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The Tramshed Project, London: ‘It’s so now’: restaurant review | Food

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The Tramshed Project, 32 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3LX (020 3515 0480). Small plates £5-£10, larger plates £10-£18, desserts £5, wines from £25

In its first incarnation as a restaurant, when it belonged to chef Mark Hix, the Tramshed in London’s Shoreditch had at its heart a huge, thumping joke. It was an artwork by Damien Hirst: a stuffed bull, with a cockerel standing on its back, inside one of Hirst’s formaldehyde-filled tanks, raised above the dining room on a heavy-duty plinth, so it could watch you while you ate. The gag was that at Hix’s Tramshed you could have anything you liked as long as it was steak or roast chicken – Cock and Bull, as the artwork was entitled. Those were the only options. So here was the menu, staring you down.

Sadly, Hix’s restaurant empire did not survive 2020. Accordingly, the Hirst has been removed from the Tramshed (which, as the name suggests, was once where London trams went to bed at night). It’s been replaced by a rubber plant. What a symbol for 2020: out with the jokes and in with the sturdy, low-maintenance foliage.

But there’s much more about what has since been renamed the Tramshed Project which is so now. The handsome, sandy-bricked and vaulted building has been taken over by Dominic Cools-Lartigue, a study in nominative determinism if ever there was one. His previous projects, nudging rough-hewn urban spaces into becoming street food hubs, are the definition of the cools. This new venture is still very much a restaurant, but it is also now a space for involuntary home workers fed up with banging away on laptops at their kitchen tables, forever just on the edge of what writer Caitlin Moran once called a freelancer’s lie-down. Anybody can get a seat here for free to work. Or, if you need to hold meetings, you can book one of the sizeable booths along the wall at £50 for the day, the cost of which will be deducted from your food and drink bill.

‘Pitch-perfect’: grilled hake with leeks.
‘Pitch-perfect’: grilled hake with leeks. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

I’m writing this in the present tense though the place is now closed. But, squeeze the rabbit’s foot and kiss the horse’s shoe, it should be open again soon. I visit the day before the current lockdown is announced. Arriving here feels like coming face to face with the accommodations we have all had to make in 2020. Open laptops litter tables like flocks of silvery birds about to take flight and intense young people, trying to make this whole damn situation work, stare into video screens to which they are connected by an umbilicus of headphone cable.

If this all sounds exhausting, you can relax. We’ve all been in this together for so long that we know the deal. This is how we now must live. The Tramshed Project is still very much a food venture and a good one. Cools-Lartigue’s intention is that, in time, it will play host to a variety of chefs. Zoe Adjonyoh of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen will be a presenting a menu of West African-influenced dishes, while James Cochran of 1251 will be offering a set of bar snacks built around his brilliant way with buttermilk fried chicken. That menu is already up and I seriously want to lick the words.

‘Roasted over the coals’: beetroot.
‘Roasted over the coals’: beetroot. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

The so-called “house chef”, however, is the marvellous Andrew Clarke, a chunky, bearded and tattooed man, who looks like he could swiftly skin and butcher the elk you just bagged on Shoreditch High Street. He has worked alongside Jackson Boxer at both Brunswick House and St Leonards, and is also a major figure in the Pilot Light, a project highlighting mental health issues for people in the restaurant business. Having him here looking after us feels bang on right now.

The kitchen that Hix installed has at its heart a charcoal grill and Clarke puts it to good use. From the small plates menu comes beetroot, roasted over the coals. It’s served with snowy peaks of soft sheep’s curd and a sweet-sour dill dressing, much like the mustard sauce you find with gravadlax. On another plate, leeks grilled until soft are paired with the crunch of almonds and then enveloped in grated truffle. There are also finger-sized ox cheek croquettes with a lightly fermented pineapple pickle underneath and a spoonful of a butch chilli aioli on top. Clarke’s flavours are reliably huge.

‘Reliably huge flavours’: ox cheek croquettes.
‘Reliably huge flavours’: ox cheek croquettes. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

At lunch there is a list of possibilities piled on top of heat-blistered naan breads for between £10 and £12: lamb shoulder with labneh and pickles, a mushroom and celeriac shawarma and, the one we have, sweet and salty tangles of shredded Tamworth pork butt and pickles on top of herbed crème fraîche. Tear and fold. Now wipe your hands. Clarke’s long experience at the fancier end of the business is most obvious in a pitch-perfect plate of grilled hake with roasted leeks, spun through with crab meat and aioli and nutty coco beans. The skinny, seasoned chips come skin on; the hispi cabbage has been grilled to a chopped and gloriously buttery mess.

The dessert menu is short and to the point. An intense scoop of chocolate mousse comes perched on a bowl full of a salted caramel cream, with crisp wafers of dark chocolate. It’s a steal for £5. Our other dessert is the niggling thing that Niles and Frasier Crane liked to pick at in an otherwise fabulous meal. It’s listed as a quince and rose trifle and if there was a Trifle Defence League, I imagine they would be raging outside the doors of the Tramshed on Rivington Street with burning stakes guttering at the windows, albeit in a gently polite way, given the demographic of trifle lovers.

‘An intense scoop of chocolate mousse’: chocolate carmel pot.
‘An intense scoop of chocolate mousse’: chocolate pot. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

A trifle should have layers: of (ideally booze-soaked) sponge fingers, of jelly and custard and cream. Hundreds and thousands wouldn’t go amiss. It should be a childlike joy. This is a shallow bowl of sweetened cream with, admittedly, lovely cubes of quince, dried rose petals and a bit of crunch. Andrew Clarke, how very dare you. (Just change the name, mate; the Defence League will quickly extinguish their burning stakes with a moistened thumb and forefinger and be on their way.)

The criminal outrage of that trifle aside, this space is now a welcoming, beating heart in the centre of the city for those in need of refuge of so many kinds. The lockdown will end eventually. The new normal will return. We will need places that enable us to adapt, while bringing us moments of edible joy. The Tramshed Project is most definitely one of them.

The Pilot Light is at pilotlightcampaign.com

News bites

One casualty of this lockdown has been the charity Streetsmart, which each winter raises money to tackle homelessness by getting restaurants to add a small donation to bills. They estimate the disruption to hospitality due to the pandemic has cost them £500,000. Many restaurants are now asking for donations with deliveries. For details visit streetsmart.org.uk/news/. Streetsmart have also set up a crowdfunder and are asking people to consider donating the whole cost of a meal out, say £30, to help. You can give here justgiving.com/streetsmart

Most nationwide delivery services are run by high profile restaurants. Here’s one from a smaller operation: Clay’s Hyderabadi Kitchen in Reading, run by first time restaurateurs and chefs Nandana and Sharat Syamala. Their southern Indian menu, including the likes of bhuna venison, paneer tikka masala and beetroot tikka, is now available for chilled delivery (and then reheating), to England, Wales and much of Scotland (clayskitchen.co.uk).

The highly regarded Moorcock Inn in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, which has been doing takeaway pizzas, has turned itself each Friday into what it says is the only Chinese takeaway in the area. The menu includes deep-fried brussels sprouts with turnip cake and hot and numbing sauce, five-spice braised beef shank noodle bowl and salt and pepper crispy smoked potatoes (moorcockpizzas.co.uk).

Email Jay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jayrayner1



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Boozy poached pear trifle by Ravneet Gill | Christmas food and drink

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Christmas is for decadent food and enjoying simple traditions, like watching classic films, catching up with family and playing games. When you have a million other things to do, putting together a trifle is such an easy option. I mean, who doesn’t like a bowl of custard, cream and fruit? The best thing is you can adjust and adapt to suit your taste, no booze? Less cream? Different fruit? Totally fine!

Makes enough for 1 x large trifle for 8, or individual glasses
For the trifle custard
double cream 850ml
vanilla extract 1 tsp
egg yolks 3
whole eggs 3
caster sugar 125g

For the poached pears
pears 4 large, peeled
caster sugar 150g
water 700ml
star anise 1
cloves 2
cinnamon 1 stick

To assemble
sponge fingers 1 pack (200g)
sherry to your taste
double cream 500ml
caster sugar 20g
flaked almonds 20g, roasted

Begin by making the custard so it has enough time to chill. Gently warm the cream and vanilla until it begins to steam. Remove from the heat. Whisk the yolks, whole eggs and sugar together. Pour over the warmed cream and whisk. Pour the combined mixture into a large bowl, and sit it on a saucepan of gently simmering water on the stove, making sure it doesn’t directly touch the water. Stir with a whisk frequently until thickened. Transfer to a container and allow to cool completely before placing in the fridge.

Place the pears, sugar, water and aromatics in a large pan making sure the water is covering the pears. If not, top it up. Place a circular piece of parchment directly on the surface of the water to keep the pears submerged. Bring to a gentle simmer until the pears are cooked, around 25-30 minutes, until a skewer placed in slides straight out. Allow to cool before cutting – slice the pears into strips, removing the core, or dice up, depending on how chunky you want the fruit. Keep the liquid to poach more pears.

To assemble, place the sponge fingers into the bottom of the chosen dish. Drizzle over the sherry, being as generous as you like – but not TOO much or it will be too wet. Place the cooled sliced pears on top. Spoon over the cold custard. Gently whip the cream and sugar to soft peaks and top the custard. Finish with a sprinkling of roasted flaked almonds. Serve immediately or keep in the fridge for 2 days.

Ravneet Gill is a pastry chef and the founder of Countertalk


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Nigel Slater’s recipe for pappardelle, mushrooms and harissa | Food

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The recipe

Put a deep pan of water on to boil. As it boils, salt generously then lower in 150g of pappardelle and cook for 8 minutes.

Thinly slice 300g of chestnut mushrooms. Warm 6 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the mushrooms. Let them fry for 4 to 5 minutes until they start to toast, then add 2 very finely mashed cloves of garlic. Thinly slice 4 spring onions. Let the garlic and mushrooms cook for 1 minute or until the garlic is fragrant, then add the spring onions and continue cooking for another couple of minutes until soft. Stir in 3 tbsp of harissa paste.

Lightly drain the pappardelle, toss with the mushrooms and serve. Grate a little parmesan over at the table. Serves 2

The trick

Mushrooms drink an amazing amount of oil. Be prepared to add a little more as they fry. It is important to get them to the right colour – a deep, toasty brown – before you add the mashed garlic.

The twist

This is the sort of recipe that can take a bit of tinkering. Add some crumbled sausage to the pan before you add the mushrooms or perhaps a handful of chopped streaky bacon.

Follow Nigel on Twitter @NigelSlater



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My stunning wife makes no effort with our sex life – and I’m losing all interest | Life and style

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My wife and I have been married for several years. Over the past six months, I have felt my overall sexual attraction to her diminishing to the point that, even though she is absolutely stunning (she could be a model, which I am reminded of by strangers almost every time we go out together), I no longer find myself sexually attracted to her at all. At the start of our relationship, the sex was OK and we were very sexually active for the first two years. I have explained to her that she lacks passion, no matter how much energy I bring. She rarely initiates sex, and when she does, she simply says: “We should have sex tonight,” which is a turn-off. In our last conversation, she said she is just shy. After several conversations, she said she understood what she needed to do and would work on it, but shortly afterwards she asked for sex outright without any real effort with mood or energy, so I just didn’t feel up to it and turned her down again. Two months on, she has settled back into just avoiding it. She is a lovely, caring woman, but my patience has worn thin, which sucks in such a young marriage. I don’t know what to do.

When a person feels judged – especially as frequently as you have described – they can lose confidence and withdraw. As a rule, positive reinforcement is the best way to teach a person. In your situation, that would mean praising and rewarding even small achievements and never again finding fault. I suspect she is feeling confused – especially if you have not been sufficiently specific with her about what you like. It is not enough to complain: “You never initiate sex!” Instead you could, say, mention a video you once saw, where a woman unexpectedly walked through the living room wearing “X” or “Y”, then invited a man to follow her upstairs – and ask her to consider doing something similar. Your wife cannot read your mind, and I believe she does not really understand how to be seductive the way you would like. So, she may need very specific requests such as: “Would you mind doing this, saying this, wearing this?” If she addresses any of your requests in even small ways, be sure to praise and reward her amply. Eventually she will regain confidence. But in terms of her own libido, it is up to you to kindly and non-judgmentally encourage her to share her own interests and tastes with you. This might be uncomfortable for her, so do not push – again, praise her and act on anything she does reveal. Your job is to discover how she likes to be pleasured – that is the best way to fix this.

  • Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

  • If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to [email protected] (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

  • Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.


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