In the nineties when a then-unknown artist called Damien decided to saw a shark in half, preserve it in formaldehyde, and display it as art, it was controversial, to say the least. Twenty years on and the now filthy rich, Mr Hirst offers up his art – this time a chicken riding on top of a cow – for the more conventional purpose of helping to market a restaurant.
But Mark Hix is no ordinary restaurateur, and it seems only right that one of the most impressive foodies of our time should work in cahoots with the enfant terrible of British art.
Tramshed is Mr Hix’s seventh restaurant, and while it’s different in concept to its predecessors, it loses nothing in terms of style and innovation. Tramshed looks amazing. The building, built in 1905, was an electricity generating station for trams, which Hix apparently had his eye on for some time. With its cavernous and tram-accommodatingly high ceilings, iron girding framing and white brick tiling, Tramshed looks like an industrial revolution’s version of a French brasserie. And the brasserie theme continues to the menu which offers you a cut of beef or a chicken. And that’s it.
We settled in with a couple of Ditch that Bitch cocktails – kir royales with a twist that were perfect drinks for a warm summer evening. We followed with the sharing starter of Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers, cauliflower salad with shaved berkswell and hazelnuts, and smoked Cornish mackerel with mixed beets and horseradish. All of these tapas-style starters were delicious with the Yorkshire pudding, even winning over the Northerner’s fastidious tastes. For our main, we shared a 500g marbled Glenarm sirloin steak and chips. The steak was light on seasoning for my taste, but cooked rare-pink, and perfectly complemented by the dripping-fried chips. A bit of belt loosening followed before we set about our desserts of Ronnie’s apple pie with custard and Oakchurch Farm strawberries with Jersey cream. The pie was heavenly. The strawberries a little sharp, but good enough. A bottle and a bit more of the Malbec La Flor 2011 was big enough to manage the meat fest that we embarked on.
The staff were friendly and helpful, if not a little pretentious. But then again, so were most of the punters who were either Shoreditch creative or restaurant groupies looking for the next-big-thing. The ambiance was very French Brasserie – well lit with no background music, and conversation at the highest volume.
We didn’t try the chicken, as having taken a look at gallant yet inelegant/bordering on clumsy attempts by the waiting team to carve them, we opted for the safe option. This is a shame, because they looked great, despite the impracticalities (presented head-first, legs tied as if still hanging in the butcher’s store). But this gives us an excuse to return, and perhaps it is right, given the setting. Tramshed confirms Hix as one of the greats of London's restaurant scene. Not that he needed any such confirmation. With Tramshed, Hix has succeeded in taking a creative concept and turning it into a dining-meets-art experience. And he has proved that the displaying genius is not limited to the fine arts.