Mark Hix's latest restaurant is all about two things: chicken and steak. Kerstin Kühn went to visit
Taking customer choice off the menu seems to be the thing to do at the moment, and restaurants like Burger & Lobster or Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte are making a huge success of it. The latest opening adhering to the trend is Tramshed in London's Shoreditch, the newest venture from former Chef of the Year Catey winner Mark Hix.
The restaurant takes its name from the famous Grade II-listed Tramshed building it is housed in, which was designed by Vincent Harris and built in 1905 as an electricity generating facility for the tramway system. It's a big, high-ceilinged, open space, with a bar to one side and a mezzanine floor for private dining for up to 38 guests at the back.
Dominating the 150-seat dining room are two works by Damien Hirst: a vitrine of a cow with a chicken on its back in the centre (called Cock and Bull), and a painting of a cartoon cow and chicken at the far end. So if there was any doubt at all what the limited-choice menu at Tramshed is about, it becomes instantly clear when you set foot inside. You've guessed it: it's chicken and steak.
Head chef is Darren Lock, who joined the Hix stable just before Tramshed opened, having previously worked with Tom Aikens and for nearly a decade with Albert Roux. "It's been really good fun," the chef says of his new job. "It's a totally different concept to anything I've done before, because it's all based around sharing, family-style dining and carving your own meat at the table."
So, simplicity is key, and that theme applies as much to the main courses as it does to the rest of the menu. A trio of starters at Tramshed changes pretty much every day, and diners order all three of them to share for £7.50 per person. A giant Yorkshire pudding served with whipped chicken livers is a constant, but other dishes might include char-grilled Eddystone cuttlefish and heritage tomato salad; honey-roast salmon with golden beetroot and shaved fennel; crispy duck with pea shoots and runner beans; jellied ham hock with piccalilli; and globe artichokes with Scottish girolles and land cress.
On to main courses, and so on to chicken and steak. All the free-range chickens come from Woolley Park Farm in Wiltshire, which has produced, exclusively for Tramshed, a "barn-ranged" bird which gets the benefits of both indoor and outdoor life. For £25 diners get a chicken for three; and for £15.50, a poussin for one, or "spring chicken" as it's listed on the menu.
"We make our own seasoning, using garlic, rosemary, Cornish sea salt and cracked black pepper and roast the chickens at 190°C for 40 minutes before finishing them off over a massive grill to crisp and colour the skin," explains Lock.
Perhaps in a nod to Hirst and the macabre, the chickens are served upside-down with their feet on, crossed and clawing up into the air, on specially designed platters. "Some people get put off by how they're served, but the majority seem to like it," adds Lock.
The sirloin steak, meanwhile, is served by the 250g portion at £20, with 1kg being the largest portion at £80. The beef is called Mighty Marbled, which is a brand created on Peter Hannan's farm on the Glenarm Estate in Northern Ireland using traditional breeds of cattle including Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn. It is dry-aged in Europe's only Himalayan salt chamber, featuring bright orange salt bricks from Pakistan. "The ionisation cures and tenderises the beef and even seasons it slightly," says Lock. The steak is served on a wooden board with a big knife to be carved on the table.
No-choice menus may not be for everyone but, then again, who doesn't like a bit of roast chicken or steak? With Tramshed going through about 700 chickens and more than 100 whole sirloins each week, it seems Hix is on to a winner.
32 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3LX
020 7749 0478
Sample dishes from the menu
Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers
Cauliflower salad with shaved Berkswell cheese and hazelnuts
Smoked Cornish mackerel with mixed beets and horseradish
£7.50 for all three
Roast Woolley Park Farm free-range chicken and chips £25
Mighty Marbled Glenarm sirloin steak and chips £20 per 250g
Chicken or steak salad £13.50
Garden salad £4.25
Suffolk Crown asparagus £5.25
Oakchurch Farm strawberries with Jersey cream £5.75
Raspberry rippled cheesecake £5.75
Cheddar, chutney and crackers £7.75