Being in London this Olympic season has presented an opportunity to get out and try some of the capital’s best new restaurants. Tramshed, an Old Street project put together by veteran restauranteur Mark Hix, opened in May and only serves roast chicken and sirloin steak. If you like pictures but don’t loike readin’, you, then there are three photos in this post but click here to see a more thorough slideshow full of pretty colours.
Built inside an old tramshed, hence the name, Tramshed celebrates its eccentricity beyond the confines of the menu. The space is dominated by a giant pickled-cow-and-chicken sculpture by Hix’s friend, the artist Damien Hirst. The wallpaper in the lobby is artfully defaced with nooses and clown faces by a Bansky-esque prankster, and there’s even a neon-signed art gallery called the Cock N Bull in the basement. Perhaps the weirdest touch is reserved for the toilets, however: Plastic udders next to the sinks, which serve as Cronenberg-esque soap dispensers when it comes to washing your hands. By the end of the night, our udder broke loose from its moorings, spilling detergent all over the place — a highlight of the evening, which perhaps isn’t passing the greatest judgment on the food. In any case it was worth sheepishly pulling out my camera in the gents, once it was empty in there. Although it did mean explaining to the next entrant what exactly I was playing at in there, which was a reasonably flighty interaction, from my end.
The opening dishes had an air of mischief to them: three sets of starters for £7.95 per person. We dipped giant, dry Yorkshire puddings into creamy whipped chicken livers, and enjoyed pickled walnuts on coarsely chopped heritage tomatoes, before making the best of an adequate pea and bacon salad. Cocktails, too, were appropriately in-your-face for the setting: One of our party spotted a man with the biggest glasses any of us had ever seen — four inches in diameter per lens, surrounded by half an inch of hornrim plastic — while she sipped a £10 zombie, which came to the table with its lime on fire. Tramshed verges on the edge of edgy/creative/blah Hoxton, after all. That is to say that it’s near the White Cube gallery, where Young British Artists like Hirst made their first millions, innit.
The main courses were fine. A roast free range chicken (there’s a sign in the lobby with the words “battery chicken” crossed out in red paint) came moist and with its feet still on, sitting upright in a dish full of thin-cut chips. There was enough for three to share for £25. Sirloin steaks came in 250g to 1kg cuts for between £20 and £80, and did exactly what a sirloin steak is supposed to. The chefs were cooking them right, too, which I guess you’d expect, given the specialism of the main courses on the menu.
Beyond the chicken and the steak, the rest of the culinary lineup changes daily and features seasonal ingredients, but puddings on our visit ranged from traditional — apple and gooseberry pie with custard, which was good at £5.95 — through to the edgier (there’s that word again, and yes, I did wonder whether things didn’t seem like they were trying a little too hard at this point) such as a milk chocolate fondue with marshmallows and cherries to share for £12.50. I’m in no position to pass judgment on the fondue, though, because we were too full to go there on our visit.
Tramshed is unlikely to win any awards for culinary innovation or technical cooking prowess in the near future, but in my humble opinion it’s a strong, well-executed concept and a very enjoyable place to go with a group of friends. One feels a great deal of the restaurant, and the menu, was designed with our social-networking generation in mind, with so many distracting touches and dishes begging to be Instagrammed. But I’m not saying I didn’t like that, either, because we had plenty of good laughs in all the right places.
Wine list was broader than one might expect for a restaurant with such a focused menu, with bottles in both colours from £18.75 to over £500 and staff were both quietly competent and just the right side of cheeky when engaged. Easily pleasant enough to earn their discretionary 12.5% service charge.
Tell ‘em what they’ve won, Bully…
Tramshed, 32 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3LX.
Stars out of five: ***
Nearest tube: Old Street.
Reservations? Yes, and recommended. 020 7749 0478.
Veggie catered for? Vegetarian and pescetarian menu available. But there are better places for such preferences.
Bill per person? From £30 for a solid sit-down to £50, depending on how nuts you want to go. Sky’s the limit if you splash out on the cocktails and wine list.