Bubbly and pretty hot!
Bubbledogs& is the two-part venture by husband-and-wife team James Knappett and Sandia Chang, both from the prestigious kitchen clans of Redzepi and Keller. The full frontal “Part One” prides itself a champagne bar that shuns Beluga in favour of gourmet NYC-style hot dogs only. No reservations (unless for a group of 6 or above). The “Part Two” or the “&” in the restaurant title is the backroom secret of a 19-seater chef’s table, where the tasting menu is served (to be launched in October 2012). You are advised to book.
The concept, to serve champagne alongside hot dogs, is bizarre. But, if you happen to be a regular at Roganic (I do) where Sandia had spent her time as assistant manager/sommelier, you will probably have sat through some stories of Sandia’s infatuation with grower champagne, hot dogs and sweet corns. (And you know, in Sandia’s universe of possibilities, this could have all ended up as the champagne bar that only serves sweet corns). Back to “our” reality…
In this warmly lit Bubbledogs& front room sandwiched by the walls of neatly lacquered wood and exposed bricks and surrounded by framed cartoonish Dachshund drawings (the dog that, according to Sandia, “husband” doesn’t allow her to have), the unlikely concept of champagne and hot dogs seems homely and superfluous. The front of house were friendly rather than acting cool. The fizz menu was presented on a mini wooden clipboard with no pretense, ceremony or pomp. That also means no Perriet Jouet, Dom Perignon or Cristal. Just grower champagnes by hardworking farmers. The price kicks off at around £35 per bottle, up to £199. The average per bottle seems around £50-65. The per-glass options are priced between £6 and £11.5. As I am no expert on alcohol, I leave this for somebody else to comment.
The hot dog chow-down
The food menu at the front of Bubbledogs& focuses on gourmet hot dogs only. The execution can be understood as conforming with the true American spirit. The 7-incher, middle-finger-thick sausages are made from 100% British pork and beef, while the veggie sausage adopts whey as the primary substitute for meat. The recipes for sausage-making are closely and uniquely developed by James together with his butcher-supplier. All is served in glazed classic side-loading buns, which are girth-y but a little shorter than the sausages. There are 13 variations of toppings, most of which are inventive re-interpretations of British and American (and sometimes global) classics. The price fluctuates between £6 and £8. You choose either pork, beef or veggie and you can request extra toppings at 70p. There are side dishes – tater tots, sweet potato fries and coleslaw – at £3.50. Bubbledogs& is, to my knowledge, the only place you can find these tater tots in the UK.
I settled for a few. Breakkie (£7.5), featuring a bacon-wrapped sausage (pork, for me), black pudding crumble, tomato relish and a sunny-side-up fried egg, captured the sensual comfort of a traditional English breakfast. The gooey protein-rich yolk burst juice and fused nicely with the sweet relish. Together it enhanced the moreish-ness of the gently spiced black pudding bits. The pork sausage snapped wonderfully and claimed quite an intensity for a not-so-large sausage. The care was observed in the lightly toasted bun – just like when I have a toastie with my breakfast. Highly recommended. Buffalo (£7.5) was a deconstruction of deep fried buffalo wings with a typical American cheesy dip. Here my sausage (pork, again) was deep fried, lubricated with spicy buffalo sauce and slipped into a toasted bun. The topping was a melange of finely sliced, pickled celery stalks, celery leaves and blue cheese flakes. The taste of stinky, salty refreshment hit first, which was complimented well by the texture contrast of silky cheese and crunchy celery. The sausage was again well cooked and was not lost among the strongly-flavoured construction. There was a feisty aftertaste of permeating vinegary heat. I wonder if the sauce would have tasted more powerful if smeared closer to the topping. Trishna (£6.5) also with pork wasn’t as successful. Though each element was well made, I found the whole construction of mango chutney, mint and coriander too sweet to go into a hot dog. It needed some zing and acidity. It could also do more with contrasting bites and texture. The momentum was regained with Sloppy Joe (£7.5), a classic chilli cheese hot dog. The minced meat+tomato mix released not only robustness but acidic sweetness. The cheese grating contributed an unctuous touch. The raw onion dices added peppery crunch. My favourite of the meal!!
I also had two naked dogs (£6 each), one beef and one veggie. The beef was quite rich and its taste, to my surprise, leaped through the bun. The texture was more chewy than the pork. Good moisture. I am keen to pair this with the toppings instead of the pork sausage in the (very near) future. The veggie arrived as two stumpy sausages and was interestingly delicious. The whey mixture lent weight/substance very closely reminiscent of carefully manufactured processed meat.
It was Fourth of July (£7), with inspiration taken from an all-American barbecue and finished with creamy coleslaw topping. Another sweet variation but with a hefty finish of chilli heat.
That’s it. 7 done.
A lot more to go.
For now.. the pairing of hot dog and champagne works. Bubbledogs& strips both items out of their own context and creates an intermediary space that promotes and does justice to both. And, to me, this feels just right.
70 Charlotte Street
Tel. 0207 637 7770