty and juicy bacon contrasting with the delicate crustaceans (so either we are less fussy than Dos Hermanos, or the food's improved).
But we did wish the waiter had insisted (or even suggested) that we considered side orders. Still, on request, he happily brought another round loaf of warm, home-baked tasting white bread served on wooden board with lusciously creamy butter (£0).
To finish, we shared a Welsh rarebit (£7). It's one of my favourite dishes, and I couldn't fault this example -- at least not until the husband pointed that the one at St John is at least as good, but twice as big and £2 cheaper.
We washed the dinner down with a £14 temparanillo, a decidedly average bottle and the cheapest offering on a wine list which very quickly vaulted into the £20+ range. The beer selection may be a better bet next time, with lots of ales and stouts to choose from.
The meal took over an hour and a half, which seemed excessive as we ordered pretty much as soon as we sat down, asked for the rarebit as our mains plates were cleared and for the bill when the cheesy toast arrived.
Still, the food was delicious and reasonably priced, there are plenty more things on the menu I'd like to try, plus it's within easy stumbling distance of home. So I am sure we will be back next time we can't get into Vinoteca.
Hix Oyster & Chop House, 36-37 Greenhill Rents, Cowcross Street (so named because cows used to cross here on their way to an early death at Smithfield market), EC1M 6BN; Tube: Barbican or Farringdon; www.restaurantsetcltd.co.uk