A bore at the next table in a Paris brasserie once ruined my dinner by insisting that I was wrong to accompany my food with Champagne, which was an aperitif.
This gastronomical gendarme was drunk, which might explain it.
I myself, sober though I was, wondered about the lineup of Champagne and hot dogs at the new London restaurant Bubbledogs.
Any doubts were misplaced. I’m more excited by Bubbledogs than any new London restaurant I’ve tried since Dabbous, where you can wait months for a table. The hot dogs are great, the Champagnes are varied and inexpensive, and the service is first- class.
To use a phrase I dislike, what’s not to like?
There’s a choice of about a dozen hot dogs, each of which is available as beef, pork or vegetarian. For the purist, there’s the Naked Dog, at 6 pounds ($9.75). The top price is 8 pounds for the BLT, which comes with caramelized lettuce and truffle mayo. There are no starters and no desserts.
(Crif Dogs, in New York, helped inspire Bubbledogs.)
Sides are restricted to tots (potato croquettes), sweet- potato fries and coleslaw. That’s it. I can’t think why anyone would want more choice in a hot-dog restaurant. If anything, I’d like things simpler: no sides and a single price.
Those who shrug that it’s hard to get hot dogs wrong should eat their words. Simplicity is complex: You might get away with a mistake in an elaborate fine-dining meal, but there is nowhere to hide with a sausage and a bread roll.
My personal favorite is the Breakie, which comes with tomato relish and chunks of black pudding and a fried egg on top. If I want to go off piste, the Buffalo Dog is fun. Spicy buffalo sauce, blue cheese and celery? Whoever thought up that combo? To answer my own question, it was the husband-and-wife owners, James Knappett and Sandia Chang.
Knappett is a talented chef who has headed the kitchen at Marcus Wareing and worked for Brett Graham at the Ledbury and for Rene Redzepi at Noma. (Knappett has also opened a posh restaurant, Kitchen Table, at the back of Bubbledogs.) Chang was born to Chinese parents in Saudi Arabia and went to school in Los Angeles. She used to be front-of-house at Marcus Wareing and Roganic, and is a fan of grower Champagnes.
When you visit Bubbledogs, it’s worth seeking her out for advice on bubble-and-banger matches. Champagne starts at less than 40 pounds a bottle -- Gaston Chiquet, Selection Cuvee is 38 pounds -- and there’s plenty of choice below 60 pounds. Chiquet is a fine Champagne for the price. Talking of price, Jacquesson Cuvee No. 735 is 58 pounds. It’s 95 pounds at Petrus.
Even if Chang isn’t around, Bubbledogs has some of the best service I have encountered in London. The staffers are friendly, professional, well informed and good company.
That waitress asking you to choose between a Horny Dog (corn breading with corny bits) and a Red Rocket (cabbage and mustard) may be Jennie Wood, who created the blog http://cod- philosophy.tumblr.com/. Among independent London restaurateurs, the only person I can think of who has brought together such a crew from scratch is Russell Norman of Polpo.
So I invited him along. He said Bubbledogs was brilliant.
What’s wrong with Bubbledogs? It’s too popular, so you might face a long wait for a table. (Reservations are only taken for groups of six or more, and the booking line is only open for 150 minutes a day for Bubbledogs and the posh Kitchen Table.)
It’s crowded and not very comfortable. You may feel reluctant to linger. Even if you do, you may mind being squished in with strangers in a noisy room where rubbing shoulders means exactly that. Even McDonald’s offers more space.
Yet I can see Bubbledogs opening in cities around the country. Then we’ll all be asking, who let the dogs out?
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Less than 20 pounds a head, plus Champagne.
Sound level? Can get noisy: 70 decibels and rising.
Inside tip? Arrive early.
Special feature? Dogs.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Woof.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70- 75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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