As the proud parent of a 22-month old toddler who’s trashed so many restaurants along London’s King’s Road we’ve had to move our stomping patch altogether, it comes as a rare and pleasant surprise for us both to get an invitation to a swanky London restaurant. But that’s exactly where my son Jago and I find ourselves, courtesy of the acclaimed chef Mark Hix who invites us to his buzzy Brewer Street restaurant ‘HIX Soho‘ to be the official tasters of his new children’s menu.
We’re here as part of London’s Restaurant Festival – a city-wide celebration of London’s restaurants and chefs – and the lunch is sponsored by Bugaboo (who provide a brilliant goody bag packed with bits to keep the tots entertained). As a chef, Hix obviously feels passionately about food, but also about children’s food, and the lack of decent fayre in good restaurants around London. On the rare occasion you’re brave enough to take your youngster somewhere smart to eat, they invariably end up scoffing chips or something equally unhealthy when you can’t find anything remotely child-friendly on the menu. But Hix plans to change all that.
We are kept a safe distance from other diners upstairs as we have the whole of the basement ‘Mark’s Bar’ to ourselves. The room has a cocktail bar for the mummies and plenty for the little ones to look at. Jago proves particularly taken by the taxidermy fox that he enthusiastically chats to for most of the event. There are about 25 mums with offspring varying from the very little (my sister-in-law Martha’s 6-month old Nancy proves a particular showstopper) to rampaging three year olds. And what a lovely experience it is to be eating somewhere other than the restaurant at Gambados or the National Army Museum cafÃ© with my son.
After chatting to the other mummies, and enjoying one of Mark’s signature ‘Hix Fix’ cocktails we all sit around a large communal table which is when the chaos really begins. Mark looks slightly dumbfounded by the combination of breastfeeding mothers, rampaging toddlers and 25 women gossiping at top volume but he happily immerses himself in proceedings and chats eagerly to the guests. Once the kids are all strapped in to their bank of high chairs the waiters bring out late season Wye Valley asparagus served with herb mayonnaise, whipped Evesham beets, celeriac and apple mash and bashed Neeps (translation parsnips). If you’ve spent as long blending veg for your babe as I did you might think you’d never want to see another puree in your life but the kids and their folks tuck in heartily as these, it turns out, are no average purees. Packed full of flavour they prove delicious dips for our asparagus. And this turns out to just be the start of it. Next on the menu is real fish fingers – huge chunks of cod, lightly covered in breadcrumbs which melt in your mouth served with mushy peas. Then, hearty meatballs with rich tomato sauce and fregola. Jago obviously tries to get the meatballs into his mouth whole – the boy loves a challenge. Pudding is a hedgerow jelly and ice cream. Now jelly is one of Jago’s favourite things on earth but he’s never tasted anything like this before and lets me take over the feeding so I can shovel it into his mouth with more haste. All in all, it’s a tremendous thumbs up from us both, and the food combined with the relaxed atmosphere would be enough to lure us back into the West End again sometime soon. And the bus ride home proved the perfect place for Jago and I to both sleep off our excess.
Children’s menus are available at all HIX Restaurants. For further details please visit Hix Restaurants. Other restaurants, which like HIX, are taking a new approach to children’s food, whether through a separate menu or providing smaller portions for kids include the Bombay cafÃ©, Dishoom, Almeida and Massimo.
By Kate Freud
London Restaurant Festival is a city-wide celebration of London’s restaurants and chefs and runs until 21st October. With over 400 participating restaurants, the London Restaurant Festival is your passport to the capital’s thriving dining scene. Tickets and reservations can be bought or made via Livingsocial.com, TicketMaster.co.uk and LiveBookings.co.uk, or visit www.londonrestaurantfestival.com for more information.