Steak and chicken? Or just cock and bull?
Words by Simeen Kadi
The venerable Mark Hix has been very busy in the last few years. Since his first solo project, Hix’s Oyster and Chop House, launched in 2008 the openings have been coming thick and fast. Hix is a veteran and a pro in the restaurant game and has stuck to a winning formula. He knows what diners want and he delivers – mostly for the expense account crowd and the food luvvies for whom he can do no wrong. However, as a mere greedy food lover, I have had occasion to baulk at the prices at his Hix establishments in Clerkenwell, Soho, etc.
So, when his new gaff Tramshed was hailed as top dollar quality at pedestrian prices, it was definitely time to visit this old, decommissioned power station in Shoreditch. There is no denying the restaurant is stunning to look at – as tall as an aircraft hangar and complete with original two-tone tiles and other relics from its former life. Much has already been said about the Damien Hirst installation. Suspended from the ceiling in the middle of this cavernous space is yet another study in formaldehyde – this time a bull - looking regal and a little haughty although this could be the result of the bluish tinge of the pickling liquid in which he has been immersed. Or it could be the irritating fact that he has to contend with a cockerel perched on his back.
So far, so predictable. The other art in the restaurant, also around the cock and bull lines, is more interesting. Again, hailing from the studio of the great Hirst, the painting depicts the 1990s cartoon characters 'Cow and Chicken' from the Cartoon Network.
The restaurant is vast but clever zoning and a mezzanine make it feel more communal. It was buzzing when we arrived on a Monday night. The drinks list needs far more poring over than the food, there is a good selection of cocktails as well as a few of ‘Mark’s favourites’ such as a negroni. There are also good beers and ales, including Hix’s own IPA and Oyster Ale.
The food menu takes little deliberation and I suspect most people had arrived already knowing what they are going to order. The choice, as the name suggests, is either steak or chicken. The steak comes in 250 gram increments up to a kilo at £80. The chicken options are either a whole roast bird to share or roast poussin (spring chicken on the menu) for one. You can also have either meat fashioned into a salad, not something our table or any other diners that night were wont to do. The steak and chicken come with fries and there are sides such as onion rings, salad or seasonal veggies too. The starters offer more variety (well, three) and can change daily – you get to taste all for £8 a head.
The starters were fine. The Yorkshire Pudding with Chicken Liver Parfait was a little too cold and a little too heavy but the pud itself was crisp and light. Also, it was good to see that chicken offal was being used, as they must have a surfeit of chickeny bits to contend with daily. The Smoked Salmon on Toast was just that and the fish was on the over-smoked and oily side. An Early Windsor Waldorf Salad (whatever that means) was crunchy and light, pretty much what you may make at home yourself. Our wine arrived after the starters were half eaten. Shame as the Tramshed Red, Collovray et Terrier, VdePD `11 (£6.00 for a 175ml glass, £16.50 for a 50ml carafe or £23.50 for a bottle) we chose would have gone well with the chicken parfait.
After giving us enough time to have the usual Damien Hirst argument (genius or one-idea wonder?) our main courses arrived. And what a deflating moment that was. We had watched as plump, golden birds had been delivered to neighbouring tables. As there were three of us, two wanting red meat, we had opted for the Roast Spring Chicken. This turned out to be a scrawny runt of a thing with feet and claws bigger than its drumsticks. It was served in the same way as its larger cousins, impaled neck first with feet and claws waving up at its diners. The skin was crisp and well flavoured, the flesh was moist but woefully inadequate for all but the smallest of appetites. Skinny fries, flavoured with rosemary, filled the gaping void.
The Steak was equally disappointing. At £20 for a 250 gram steak what arrived looked considerably smaller – a thin slab rather than a chunky wedge. Had we not wanted our meat cooked differently, we would have ordered the 500 gram version to get enough protein mass to withstand the cooking process. What we got was a weedy piece of beef with very little of the marbling advertised on the menu (it is called the Mightly Marbled Glenarm Sirloin) and so much charring that it just tasted burnt, rather than crisp and caramelised on the outside. Rare and medium rare beef should be treated with more respect. Much is made of the beef here; it is slow reared in Northern Ireland and then aged for 28 days in a Himalayan salt chamber which is said to tenderise the meat and bring out its sweet, bovine flavour. While the meat was tender it certainly lacked the dense, richness of well-marbled sirloin and the predominant flavour was charred meat. The chips and onion rings were both very good, beautifully crisp and well flavoured.
There are three choices for pudding, as well as a selection of ices and cheese. The Apple and Gooseberry Pie with Custard was comforting with a fruit filing providing a good amount of zing to the creamy custard. The Raspberries with Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream was simpleand delicious.
Tramshed also does a brisk trade in take-away steak and chicken sandwiches, which may be a good way to experience the cooking without committing to a whole evening and a bigger wad of cash. There is a basement art space which is open in the daytime with exhibits changing every six weeks, as well as a small library.
Cost: Around £50 per head including wine. Wines start at £18.75 a bottle
Likes: Great space and lively atmosphere
Dislikes: Both the chicken and steak were a disappointment
Verdict: In all, Tramshed is a good addition to the Shoreditch scene, bringing a bright and buzzy atmosphere and slick restauranting to an area whose cutting edge is being blunted by safe, crowd- pleasing alternatives. While I don’t think it is a culinary triumph by some way, it can deliver a good night out. Just go with lots of friends and don’t order the smaller sizes.