I love roast dinners. It’s natural, I’m British. Roast dinners form the very fabric of my childhood: looking forward to Sunday, around 3pm, when we would all chip in, peeling this and chopping that, before sitting down to a delicious early dinner. Ours was chicken, more often than not, with all the trimmings and one or two Yorkshire puddings, all smothered in rich, brown gravy. There we sat, the four of us, passing around dishes of mouth-watering food, discussing our lives and planning the week ahead.
Since then, roast chickens have remained a staple of my life, as a whole chicken can either serve my family for one meal or me for at least three. It’s something I like to think I have mastered – I can do Spanish roast chicken, herby chicken, lemon and garlic chicken, beer chicken, you name it, I’ve cooked it. So imagine my surprise when I went to Tramshed and was presented with a roast dinner, but with none of the affection, togetherness or pride with which my parents presented our roasts on Sunday afternoons.
The interior of Tramshed gives the restaurant its name and is lofty, grand and quite beautiful. An original Damien Hirst chicken and cow suspended in liquid hovers over the diners, reminding them that this is not the place for vegetarians or, indeed, those on any kind of diet. The menu poses a similar question to Burger + Lobster: you have two choices, steak – ribeye or sirloin, 250g or 500g, with a sharing porterhouse for a modest £70 – or whole roasted chicken – one-person or two/three-person.
…steak, onion rings, and leaves. Not a salad…
I was feeling meaty but not primal, so asked what was in the chicken salad, causing the waiter some consternation: he had to ask three other waiters before uncovering the chicken salad’s contents – chicken, chicken skin, leaves and a deep-fried ball of bread sauce, which begs the question of why they even bothered calling it a salad. The steak salad was similarly confusing – steak, onion rings, and leaves. Not a salad.
The three of us decided to try both house specialities, so we got a 250g ribeye and a two-person chicken. Both came with chips and we added a small portion of roasted carrots, having been told they would easily accommodate three. Our drinks arrived a good ten minutes after being ordered – it doesn’t take that long to pour three glasses of wine – and food arrived about fifteen minutes later.
…it was really herby and crispy and the best part of the meal…
The steak, requested medium-rare, came as such and was tasty, but nothing remarkable. The fries were shoestring, crispy, lukewarm and, well, they just tasted really odd. Upon enquiry, we were told they had been cooked in chicken dripping, which should have gone beautifully with the chicken but instead created a cloying taste of chicken skin fat.
Speaking of chicken skin, it was really herby and crispy and the best part of the meal. Not to say the presentation of the chicken itself wasn’t something – having the feet still on was a nice extra touch – but it’s a bit unfortunate when the waitress can’t cut off the string tying them together. Five excruciating minutes later, we dug in to the first of many bites of roasted chicken with crumbly sage and onion stuffing, drenched in fairly light but tasty gravy. The best part of the meal was the garlic aioli that came on a little wooden board with wooden chip sticks for serving: creamy, garlicky, tasty.
…and I’m more carnivorous than a Tyrannosaurs Rex…
That’s not to say the chicken wasn’t tasty, it was good. It only came part-carved, though – the legs were removed and incisions made into the breasts – and the idea of cutting into a chicken and scooping out stuffing in a restaurant just seemed a bit ungainly. Maybe the whole concept was lost on me, but isn’t the whole point of eating out to be served, to have your chicken cooked to perfection, the meat falling off the bone (it wasn’t) and cut into a nice appetising meal that you don’t look at and immediately reconsider exactly how hungry you are? One glance at the chicken surrounded by a mountain of fries made my tummy tremble – and I’m more carnivorous than a Tyrannosaurs Rex.
24 hours later and I can still feel the chicken grease lining my stomach. I’m considering becoming vegetarian. Tramshed took away the whole pleasure of seasoning, cooking and devouring your roast chicken and replaced it with a greasy mound of chips, a S&M chicken with string around its feet and a £25 bill. When I do rediscover my hunger for roasted bird – hopefully before Christmas – it’ll be cooked in my oven, carved on my table, before being individually served to my guests. That, my friends, is a roast.
Tramshed, 19 Rivington Gardens, E1