Why Bubbledogs is the most overhyped and overrated London restaurant of the year
Update April 2013 – Dach and Sons has now closed
There are a huge number of burger restaurants in London, but there are relatively few hot dog eateries. That’s all set to change though, if the pundits are to be believed, with hot dogs set to become the next big thing on London’s restaurant scene. One hot dog restaurant that’s been receiving an insane amount of hype is Bubbledogs which serves a large menu of champagne alongside its hot dogs.
Bubbledogs may be the flavour of the month, but a less hyped competitor already exists in Hampstead – Dach and Sons. I was generally pleased with the hot dogs at Dach and Sons despite a few problems, but a recent menu refresh gave me the excuse to compare and contrast Bubbledogs with its slightly older rival.
Dach and Sons
When I last visited Dach and Sons I wondered whether the place would keep the same menu or revamp it on a regular basis. The menu has since been refreshed but now with only three hot dogs on the menu – mini burgers (or sliders) now dominate. This isn’t necessarily a shame as many of Dach and Sons’ previous hot dogs were a little underwhelming.
Dach and Sons has a reasonably spacious dining room that’s handsomely lined with white tiles and dark woods. However, this time around I took the opportunity to eat on the rooftop bar. Although the increasingly cold weather means this will be a less attractive option in coming months, it’s a pleasant enough place to hang out with a view of the Shard and the BT tower to the south and a view of Hampstead’s rooftops to the north.
One of my favourite hot dogs from previous visits was the Chilli Dog which remains after the menu revamp. It’s more like a sausage than a traditional hot dog and it’s just as good as ever. The thick, coarsely ground merguez-like pork banger has a mild spiciness that is complimented nicely by the barbecue sauce and topping of compressed chilli tomato. Very satisfying.
The quirky option is definitely the Dog and Fish. Rather than using a pork or beef sausage, this dog contains a torpedo of battered haddock. The fish is moist, lightly smoked and meaty and is complimented nicely by judicious dabs of dill butter, although keeping it within the confines of the bun proved to be a slippery job. The thin, crisp batter is mildly tangy and is topped with a refreshing pea and mint mayonnaise. The Dog and Fish may be just fish and chips in hot dog form, but it’s still satisfying.
Despite those two big-ass dogs I still managed to squeeze in a jar of pickled cucumbers. The sharp, distinctive taste of fennel complimented the tartness of the sour pickled vegetables, but there was little of the promised chilli as far as I could tell.
Bursting the bubble?
While Dach and Sons is located in spacious Hampstead digs, Bubbledogs is located in noticeably and predictably smaller premises on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. The interior is a little cramped with space for only a few dozen covers or so at most, although this does encourage a certain air of conviviality. It’s attractive enough, although the exposed brick walls and exposed ducts are cliched. Like Dach and Sons bookings aren’t taken, so turning up early is essential.
There’s a choice of beef, pork and vegetarian dogs – there’s even a lobster dog which makes occasional special appearances. At the risk of seemingly massive dense however, I had trouble telling the pork and beef dogs apart. On my first visit both were smoothly ground and lightly smoked, with the beef perhaps a little denser. On my second visit with Kangaroo Face, he was convinced that the pork dog was a bit sweeter and the beef dog was heavier with a thicker skin but I don’t think there’s a lot in it. The bigger problem with both the beef and pork dogs though is that they’re a little weedy – wieners with more girth would be a welcome improvement.
Most of the hot dogs draw inspirations from other cuisines, but some are distinctly better than others. The K Dog is the Korean-style hot dog with the meat topped with kimchi, fermented red bean paste and some lettuce thrown in for moisture. The red bean paste should be very distinctive but I found it to be a bit weak. The kimchi wasn’t initially very impressive either. Although the spiciness of the pickled cabbage is cumulative, even when it builds up it’s still very mild and doesn’t leave a lasting impression.
The BLT tops a dog with bacon and lettuce as expected but substitutes truffled mayonnaise for tomato. The bacon is rather forgettable though and the truffled mayo is far too gentle and isn’t nearly as earthy and rich as I was expecting. The most remarkable thing about this dog turned out to be the caramelised lettuce which had a surprisingly tart, almost vinegary taste to it.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with either the K Dog or the BLT, but at least the sweet potato fries were good. The crisp golden exterior hides a soft, fluffy, buttery and deliciously sweet interior. These are some of the best sweet potato fries anywhere in London.
Facing the dogs
I couldn’t quite reconcile my underwhelming first meal at Bubbledogs with the gushing praise expressed elsewhere so I had to go back for a second try. Kangaroo Face agreed to come along for the ride, plus he was able to sample some of the booze on offer which I can’t touch since I don’t drink.
Kangaroo Face’s first dog was the New Yorker which is a beef dog topped with sweet onions that apparently added an almost fruity, tomato-like taste to the wiener but also drowned out the taste of the rather weak sauerkraut. The New Yorker is available with just onions or sauerkraut though and Kangaroo Face reckons this dog would be more successful with just one of them rather than both.
Kangaroo Face couldn’t resist ordering the Fourth of July too. He enjoyed the heat and tang of the barbecue sauce, but even though the coleslaw isn’t too creamy and thick it still manages to drown out both the dog and the bacon wrapped around it.
My dogs this time around were more pleasing than the ones I had on my first visit. The Trishna is an Indian-themed dog where the sausage is topped with fresh coriander, mango chutney and mint sauce. The toppings on this hot dog really do work with each distinctively-flavoured element complimenting the others.
It’s unlikely you’d want to have a hot dog for breakfast, but if you did then it might look like the Breakie. The crumbs of black pudding were too small to have much taste or texture, but the rich runny egg and the fruity tomato relish made up for this to some extent.
Kangaroo Face and I shared a portion of Tater Tots. This side dish might have an odd, comical name but the small crispy bits of potato are effectively mini hash browns. I love hash browns, although they are bitty and oily on the inside which may not suit everyone.
Kangaroo Face may have a good knowledge of wine, but even he needs some help occasionally. Our waiter didn’t seem especially knowledgeable about the booze list though and had to run back to the bar to get answers to Kangaroo Face’s questions. After that faff Kangaroo Face got down to business with a glass of Raventos i Blanc de Nit Rose 2009 which turned out to be a rather average and unremarkable rosé.
He was more impressed by the Chartogne-Taillet Brut Sainte-Anne, a rich and toasty champagne with fine bubbles and a hint of ageing to it despite its relative youth. It apparently went well with the New Yorker.
I hadn’t intended to return to Bubbledogs a third time, but a need for a late night feed prompted another visit. The curiously named Small Eye has a Vietnamese theme to it thanks to its fresh coriander, pickled carrots and radishes and mayo mixed with Sriracha sauce. Sadly the mayo-Sriracha mix is very tame, but the pickled vegetables and coriander compliment the smokiness of the wiener nicely.
The wiener in the Buffalo is apparently deep fried, but I struggled to tell it apart from the sausages used in Bubbledog’s other dogs. The pickled celery also failed to leave much of an impression. It was the strongly flavoured blue cheese which dominated this dog. I couldn’t quite tell which blue cheese was used, but the scattered chunks were more creamy than crumbly which suggests a higher fat content than usual (sorry folks, no photo of this one).
A side order of coleslaw wasn’t too creamy or sickly and had firm slithers of veg.
If I had to choose between an evening at Dach and Sons and an evening at Bubbledogs then I would definitely choose Dach and Sons any day of the week. Although neither are perfect, the chunkier dogs at Dach and Sons are ultimately more satisfying yet still display a level of creativity similar to Bubbledogs’. The quality of the latter’s hot dogs can not only vary wildly, but the wieners are also rather weedy. Bubbledogs is by no means bad, but it doesn’t really deserve the gushing praise it’s received elsewhere. I can only imagine that the innate charm of the idea of champagne and hot dogs combined with inebriation has dulled the critical faculties in some quarters.
It should be noted that Bubbledogs serves more than just hot dogs – the back room reservations-only chef’s table serves up a completely different menu of Modern European cuisine, but if the quality of the hot dogs are any indication then I won’t be rushing to make a reservation any time soon.
Address: 70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG
Phone: 0207 637 7770
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11.30-16.00 and 17.30-23.00.
Reservations: not taken.
Average cost for one person: £25-32 approx. (add approx. £10-15 for booze)
Name: Dach and Sons
Address: 68 Heath Street, Hampstead, London, NW3 1DN
Phone: 0207 433 8139
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.00-23.00 (food served noon-15.00 and 17.30-22.30).
Reservations: not taken
Total cost for one person including drinks: £20 approx (£25-30 if you’re a serious glutton).