Saturday, 22 September 2012


Hard to believe that Bubbledogs only opened its doors a month ago, considering the amount of interest it has generated. Pedigree helps (pun intended); owners are chef and sommelier husband and wife team James Knappett and Sandia Chang, whose impressive joint CVs (Marcus Wareing, Per Se, Noma, The Ledbury, Roganic) can be seen in the toilet. No, really; the unisex loos in the restaurant are papered with menus, some with handwritten messages of good luck so presumably leaving gifts from previous jobs.

Bubbledogs (the clue is in the name) is a champagne bar that sells grower champagnes and, um, hot dogs. This would be the other reason that everyone is talking about it, and opinion is quite clearly divided on whether the unlikely pairing is a stroke of genius or a faddy bandwagon rip-off. Traditionally champagne has accompanied posh nosh: caviar, smoked salmon, and expensive bite-sized morsels from silver trays. Hot dogs, on the other hand, are usually a couple of quid from the cinema, football ground, or bought as a hangover cure from a roadside van at the weekend. (What? Is that just me?)

So can you credibly pair champers with junk food? To settle this argument, fundamental to the concept of Bubbledogs, I call upon a wine heavyweight. Laura Maniec is the world's youngest Master Sommelier - the highest possible accreditation for wine professionals - and current queen of the New York wine scene. She has recently co-founded wine studio Corkbuzz and is a vocal advocate of drinking champagne with French fries, explaining that the bubbles cut through oil and salt. Hey, if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for me.

Bubbledogs concentrates on artisanal grower champagnes, i.e. small champagne houses where farmers tend their own vines but lack the commercial clout of more famous Grande Marques. This venture simultaneously supports them and brings a wide range of excellent but less familiar fizz conveniently to Fitzrovia. Having briefly checked out the website before my visit I was a little disappointed to discover that only a very small selection are available by the glass at any one time - a fraction of the listings on the site under such tempting headings as 'Fresh Fruit Bowl' or 'A Lick of  Chalk and Stones'. I know they can't open them all, but . . . no matter; we tried the Gaston Chiquet's Selection Cuvée, the cheapest option at a pretty reasonable £6.50 a glass, and a fabulous Benoit Lahaye rosé at £11. More of an enthusiastic fan than any kind of expert, I thought they were both delicious and stood up well to the robust and spicy flavours of our dogs of choice.

Leading nicely on to . . . the food menu. A tad more sophisticated than the 'd'ya want onions?' choice offered by hot dog van man, Bubbledogs dogs come in pork, beef or veggie versions and with a variety of toppings. The full list is available on their website but they all sound pretty good; we eventually plumped for a José, which comes with salsa, avocado, sour cream and jalapeños, and a Sloppy Joe, with chilli, onions and cheese.

The waitress recommended that we opt for a beef sausage with both, which turned out to be a good choice. The sausages are not enormous (standard New York sized, think skinny frankfurters not the fat ones) but were meaty and full of flavour. Were they worth £7.50 each? We enjoyed them, but at the end of the day you're still eating a hot dog, albeit a nice one. Special mention, though, to the sides; excellent crunchy sweet potato fries, plus something I haven't had since living in the USA - Tater Tots (think small, cylindrical hash browns rather than soft mashed potato croquettes). Not bad at £3.50 each.

As a purely culinary experience I'm not totally convinced, but as a whole package it's a really cool and buzzy place to go. Beautiful exposed brickwork, wooden floor, a Manhattan-style copper bar, the ubiquitous bare filament light bulbs and some cute commissioned artwork plus communal seating give Bubbledogs a fun and relaxed atmosphere, perfect for winding down after work. It's not cheap, but then I guess it's a champagne bar in Fitzrovia. Duh.

Another place with a no-reservations policy (unless you're a party of six: worth organising, to be honest) you should either time your visit carefully or be prepared to wait. Actually, it's not that grim as the staff will take your mobile number and call you when a space becomes free. We pootled round the corner to Yumchaa and had a very nice Earl Grey while we waited for our call. Oh, and in case you're wondering what the '&' part of the name is - James Knappett is about to open Kitchen Table, a 19-seat dining area behind the curtain at the back of Bubbledogs where diners can watch and ask questions as he and his team prepare and cook the meal in front of them. Now THAT is exciting.

Yours, chilled and bubbly,
Girl About Town xx

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