Family, food and The Fox Inn: In Dorset with Mark Hix

Family, food and The Fox Inn: In Dorset with Mark Hix

Celebrated chef, restauranteur, and writer Mark Hix has championed the development of British cuisine using local and foraged foods over the last 20 years. For this story he invited Cedric Bardawil to his new pub, The Fox Inn to discuss his move from London to Dorset, highlights of living by the coast, as well as his daughter Lydia’s illustration and a project they’re working on together.

Illustration by Lydia Hix

Words and photography by Cedric Bardawil

Cedric Bardawil: Let’s start with where we are now, The Fox Inn in Dorset. How did this pub come about?

Mark Hix: Old family friends, Eva and Ray Harvey bought it about 10 years ago to preserve it from being developed. Then two years ago they asked me if I’d be interested in taking it over, they had two tenants in the past and it was a bit run down. My dad used to bring me here when I was a kid, so I had good memories and thought it would fit well with my Fish House in Lyme Regis. So, I decided to take it on, I thought fish on the coast, and meat and game at the pub. Everyone thought I was mad doing this during the pandemic, we opened on December 10th 2020 and closed two weeks later, for three months or so. We’ve got the big green outside and a large tent, which worked well for us during all the restrictions. We’re now getting a lot of locals back in and have become a landmark in the area for being a proper pub and food destination.

CB: The rooms are great too!

MH: My plan was always to do rooms, but I ran out of money after the second one. I’m hoping when the cash flow is better towards the summer I can keep working on the rooms. I’d like to do eight in total: the skittle alley is going to become two rooms, then I’ve got a woodland in the back where the other four rooms will be. A combination of rooms and good food is important to me – the walks around here are good, and we’re not far from the sea.

CB: What does Dorset mean to you?

MH: I was brought up here, I only moved to London when I was 18 years old. I opened the Oyster & Fish House 15 years ago, then over the pandemic my business partners started to put all my restaurants into administration, but I managed to buy the Fish House back. So, I moved back here. It’s nice to have a direct connection with the fisherman and farmers, and very different from London where I had to rely on a middleman. Often people sitting on the balcony of the Fish House can see me, or a friend dragging a box of lobsters off a boat or carrying turbot on a reel up to the restaurant. Same with the farmers – I have direct access to great pork, beef, deer, and game. It makes a lot of sense to be in amongst it all.
CB: You also have a Fish Truck by the Jurassic Coast.
MH: Yes, when it all went wrong with my business partners and I moved back here I thought, I haven’t got a business or a job, maybe I’ll get a food truck. I was at my house, looking out at the sea with a bottle of wine, I went on eBay and this black Chevrolet popped up. So, I bought that for about £8,000 and brought it down from London. I started buying directly from local fisherman, and selling to the general public. Felicity who runs the Farm Shop let me pitch up next to her. It’s different here, there’s a lot less pressure than London where the landlords kept increasing the rent – in the end my weekly rent in Soho was what I’m paying for the year at the Fox Inn.

CB: You also have a Fish Truck by the Jurassic Coast.

MH: Yes, when it all went wrong with my business partners and I moved back here I thought, I haven’t got a business or a job, maybe I’ll get a food truck. I was at my house, looking out at the sea with a bottle of wine, I went on eBay and this black Chevrolet popped up. So, I bought that for about £8,000 and brought it down from London. I started buying directly from local fisherman, and selling to the general public. Felicity who runs the Farm Shop let me pitch up next to her. It’s different here, there’s a lot less pressure than London where the landlords kept increasing the rent – in the end my weekly rent in Soho was what I’m paying for the year at the Fox Inn.

CB: If you’re inviting someone over to have a good time, what else would you show them in the area?

MH: There are a lot of good eateries in Lyme Regis: Robin Wylde, Lilac and Tom’s on the seafront. Everyone has upped their game since I setup here 15 years ago, even the pubs! Then my friend Mary-Lou, who I know from my London days has the Seaside Boarding House. And Brassica that you mentioned. There’s a nice little food scene occurring.

CB: You’ve published numerous books over the years: cookbooks, on fishing. How important is writing to you?

MH: I did the Independent and their magazine for 14 years, and then more recently the Telegraph column, which is a diary piece about what I’ve been up to and what’s going on in the industry. It’s quite nice to write and represent other people in my business. Two weeks ago, I started a four page in their magazine: recipes, local producers, and seasonal food. One of the good things about writing for the Telegraph is all these interesting people have started to follow me, a lot of our tables here today are Telegraph readers, it really helps the business.

CB: I discovered your daughter Lydia’s illustration last year – you can see she’s inspired by food and cooking.

MH: Yeah, she’s really focused on it and lots of my friends buy her work from Instagram. We’ve got a project up our sleeves, we’re working together on a children’s book called ‘The Alliums’. She’s produced some lovely drawings and we’re trying to get it published. Her sister Ellie was cooking for Claire Lattin at Ducksoup, and now doing her own ‘cooking at home’ project.

CB: Onto your connection with art, I remember eating at Tramshed where you had the Damien Hirst formaldehyde cow, and Pharmacy 2 at his Newport Street Gallery. It would be interesting to touch on your connection to art and the YBAs.

MH: I lived in the East End for a long time, and a lot of the YBAs would hang out there so I just got to know them and would do dinner parties, and exchanges, and that sort of stuff. At the Tramshed I had a little gallery in the basement, where I would show emerging artists and do the HIX Award every year.

CB: Finally, clothes: what are your go-to items?

MH: I’ve found that since leaving London I rarely pop a suit on anymore. Luckily, I’ve got quite a few tweeds that I like to wear after fishing or shooting, I tend to put them on for the dinner when everyone is getting out of them. This pub is nice to wear tweeds and country gear in.