WLC’s resident bon vivant, Lucy Shaw, heads to Bubbledogs in Fitzrovia for a truffle-laden hotdog, Comté-drenched tater tots and a sublime blanc de noirs Champagne.
The concept: Dynamic husband and wife duo James Knappett and Sandia Chang opened Bubbledogs on Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia back in 2012, just when the trend for pimped up junk food was beginning to take off in London.
Backed by JKS Restaurants – the group behind big hitters like Bao, Xu and Gymkhana, Bubbledogs was (and still is) London’s first gourmet hotdog and grower Champagne specialist, and is also home to Knappett’s two Michelin star Kitchen Table.
With big name London restaurants closing every week at the moment, being such a niche offering, Bubbledogs seemed like it might be in danger of falling victim to the high rents and staff shortage crippling other on-trade ventures in the capital, but the venue was buzzing during our midweek visit. Whatever magic formula needed to make a site thrive in central London, Bubbledogs seems to have it in abundance.
The décor: The venue shut this spring when both the décor and wine list were given a makeover. Chang was keen to give the bar more of a lounge feel and to dedicate more space on her list to still wines from Champagne.
On the design front, the open brickwork has been painted purple, and the high wooden tables swapped for marble ones dotted along the length of the room alongside mustard velvet pouffes and purple leather banquettes.
The drinks: Bubbledogs was in part inspired by Crif Dogs, a hot dog restaurant and cocktail lounge in New York’s East Village.
Chang, whose CV includes stints at Noma, Per Se and Roganic, was keen to bring a similar concept to London that shone a light on grower Champagne, which, she believes, makes a perfect pairing for salty hotdogs, the acidity helping to cut through the fat.
The bar serves just five Champagnes by the glass, which seems a bit of a missed trick for a grower Champagne specialist – I was hoping to find at least double that on offer, but the lack of a Coravin for sparkling wine may be holding them back.
We began with a bracing glass of JM Sélèque Solessence Extra Brut, made in the premier cru village of Pierry, from 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot and 10% Meunier. Chalky, racy and mineral, with notes of green apple and red currant, it served as the ideal apéritif to whet our appetites for the richer Champagnes that followed.
Signature sips: By the bottle is where the real enjoyment is to be found on Sandia’s list, which is usefully ordered by style, from ‘fresh and clean’, and ‘a touch of spice’, to ‘flowers and fields’, and ‘a lick of chalk’.
Champagnes from the likes of Gaston Chiquet, Collin-Guillaume and Dhondt-Grellet range from £7-£11 a glass, with Jacques Selosse’s Substance topping the list at £520 a bottle. Other by the bottle stars include: Bérèche et Fils, Jacquesson, Pierre Péters, Cedric Bouchard and Emmnauel Brochet, all of which are available to buy to take away.
Having long been a fan of rich, full-bodied Champagnes, I dived straight into the ‘toasty and nutty delights’ section and ordered a bottle of Val Frison ‘Goustan’ Blanc de Noirs Brut Nature, a 100% Pinot Noir from Ville-sur–Arce in the Aube (£59). Being a brut nature, I was curious as to how it ended up in the ‘toasty and nutty’ section, but its body comes in part from fermentation in old Chablis barriques.
Needing half an hour or so in its Zalto to open up, it was a fascinating fizz that revealed itself in layers, from red apple, sea salt and cherry at first, then wild mushrooms and white pepper underpinned by a mineral backbone. It was one of the most interesting and intriguing Champagnes I’ve ever tried.
The food: As the name suggests, Bubbledogs goes hard on hotdogs – other than a few sides, there is little else on the menu. My Truffle Shuffle was as indulgent as it sounds, rammed with creamy celeriac remoulade, truffle mayo and a generous shaving of summer truffle.
Crunchy and earthy, it paired perfectly with the mushroom notes in the fizz. All of the dogs can be made with pork, beef or veggie sausages, with gluten free buns and ‘naked’ dogs (without the bun) also available.
The sides game is strong – we particularly loved the tater tots drenched in melted Comté and sweet potato fries with truffle mayo, which fortified us for the abundantly flowing fizz.
Who to know: Sandia is on maternity leave, so seek out front of house whiz Max, who is friendly, fun, and seriously clued up about Champagne.
What could be done better: It would be great to see even more of the grower Champagnes on pour by the glass, so guests don’t need to splash out on a bottle to get the full Bubbledogs experience. And while I’m all for the gourmet junk food fad, a few fresher sides to cut through all the fat would have been welcome.
Last word: Bubbledogs has become a bit of an institution among the wine trade – on my visit I spotted the brand manager for one of my favourite Grand Marque Champagnes popping bottles with a friend a few tables down from us.
The venue proves that niche offerings can not only survive but thrive in the capital if they nail their food and drink offering, price it fairly, and create the kind of buzzy atmosphere most restaurateurs dream of emulating. The best thing about Bubbledogs is that it’s opening up the small (and often geeky) world of grower Champagne to a wider audience in an informal but informative way.
Bubbledogs, 70 Charlotte Street, London W1T 4QG; Tel: +44 (0)20 7637 7770