June 20 (Bloomberg) -- The Tramshed formula is simple: Chicken or steak is the choice in this new London restaurant.
In case you forget, the room is dominated by a huge Damien Hirst vitrine of a cow with a chicken on its back. It’s called “Cock and Bull” and was created for the space. Don’t ask what it’s worth. If you need another visual clue, a second Hirst -- “Beef and Chicken” -- hangs on the wall.
The artworks beat laminated photographs for illustrating a menu. They should also alert you to the fact that you are in the establishment of Mark Hix, a restaurateur with so many rich and famous friends he doesn’t even need to drop names. He’s best mates with several artists, whose works pop up in his venues.
(When I interviewed Tracey Emin recently, she said the most likely place I would run into her would be at the Tramshed.)
It’s a dramatic space, where the ceiling is high and the far wall distant. It was built in 1905 as an electricity-generating station for trams and Hix has made the most of a building whose raison d’etre expired decades ago. There’s a bar along one side, a mezzanine area for a few diners and a semi-private lounge tucked away at the back.
Cocktails are by the drinks genius Nick Strangeway, a winner of the World Mixologist/Bartender of the year.
The menu couldn’t be more stripped down. There are three starters, which you get as a selection for 7.50 pounds ($11.75). The chicken is 25 pounds and is served on a skewer with its feet pointing north, like a tour guide who has suffered an unfortunate accident. It feeds two or three diners and is served with chips and salad.
When Emin orders the chicken, she likes it served with the feet off. She gets her way because her contribution to Hix restaurants includes designing the label on the Tonnix wine Hix serves.
The free-range birds come from Woolley Park Farm, in Wiltshire. They are so good, they raise hopes that the U.K. is finally closing the gap with France when it comes to fine chickens. Their meat is soft, sweet and moist.
The steak is Mighty Marbled sirloin -- including Hereford, Angus and Shorthorn breeds -- from Hannan Meats, in Northern Ireland. It’s aged for a minimum of five weeks and dry-aged in a Himalayan Salt Chamber, according to the Tramshed website, which helpfully points out that the salt is mined by hand in Pakistan.
It has plenty of depth of flavor and costs 20 pounds for 250 grams, rising to 80 pounds for a kilo (2.2 pounds). It’s good value and hard to criticize, but it is not outstanding and I shan’t be abandoning CUT, Goodman or Hawksmoor.
The only other options are a chicken or a steak salad, at 13.50 pounds. That’s the way I’m likely to go in the future.
Among the starters, Yorkshire pudding with chicken liver is a great match and I always ask for extra, as if I were auditioning for Oliver. But Yorkshire pudding does need to make the journey to table from oven very quickly or it gets a tad too crusty.
Hix is usually good on puddings and the Tramshed is up to his usual standard, with desserts such as apple pie with custard and raspberry rippled cheesecake.
If you’re a vegetarian, all is not lost. There is a daily vegetarian dish off menu, just as there is the option of fish fingers with mushy peas if you know to ask. One of the ways Hix finds fun in restaurants is with hidden surprises. For example, there’s that lounge at the back that you are unlikely to find.
If you meet Hix -- as I sometimes do over a cocktail or two -- he can be the most engaging of companions: It’s easy to feel part of the in crowd and to enjoy the quirky nature of his hospitality. Wait for service while you watch him networking and you might feel less sunny. Fortunately, the service at Tramshed in its early days has been good, better than at his other venues when they opened. (Takeaway food is also available.)
It looks like Hix has managed to narrow the gap between the sharpness of his vision in creating a restaurant and the fuzziness that has sometimes crept into day-to-day service.
(Hix’s partner, the actress Lara Cazalet, gave birth to a daughter on Friday, so he may be rather busy.)
Feel like chicken tonight? The Tramshed is a bold new restaurant by one of London’s most exciting restaurateurs.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 50 pounds a head except for major carnivores.
Sound level? Can get lively at night, 75 decibels.
Inside tip? Look out for the basement gallery.
Special feature? Mark Hix.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes. Bring your own or meet one.
Tramshed, 32 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3LX. Information: +44-20-7749-0478 or http://www.chickenandsteak.co.uk/
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, James Pressley on business books and Ryan Sutton on New York restaurants.
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