Mark Hix: ‘I never thought my fish truck would become such a tourist attraction’
The summer season is in full swing down on the Dorset coast even before we reach the next lockdown-lifting milestone of (hopefully) 21 June. Some locals moan about the influx of visitors disturbing the peace, but this is what the hospitality industry has been campaigning for ever since last March. Pubs and restaurants like mine won’t survive without the tourists.
And, more generally, as someone who now lives here now, I like seeing fresh faces about. It is the surest sign yet that we are heading back to normality, even if it means the odd traffic jam. As part of this upswing my fish truck, parked next to the main A35 coast road, has become an unlikely tourist attraction.
We are doing such a good trade in fish packed in cool bags so that it will survive the onward journey to holiday cottages in Devon and Cornwall. I had been managing to cope with the rush with the help of Billy, one of the apprentices I took on last year – but he is now doing much more work in the kitchen at the Fish House. So Joya, one of my front-of-house team at the Fox in Corscombe, has volunteered for the early morning shifts in the fish truck as well.
At least the arrival of summer means it is light when I go down first thing to collect what I am going to sell from the fishermen in Lyme.
And summer, too, has been bringing a welcome procession of old regulars from my London days to both the pub and restaurant. Their loyalty makes the long struggle of the past 15 months to keep going feel all the more worthwhile. Mind you, they are eagle-eyed for any reminders of the past, like the neon sign that used to be in Mark’s Bar in Hix Soho before we went into administration last year, and is now on display at the pub.
Among recent visitors was one face from the past, a well-known actor who I better not name to spare his blushes. He had come not just to make sure my food was up to standard now I have decamped from the capital, but also to make a confession: that he’d once thrown up all over the loos in Hix Soho.
Mark is feeling so confident that he’s agreed to take a few days holidayCredit: Nicholas J R White
All the resulting talk of old days can occasionally make me feel a little bit nostalgic, but when the inevitable question comes up of whether I miss my London life, I find that the answer comes out without me even having to think about it. I prefer it down here. As, I read, do the substantial numbers of Londoners who have sold up and are making new lives post-pandemic in the south-west of England. I might even immodestly count myself as a trendsetter.
Recently I spotted that local estate agents, in their marketing materials for the sort of homes that they want to flog to disillusioned Londoners, are quoting my name as a ‘local amenity’. It is, I suppose, one measure of integration into the community. Though if they are using such details to push up house prices, perhaps I should be getting a cut!
As you can probably sense, I am in a mellow mood. Apart from the ongoing problem of finding enough staff – and I am happy to offer a free lunch or dinner for two to any Telegraph reader who can introduce me to someone we take on for front-of-house or kitchen work – it is all going as well as I could have hoped for so far. One of the new bedrooms at the Fox Inn in Corscombe is ready in the garden annexe and another is coming on quickly, so soon we will be able to offer overnight accommodation as well as food to the staycationers.
I am even feeling sufficiently confident to give myself three days off. Initially it was going to be the time when I had another operation on my hernia, hardly an enticing prospect. But then my old fishing companion, Robin Hutson, founder of the Pig Hotel chain, suggested a brief trip to Iceland in July to see if we can catch any salmon.
After 15 months without a break, it was just too tempting. So the op is going to have to wait because the recuperation period would make it impossible to do the wading and clambering over rocks that goes with river fishing. Instead I am joining the tourist tide that will kick-start the economy.
As told to Peter Stanford Read Mark Hix’s column every Thursday. Catch up on his last two columns here:
Learn how to cook fish perfectly with Mark Hix’s virtual masterclass on 12 June.
Go to telegraph.co.uk/foodfest for details
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