By Teresa Madeline
Stepping into Tramshed is like entering a weird and wonderful meat temple. Worshippers gather to praise whimsically presented roast chicken, set like poultry crowns on each plate and displayed chicken feet first to each table. The tables surround the piece de resistance -“Cock and Bull”, a mystical Damien Hirst shrine for red and white meat lovers, or simply, a bovine and rooster submerged in a tank of Formaldehyde.
The building itself is remarkably vast and with 150 covers it’s no surprise that the staff operations in Tramshed are run like a well-oiled machine, the seamless hostesses at the front desk glide effortlessly to all corners of the room, ensuring the chicken and steak is flowing freely to all patrons.
As an ex-waitress myself, I like to think that I’ve attained a kind of ‘wait-dar’; quite the useful skill, this is an innate ability to read the level of job satisfaction of the staff working in any restaurant. Tramshed either comes up very highly on the scale of desirable hospitality employers, or has managed to hire a group of the very best customer service deception artists. Either way, the service of the Tramshed staff is akin to the warm, frothy, delicious latte they made for me at the bar.
Mark approaches me with the air of a man with his own kingdom under his feet. He gives me a tour of the restaurant that takes me around the grand dining room, the buzzing kitchen with the typical fill of sunshine-starved chefs, and up an elusive staircase into the raised private dining area. The theme of here seems to be ‘elongated’. A kitchen counter that stretches the entire length of the impressively sized loft room overlooks the colossal dining table, and opposite, shelf after shelf of infinite cookery books hint at a man who clearly wants to show and share his love and knowledge of food.
Mark Hix’s PR crew had informed me I’d be seeing some ‘knife skills’, I had in mind some double-knifed carrot-slicing ninja action, or even an artfully carved cucumber. Instead, Mark slaps a rather unfortunate skinless hare onto the work surface. I remind myself one can’t be squeamish in a restaurant whose lifeblood is an unashamed celebration of meat, and watch as Mark smoothly shows off his butchering abilities while chatting about his most recent acquisition in the Hix restaurant empire, Tramshed.
As we chat, it’s difficult to decide what’s most remarkable about the restaurant, the stunning building, the very simple yet enticing food, or the huge art installation that overlooks the diners by none other than Damien Hirst.
It soon becomes clear that Mark’s inspiration for the restaurant stemmed from his love of the building, “I used to live around the corner. I had my eye on this building for ages. Eventually it came on the market and I grabbed it.” A 1905 former generating station for the trams of Shoreditch, it’s fantastic to see this impressive edifice being put to fresh use. True to its original character, it is dictated by its prototypical industrial features; a dramatic high-ceiling, a vast open space, and black steel pillars against a backdrop of shimmering white tiles.
A man of few words, Mark Hix’s straightforward personality is reflected in the simple menu concept. With roast chicken and steak as the only mains options, its launch was a subject of much controversy in the foodies’ world. “I wanted to do something really simple. It’s easy to open a restaurant and do another menu the same as everywhere else. Everyone loves chicken and no other restaurant focuses solely on chicken apart from Nandos. And everyone loves a steak!”
Open since May 2012, the restaurant has received mixed reviews from critics but the bums on seats are what count towards its success and Tramshed has plenty of them on a daily basis, even at lunch on a weekday. At this time it’s clear to see who the clientele is, suited up city types all eagerly digging their forks into their shared roast chicken platters. Mark tells me it is also popular with families in the evening who “want to know what they’re going to eat before they go to a restaurant”.
The cost of the food varies from the cheaper option of sharing a roast chicken between three people at around £8 per head, to £20 for steak. “There’s no such thing as a cheap steak”, Mark tells me how the ‘Mighty Marbled Sirloin’ is hung in a “Himilayan salt chamber”.
And what of the huge nod to modern art in the centre of the dining area? I’m burning to know how Mark managed to get one of the most sought after artists in the world to place his work in the middle of a chicken and beef restaurant. “I just text him and asked if he fancied doing a sculpture. Damien came up with that idea, it’s the menu in a box really”.
The ‘Cock and Bull’ isn’t the only draw for the local art crowd, the restaurant also boasts a basement gallery, currently displaying ‘Winter Sale’ a mixed media exploration of mixed media paintings and photographic prints.
It’s clear that there really is more to Tramshed than simply chicken and beef. The minimalistic menu concept seems to be working as meat-loving customers flood to the restaurant, so to the mooing and clucking of many critics, Mark Hix now plans to expand his cow and chicken empire further afield.