27 May 2012
A couple of interesting trends seem to have emerged from the recession-era London restaurant scene. First there was the “no reservations” approach resulting in the phenomenon of “Food Groupies” queuing for an hour in order to sample the latest trendy burger (or other such dish), tweeting while they wait and generating further buzz.
And now there seems to be a trend emerging towards “no-choice” (or “limited-choice”) menus. I suppose it makes perfect sense when it is not uncommon these days for a particular must-eat dish to be the talk of the town across the social media world. Not to forget the London street food scene (which is surging in popularity these days), where stallholders mainly specialise in one kind of dish anyway. So I suppose it was only a matter of time before the restaurateurs caught on and perfected one or two dishes only for their menu.
HIX at The Tramshed opened on Wednesday and is London’s most recent restaurant to adopt the “limited-choice” approach. The latest in chef and restaurateur Mark Hix’s line of restaurants, they offer roast chicken and sirloin steak on their menu. And fortunately they do take reservations.
We visited on Friday night and the place was buzzing with diners and Shoreditch hipsters pressing their noses against the glass to get a good view of the trendy décor and artwork adorning the restaurant. I hear there had been some difficulty over the past year or so in getting the Grade II Listed former power station converted into a restaurant but now all seems to have come right and after a serious refurbishment the place looks very cool. It was a gorgeous large open space all centred around a specially commissioned Damien Hirst piece called “Cock and Bull” featuring a striking preserved Hereford cow and cockerel suspended in a steel and glass tank of formaldehyde overlooking the entire restaurant.
There was also a mezzanine seating along the back of the restaurant dominated by another specially commissioned Damien Hirst piece called “Beef and Chicken” – a painting of the 90s Cartoon Network characters “Cow and Chicken”. While a plasticine portrait of Mark Hix himself watches over the expansive bar.
There are three starters on the menu which change on a daily basis at £8 per person for all three, fulfilling one of my most guilty pleasures: not having to choose, but instead being able to have everything on the menu. The Suffolk Crown asparagus with chervil dressing which provided lightness and freshness to what would soon be a rather heavy meal.
The ham hock with green split peas and Tewkesbury mustard came across as a salady version of ham and mushy peas. And the Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers was an obvious favourite with deliciously smooth and creamy chicken liver and a crisp and fluffy Yorkshire pudding flavoured with chicken fat.
We ordered a roast chicken, slow reared and free range from Woolly Park farm which comes with chips for £25. The chicken arrived propped on the specially designed roasting dish it had been cooked in. It was a little shocking to behold with claws still attached, feet dangling helplessly in the air and a spoon up it’s backside for serving the stuffing. Certainly not a roast chicken for the faint hearted!
The waiter offered to carve the chicken for us, but I decided to give it a go and found that it was tender enough and fell apart without too much effort from my prodding knife. It was a very good quality chicken with dominant flavours of rosemary and lemon, perhaps with a hint of garlic and thyme.
The chicken roasting stands were also available to purchase in 3 sizes which upon reflection I am rather tempted by – they look handy for getting even heat circulation from 360 degrees for that all round crisp skin.
The chips were crisp and fluffy and had been sprinkled with the roasted chicken fat for that extra tasty hit of flavour.
Sirloin steak comes from the Glenarm Estate in Northern Ireland and is available at £20 per 250g also served with chips. We asked for the steak to be cooked medium rare as is recommended for sirloin, but it turned up a little more on the medium side. It was a nice chunky beast of a steak dry aged in a Himalayan salt chamber. It was good although I couldn’t help noting it didn’t really wow me like the sirloin steak I had at Goodman’s a few weeks ago.
The side of creamed cauliflower with Berkswell cheese was surprising, being more literal than the cauliflower and cheese sauce we’d been expecting. However it was delicious and served better as a tasty sauce than a side.
We had a very enjoyable evening with friendly and helpful service and a good selection of beers. However I felt perhaps the atmosphere and trendy décor and artwork contributed a lot to my enjoyment of the food. At the end of the day, in the world of limited-choice restaurants I find the roast chicken and steak concept a tricky one to grasp. For somewhere like Burger and Lobster I understand it, but for roast chicken I rather enjoy cooking it at home and for steak I have a tendency to favour Hawksmoor or Goodman.
To add further confusion to the mix they offer a takeaway service from 11am – 7pm for the lunch and early dinner crowd with steak sandwiches, chicken and chips, and chicken or steak salads on the menu. Also a basement art gallery will be opening soon. And they have a coffee loyalty card with decent coffee from Caravan.
So what is The Tramshed? Steak and roast chicken restaurant? Takeaway lunch spot? Art gallery? Cafe? Is it possible to be all of the above? What it will be and how it will fare will be interesting to see.
HIX at The Tramshed
32 Rivington Street