In the face of curfews, closures and circuit-breaker lockdowns, a brand new restaurant/communal workplace/cultural centre/event space will open in London tomorrow. The Tramshed Project is based in the eponymous Grade II-listed building in Shoreditch, a spacious, multi-floored venue previously home to Mark Hix’s venerated Tramshed, which closed for good as the pandemic hit. There, Street Feast founder Dominic Cools-Lartigue has teamed up with chefs James Cochran, Zoe Adjonyoh and Andrew Clarke, to launch an innovative approach to dining out.
Cools-Lartigue had long dreamt of such a concept, but a pre-pandemic plan was thwarted by the lockdown. When the opportunity to take over the iconic Tramshed site arose, it was too good to refuse. “It’s such a beautiful old building, it’s really nice to bring a new wave of people, a new energy,” says Cools-Lartigue, who has replaced Damien Hirst’s infamous formaldehyde-preserved cow and cockerel with a fig tree.
Unlike Street Feast, which Cools-Lartigue left in 2015, and similar sites that opened in its wake, The Tramshed Project is not a food hall, nor does it serve street food. Instead, there is one large kitchen, from which the team will cook menus compiled by the three chefs. Kicking off with Clarke on Friday, by October 23 all three menus will be available.
Clarke, who runs the nearby restaurant St Leonards, will offer the “house menu”: breakfasts ranging from healthy to full English, and lunches and dinners spanning small plates to burgers to larger mains featuring Tamworth pork chops and hake with roasted leeks and crab aioli. Cochran and Adjonyoh will offer additional menus. In the case of Adjonyoh, who runs Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, think jollof ‘risotto’, kelewele and okra fries; Cochran’s offering will centre on the buttermilk fried chicken that has become a staple at his restaurant, 12:51. “We’ll talk to customers and see if they like it, it’s a fluid process,” says Cools-Lartigue of the innovative three-pronged approach.
The Tramshed Project is intended to be more than a mere dining spot. There’ll be a workspace (without the membership policy others require); large booths will be bookable at a small fee (redeemable against food and drink), but casual walk-ins are welcome, too. The old downstairs art gallery will be converted into a stage, with space for 30 seats (to adhere to current guidelines), where jazz nights, film screenings and lectures will take place. There will be wellbeing events, business courses and creative sessions for entrepreneurs.
Extracting full use from a space is, perhaps, an ideal model for the future. There’s something for the work-from-homers who want a break from the monotony; the cultural crowd; the food lovers; the jazz enthusiasts. In a post-Covid world, where coming into town is perhaps less appealing, drawing in a more diverse crowd could be crucial.
“It goes back to the idea of providing the perfect day,” says Cools-Lartigue. “It’s as much an opportunity to be able to chill, work, learn, hang out, play. From a business point of view, we’ve got the space, it’s about how you can use it.”
A central tenet of The Tramshed Project is diversity. Two of the three main chefs are black, there will be a black film club, and the Friday jazz-and-dinner nights have been dubbed “Black Flamingo”, after a black British culture magazine that ran between 1961-65. And on the weekend of 23-25 October there will be three days of events to celebrate Black History Month, in conjunction with the media representation platform Black Book.
“I’m a black man, so it’s important to me,” says Cools-Lartigue. “But it’s just important in general, there are people in this business who are white and it’s massive to them too, I love that. Some people have woken up to it more recently, or thought about it for ages.
“It’s about representation. I’m a Londoner, I want to put on events and create spaces that represent the London I know. There are too many institutions which are too narrow in their representation. Ultimately what we want is balance and equality.”
First, though, there’s the small matter of opening during the second wave of a global pandemic. “It worries me, but I’ve got to do it anyway,” admits Cools-Lartigue. “I can’t just sit in a hole and wait for it to pass. I’m looking outside in Shoreditch now: it’s quiet, it’s rainy, consumer confidence has been hit by the 10pm curfew, there’s a potential second lockdown. But I’ll crack on. Until then, we’re providing employment, full of brilliant, bright, wonderful people happy to be at work in a positive, creative business.”
Cools-Lartigue is continuing to support the charity he set up earlier this year, A Plate For London, which helps feed those in need, and The Tramshed Project will serve as a local communal food hub for food bank donations alongside its varying day-to-day activities.
In the coming months, expect guest chefs, special food pairing events, collaborative dinners, cultural and charitable endeavours, and more at The Tramshed Project – a multifaceted approach that perhaps represents the future. “That," says Cools-Lartigue, "is what a business should be today.”