By Marc Kristal
A generation or so ago, back before Ian Schrager and his late partner Steve Rubell transformed ho-hum hostelries into scene-making destinations, the thought of having dinner in that most unappetizing of places – a hotel restaurant – was inconceivable to all but dowagers, unadventurous tourists, and guests too jet-lagged to stagger out. Equally unimaginable, back then, was the possibility of finding haute cuisine in London – as the protagonist of Martin Amis’ comic novel Money so memorably put it, ‘The French, they say, live to eat. The English, on the other hand, eat to die.’
What a difference a generation makes: today, some of the world’s best restaurants can be found in hotels, and London has become a great culinary capital – conditions highlighted by two of the city’s more memorable dining spots, one a few months old, the other an institution in its sixth season. This week, Hix Belgravia.
Hix Belgravia, which opened in February, is the second most recent offering (surpassed on May 23 by Tramshed) from the seemingly ubiquitous Mark Hix, known for his personal, ingredient-driven interpretation of English cuisine, who since 2008 has opened nine restaurants and bars in London, as well as producing multiple cookbooks and writing regular food columns for Esquire and The Independent. His Belgravia venue, located on Chesham Place in Belgraves – the first European venture for the design-forward, North American-based Thompson Hotels group – represents a new culinary direction, according to Hix.
Mark Hix: In Belgravia, because it’s a bit more of an international market there, I decided to open the menu up a bit – pasta, risotto, et cetera. So it’s not confined to just being British.
Marc Kristal: But the focus, as with your other restaurants, is still on the quality of the raw materials, as it were.
MH: Yeah, exactly. I don’t take a bad ingredient and try and spice it up. I take a good ingredient and don’t do anything to it.
MK: I had a superb pork chop when I dined there. Where did it come from?
MH: It’s Moyallon pork, from Ireland. County Armagh. No fancy breeds or anything, it’s just naturally reared, well fed pork – the meat-to-fat ratio is very good.
MK: How did you prepare it?
MH: Just on the grill with salt and pepper. Nothing fancy.
MK: Why did you want to open up in Belgraves?
MH: I took a bit of a tumble here, it wasn’t exactly a planned business move. I know a lot of people who live in the area, and they said, ‘Why don’t you do something around here?’ And suddenly this opportunity came up, and here we are.
MK: You’re almost as well known for your contemporary art collection as for your cuisine. How did you go about building it?
MH: I always work with artists who are friends of mine. What I do is a sort of a swap-sie. They give me a piece of their work, and they have a tab at the restaurant.
MK: I understand that you’re responsible for the very impressive art display in Belgraves’ public spaces.
MH: The stuff in the lobby is from a friend of mine who’s got a gallery around the corner, called 11 [at 11 Eccleston Street]. I thought it’d be a sensible thing to have a local gallery that changes the work in the lobby every so often, and then the stuff in the bar and the restaurant I’ve commissioned the artists to do.
MK: Which artists did you commission?
MH: I’ve got a whole mixture, including Mat Collishaw, Rachel Howard, Keith Tyson, Miranda Donovan. And I’m using the artists’ work on the menu covers as well.
MK: Have you installed artwork in your new restaurant, Tramshed?
MH: I have a very big Damien Hirst, a cow with a chicken on its back, in formaldehyde, right in the middle.
MK: Very appetizing.
MH: Yes, very – it’s quite a cute-looking cow.
Marc Kristal is an architecture, design and travel writer. Kristal, a contributing editor of Dwell and a former editor of AIA/J, and has written for The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Wallpaper, Surface, and numerous other publications. In 2003, he curated the exhibition ‘Absence Into Presence: The Art, Architecture and Design of Remembrance’ at Parsons School of Design, and in 2009 he was part of the project team that created the award-winning Greenwich South planning study for the Alliance for Downtown New York. His books include Re:Crafted: Interpretations of Craft in Contemporary Architecture and Interiors (2010) and Immaterial World: Transparency in Architecture (2011), both from The Monacelli Press. Also a screenwriter, Kristal wrote the film Torn Apart. He lives in New York.