First up this year, and one of last years successes for me, a bit of both at Bubbledogs &. And when I mean both, I mean opposite sides of the foodie spectrum. Out the front, you will find a queue snaking out the front all the way down Charlotte Street, waiting for their turn to tuck into a selection of hot dogs (pork, beef and veggie) covered in all sorts of delicious accompaniments. To drink, a selection of grower champagnes selected carefully by wine buff Sandia Chang, or a decent selection cocktails made and shaken to order by people who actually know what they are doing.
The dogs taste great and come with that essential snap of the skin, releasing all the meaty juices held within. For me, a hot dog with no snap is like a sad bowl of soggy Rice Krispies, mushy and undesirable. Toppings are inspired from all over the world, with kimchi, chilli, truffle and even red cabbage adorning the dogs. Personal favourites are the BLT, which is a dog wrapped in bacon, and topped with caramelized lettuce and truffle mayo, and the Small Eye (in the pic above), a combination of pickled veg and sriracha, akin to a hot dog stuffed banh mi.
I'm not massively into bubbly or queueing, but I do love cocktails and hot dogs. Book a table for 6 in advance, gather a few friends together and go and eat the menu, you won't be disappointed. If you're a sadist and want to torture yourself, get there at half seven and wait in the queue. Not advised as these get kind of crazy long, so basically either book or start queueing early. Oh, and don't forget sides of tater tots, the best sweet potato fries I have ever had, dipped in bowls of cheese wizz (artificial cheesy artery glue). Dirty but satisfying.
Step through the curtains at the back and you enter the realm of the "&". In front of you is the most beautiful open plan kitchen, with a horseshoe shaped bar seating surrounding the hot plates and prep areas. This section is very much the domain of James Knappett, husband to Sandia, and orchestrator in chief behind that curtain. Every week, James plans his menus around the produce that his suppliers choose to send him. Only the best in season will hit your plates and you will never get the same menu twice.
James has had experience in so many top kitchens, it wouldn't be outlandish to say that his CV reads like a list of ther worlds best. Per Se, The French Laundry, Noma, The Ledbury, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, a pretty impressive bunch. All this experience has finally culminated in his own place serving his own food. I've bumped into James a few times wandering around Maltby Street Market; jovial, friendly, buying ingredients to cook and eat with. At the Kitchen Table, his attention was devoted to the food, meticulous with each dish and orchestrating his chefs with ease and calm.
There is no a la carte, with just two tasting menus differing in length as your options (I forget how long they are but I went with the 12 course menu, the longer one). Each listed menu item was simply summarised in one word, not giving away what each dish had in store. I'm not sure the menu helped all that much anyway, as each dish was a surprise and a delight.
Take "Cod, for example. What arrived was a delightfully light cod roe based taramasalata, served with curls of pork crackling to dip and scrape. I'm not a massive fan of taramasalata, it's fishy pungency and salty fishy tang embodies much of what put me off fish in the first place when I was a kid. This, however, was something different altogether. That salty fishy tang was still present, but was whipped smooth and creamy, without being overly pungent. The crunchy puffed pig skin wasn't heavily salted and the combination of crunch, salt, fish and a few other ingredients just left me wanting more. Lick the bowl clean good, the best dish of the lot for me (I may or may not have done any licking).
I'm not going to go through every dish, but each one came prepared in unconventional ways or came paired with with ingredients that I had never tried together before. A whimsical take on a lobster mac and cheese (in the pic above), a classic seaside combination of mackerel and oysters, venison rack with a side of venison pie, a superb Meyer Lemon sponge, straight from California. Each dish carefully presented, each dish plated with precision in front of you, a unique experience I don't think you can find anywhere else in London.
The Bubbledogs package is something quite unique for London and in this ever expanding city of restaurants, it's always pleasing to see something so unique take off. Struggle with the crowds out the front for a chance to scoff down some hotdogs and champagne or sneak behind the curtain for one of the best tasting menus in town.
[For more photos, please click here]
Bubbledogs& - 70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG