Sunday, 28 April 2013

Restaurant review: Bubbledogs

n.b. This is not a Bubbledogs hotdog!
Nicknacks | © Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

"The bun was cheap, pappy and had insufficient backbone to hold everything together – it required Maggie and they sent out Dave Cameron instead..."

As the waitress put it down on table I stared mutely at the hot dog. Drenched in a vicious viscous brown liquid and sprinkled with nubs of stringy celery and a sparse scattering of blue cheese, it squatted in a bespoke square of grease-proof paper and ironic red plastic tray, daring me to eat it.

It was at this point that the penny dropped: surely Bubbledogs must just be an enormous practical joke? A restaurant version of the Truman Show, perhaps? Or an intergalactic gag being played on humans by a race of superbrains, incredulous that gullible organ-sacks are whiling away their precious leisure hours queuing up for the type of food that was served up to my 11 year-old self after school sport on a Saturday morning.

In any case, whoever came up with the idea of pairing cheap, nasty-tasting high school dinners with expensive booze, and getting people to queue round the block for it, is a person I doff my cap to. They will have retired to the south of France long before I hang up my final spreadsheet and say goodbye to the vlookups forever.

A quick précis here for those who aren’t aware of Bubbledogs: in Fitzrovia, it is a champagne bar / hotdog joint which opened to genuine excitement last year, and amazingly seems to have maintained this effervescent fizz- without even a hint of acid reflux- ever since. The bubbles are manifested in a lengthy list of interesting, small grower champagnes of the type that you wouldn’t usually see on a drinks list. The dogs are represented by a lucky list of thirteen hotdogs, differentiated by a variety of toppings.

If I was prone to hyperbole I might say something about barbarians at the gate and the decadence of fashionable Londoners tucking into champagne and hotdogs when the economy is on its arse and people are struggling to put food on plates in some parts of the country. But I won’t.

The hype generated by this unlikely combo means that unless you are a party of six or more and have booked ahead, there will be a queue when you arrive. Our lovely waitress seemed as surprised as we were that willing punters are still turning up half an hour before they even open to ensure a prime spot.

I knew all this before I arrived: I knew that I would have to queue and I knew that they served grower champagne with hotdogs. So why was I so offended by the experience?

It wasn’t the queue. I brought a couple of Ritz crackers to stave off the hunger pangs during the hour plus wait.

It wasn’t the drink either. The house champagne (i.e. the cheapest one on the menu!) was excellent, without a hint of the nasty, hollow acidity that mars a lot of champagne at the lower end of the price-bracket. At £35 a bottle for a wine that retails at £25, it is also very good value.

No, it was the awfulness of the food. And lest you think that I am just being a typical snobby food writer, unable to connect with the average tastes of the man in the street, I assure you that I am happy eating a hotdog. I had a couple of cracking hotdogs halfway up a mountain when I was skiing in Jackson Hole last year. I have had the odd dog from one of those Eastern European fellers who sell them late at night from street corners. And you and I both know that a proper sausage butty is a thing of beauty.

But the hotdogs they serve at Bubbledogs are poor and if that’s your only offering, there’s no excuse. I was hungry, it was Saturday night and I wanted to enjoy mine, but just couldn’t. At between six and eight pounds they're not expensive, but neither are they particularly good value either.

The bun was cheap, pappy and had insufficient backbone to hold everything together – it required Maggie and they sent out Dave Cameron instead. The beef dog itself (they give you a choice of beef or pork) was mean in dimension and bland in taste. As I had ordered a buffalo, the dog arrived with the aforementioned brown sauce, celery and blue cheese, but none of this disguised the fact that it was a poor effort.

Around the table, a josé came with a dressing of salsa, avocado, sour cream and jalapeno chillis, although the avocado was only evident via a green skidmark on the inside of the bun and this left little impact on the tastebuds. A pair of sloppy joes were topped with beef chilli and cheese and these looked to have been the best of the lot. A special mention should also go to the over salted tater-tots and sweet potato fries which they served on the side, but I wished they hadn't.

You might say that I have missed the point, that the food is merely there as an addendum to the grower champagne. But it didn't feel like it when we were there - they brought the food before the champagne for example. To be frank, after one look at the hotdogs I didn't fancy spending tens of pounds on good quality, expensive champagne to wash them down anyway. And if you're not going to eat, around an hour's wait for just a drink is too much.

The service was eager and willing, if a little stretched at times, and a fun atmosphere is aided and abetted by a soundtrack straight off Now 32. But a glass and a half of the excellent champagne and a ten pound cocktail wasn't enough to wash away the greasy residue left by the food. The queue might already be twenty deep for tonight's service, but I won't be joining them again I'm afraid.

Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4QG

0207 637 7770

Tuesday to Saturday 11.30-4 & 5.30-11

Bookings taken for tables of six or more

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