The Fox, Corscombe, Dorset, England 18/20

SO the heart and soul of what was the Ivy (and before that the Caprice) has morphed to the deep combes of north Dorset, a fair drive away from the tourist torrents by the coast, almost on the Somerset border, here where the accent is wider, my luuuvvveerrrrrleeee, on a crossroads to nowhere in particular.

Old Ivy hands will recognise the scoop of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate sauce that is not quite quite dark, bitter or milk but as old fashioned as the silver goblet in which it is served, the ice cream perhaps a shade superior from the local milk from Hollis Farm, a gentle crunch in there quietly hidden.

There are no TV gimmicks, no flunkey doorman, no multi-course set menu, it is a pub. Mark Hix does food, dinner, vittles. He has never worked in the Michelin territory of sauces, of water baths etc but as the reputations of his former venues and those that used to carry his own moniker in London before lockdown shut them down attest, his cooking carries the endorsement of many people paying their own money, a guiding respect for ingredients (among other things he was the first chef to champion sea buckthorn), the technical skill unshowy. Subtle simplicity. In American terms he is akin to Alice Waters. There is sausage and gravy on the menu.

So we have brill as a main dish. Not the over-fished, smaller and smaller Dover sole, nor its cousin the too fashionable turbot now going the same way, but brill which is in its own way probably more delicate, messier, finer you might say. Here the skin on, baked 10 minutes, served with butter, unfilleted, a garnish of sea beets. Vegetables of the day come in another old catering hotel goblet of parsnip, kale, turnip…potatoes are separate, new with parsley (another old catering trick) or chips, skinny as Macdonalds.

Cuisine you could say brought back to abstract, elemental, at its best, un-mucked about with. You might like think your grandmother cooked like this only she probably did not.

Another example that holds strongly to purpose but is more in the swank mode are the smoked anchovies criss crossed on the plate with grapes, crumbs and chilli – Dorset chilli which is to say not too much – and olive oil:

And there is a wry sense of humour at play here. So you can also have a bar snack of pork scratchings with apple sauce – served, a rare thing, hot, so crackling really

The elderflower is foraged as too the soup of the day of nettle and wild garlic, the excellent beer is from Palmers in Bridport, there is a wine from Portugal that Hix has been working on himself.

Beyond this being excellent food in modest surroundings, there is a political kickback here. We are not in the fakery of TV’s Masterchef, or the desperation of the Great British Menu, or the extreme hubris of tasting menus with wine pairings, just cooking as it should be, intelligently sourced ingredients and priced sensibly. This is what chefs should be doing. You have the option to book the chef’s table and eat with Mark at his home in Charmouth if you want the full chef-o-drama stage set, to discuss…


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