Happy New Year! I hope this finds you rested and rearing to go. The two weeks of sloth leading up to the first day of work in the New Year is a dead time in London. It is also a great time to eat at hot restaurants without the usual scrum to get in. That was my theory anyway as I made my way to Bubbledogs on Charlotte Street in London, late on a wet Saturday afternoon. Charlotte Street has now gone all genteel. Time was when its most famous resident was Theresa Berkley, an early 19th century dominatrix who ran a brothel specialising in flagellation. Up the road from the old whorehouse is Bubbledogs, which serves hotdogs with champagne. That’s all they serve. No starters, no coffee, no dessert, no whips, no cuffs, no Shades of Grey. There are veggie hot dogs for vegetarians, but you really shouldn’t come to a hot dog restaurant if you are a fruit and nut type.
Bubbledogs is one of the hottest restaurants in London and annoyingly takes no reservations (except for parties of 6 or more). Having a number of tables free for walk-ins is a good policy (as practised by the Wolseley and its sister restaurants – see my review “Slums, Prostitutes and French People in London“). Otherwise you have the absurd situation where the next available reservation may be six months away (as at Dabbous – read my review “My Dinner with Nigella“). A blanket no reservations policy however, appears designed to keep out the over 40 crowd. No one over 40 has the time or the patience to stand in line to eat a hot dog. So the restaurant is full of pretty young things who don’t mind standing in line for an hour and a half, while cheerily updating their Facebook status (“still waiting in line….”).
I got into Bubbledogs at my fourth attempt, having refused to stand in line on principle. Once I was with cost centre number one – we ended up having a nice meal at the Charlotte Street Hotel instead. On my second attempt I was with the Irish Media Baron. We ended up at Kikuchi – easily one of the best and most authentic Japanese sushi restaurants in town – although with no atmosphere and bonkers service. On my third attempt I was with the diplomat. We repaired to Brasserie Zedel – with room for 270 covers you can always find a table there.
So who in their right mind would pair hot dogs with champagne? A hot dog is a simple pleasure, best eaten at a baseball game. Champagne, especially the hard to find artisanal and vintage champagnes served at Bubbledogs is a higher, more refined pleasure. John Stuart Mill famously postulated that simple pleasures are for ordinary people and Americans, while higher pleasures could only be appreciated by highly educated and creative people. Bubbledogs can be viewed as a social experiment in bringing together the lower and higher pleasures for the benefit of the Facebooking proletariat. Or something like that.
The experiment doesn’t work. The hot dogs are good, especially the beef variety (they come in beef, pork or veggie) which is nicely spiced and bursts out of its skin on the first bite. There is an intriguing variety of flavours including a Korean version – the K Dawg (with Kimchi, lettuce and red bean paste), the 4th of July (a hot dog wrapped in bacon and served with BBQ sauce and coleslaw) and the Horny Dog (a proper corn dog, the first I’ve tasted outside the USA – a hot dog wrapped in corn breading). They are interesting flavours and they are good. The husband and wife team behind Bubbledogs, James Knappett and Sandia Chang have impeccable credentials. His last gig was at the double Michelin starred Ledbury restaurant in Notting Hill. She came from Noma in Copenhagen, ”the world’s best restaurant” . They know a thing or two about combining flavours. Even the side dishes are good. I loved the sweet potato fries and tater tots, last seen on a school lunch menu in America. Tater tots are small, cylindric hash browns; grated potatoes, breaded and deep fried .
The champagnes are tasty. They are all sourced from small artisanal producers and include a decent smattering of recent vintages. The champagnes are reasonably priced from £35-£98. Five varieties are available by the glass including the Laherte Freres, Blanc de Blancs which is a rare non dose champagne (meaning no added sugar – even the best houses add sugar to their champagnes to keep the flavour consistent). The most popular champagne being ordered was also the cheapest, a rosé at £6 a glass (£35 a bottle) which was a cheerful bubbly reminiscent of a cava. Therein lies the rub. The cheapest bubbly had enough of a proletarian easy drinking vibe to work with a hot dog. Frankly, the delicate flavour of a nice champagne (a high pleasure) is simply overwhelmed by the phoar wallop of base flavours in a hot dog (a low pleasure). I’d stick to beer, of which Bubbledogs has a nice handpicked selection.
There is also a small but well put together selection of cocktails. I liked my Quince Sour, an interesting take on a whisky sour with dark rum replacing the whisky and quince (apparently the original forbidden fruit of the garden of Eden) adding a nice sharpness to a surprisingly light cocktail.
Don’t get me wrong, I like this place. Its fun and buzzy – a single small room with wooden floors, and walls of distressed wood and exposed brick. One sits on closely packed high stools at small tables or at the bar. The staff is friendly and chatty. Bubbledogs has the unmistakable ambiance of a successful restaurant – the excited chatter of people tasting unfamiliar flavours, the conviviality of friends toasting each other with champagne. The problem is I wanted to stay and savour more champagne and more cocktails, but it’s hard to linger when you know there is a crowd standing outside waiting for you to leave.
Bubbledogs is successful despite its core premise, mixing hot dogs with champagne, being off-base. Fortunately both the hot dogs and the champagne are good enough that people seem to overlook the fact that they don’t really go together. I’d go back, but I’d wait for the novelty value of the place to die down so I could relax and work my way through the drinkables part of the menu.
More Canine Wisdom
Technically, the restaurant is called Bubbledogs &. The & is a chef’s table at the back where James Knappett keeps his hand in haute cuisine and serves a tasting menu with nary a hot dog in sight. Reservations required. A Rather Unusual Chinaman has a good review of the tasting menu experience.