At the chef's table: Mark Hix in Lyme Bay

Native Dorset chef Mark Hix reveals the best fish to feast on this season in Lyme Bay

By Mark Hix
Published 15 Oct 2016, 16:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 16:50 BST
Mark Hix.
Mark Hix.

Having been brought up by the Dorset coast I'm mindful of the future of the ocean and the fisheries. I've always fished for all sorts of species, from mackerel to sailfish. Mackerel are, of course, plentiful and I keep just what I need to entertain a few friends, while species such as sailfish and salmon go straight back into river or ocean.

This summer's ban on fishing for sea bass should encourage people to enjoy fishing as sport, releasing bass like salmon. The trawling ban in the Lyme Bay area a few years back has seen cod stocks rise, so there are advantages to restrictions for both anglers and commercial fishermen.

For me, the way forward is to showcase some of the lesser-known species on menus, and diversify cuts. I put a roasted hake head on the menu at my Oyster & Fish House in Lyme Regis last year with local cockles, rather like the classic Spanish dish with clams, and customers love it. Using every part of the fish makes it stretch further, so we aren't hammering the prime cuts. We serve a lot of cuttlefish, which is very abundant locally and a good alternative to squid. Species like whiting, grey mullet and spider crab also appear on my menus — all fantastic.

Where to eat

Sustainably sourced, simply served: Other friends with restaurants along the coast respect the sea in a similar way. Nigel Bloxham has the Crab House Café, and Billy Winters diner/bar on the beach in Ferrybridge, Weymouth, where he serves simply cooked fish in an unfussy environment. Mitch Tonks, with the Seahorse in Dartmouth and diffusion restaurants Rockfish in Torquay, Brixham and Dartmouth, understands the sea and what customers want.

The new-era chippy: When I was a kid, fish restaurants didn't really exist. Chippies did, of course, and I remember when Arthur Watson turned his Riverside cafe into a fish restaurant that's still a roaring success. Steve Attrill opened the Hive Beach Café in Burton Bradstock and drew in locals and tourists to enjoy great local seafood. Rick Stein put Padstow on the map and it's great to see more and more places on our coast where you can eat simple, locally caught fish.

What to cook

If I've had a good fishing session on my boat in Lyme I'll throw a fish supper at my house, which will often include Asian flavours. Even if I have a modest catch of mackerel I'll use every bit of them — turning them, say, into a crispy mackerel and ginger broth, sashimi or ceviche and maybe tamarind-glazed fillets cooked in my wood-burning oven.

When I was a kid I'd regularly bring home a carrier bag of mackerel after fishing off the pier in West Bay. My grandma would fry some up for supper and souse the rest with vinegar, shallots and carrots, which we'd snack on in the week.

The chef: Mark Hix

Chef, restaurateur and food writer Mark is a champion of British cuisine. As well as restaurants across London, he runs HIX Oyster & Fish House and HIX Townhouse, a boutique hotel, both in the coastal town of Lyme Regis in his native Dorset. 

Published in the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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