Monday, 14 January 2013

Bubbledogs and Budgeting

I'm not normally renowned for my optimistic nature, but recently I think things may be changing. After waking up on New Year's Eve to find a tweet from Bubbledogs saying they were going to be open all day (they are usually closed on Mondays), and knowing the Ewing and I were off work, I felt things were looking up. Afte all what could prove a more fitting end to a great year than copious amounts of fizz and sausages? 

Obviously we were not the only ones with the same idea, as despite the filthy weather and deserted street of Fitzrovia there was still a queue when we arrived (fresh from lunch number one at Bone Daddies) at two o'clock.

It was hardly surprising really. Even though they had only advertised with that solitary tweet there can be barely a mortal within the M25 who hasn't heard of this place, which combines a hot dog and champagne bar with a, more refined, chef's table (known as Bubbledogs&) which is located through dark velvet drapes at the back of the small room and is presided over by chef Ben Knappett.

Front of house is run by his wife, Sandia Chang, and the team have obviously got it down pat. The lady taking our names and party numbers as we waited was charming and helpful and put my mind at ease when I worriedly enquired whether we would miss the dog cut-off date (probably out of sympathy). She even provided directions to a lost Italian tourists who I was attempting (and failing) to aide when they stopped outside to ask the way to the Toy Museum.

Luckily the wait was pretty brief, and turnover seems reasonably high. Although I must say I was finding it quite entertaining to look through the glass partition at the bar and watch people who had clearly not eaten a hot dog in a considerable number of years (but certainly didn't look a stranger to champagne) trying to delicately stuff over-filled buns into their mouths while perched elbow to elbow at the bar.

Of course we had to kick off with two glasses of champagne. Our waitress recommended something dry, for me, and something a little fruitier with a hint of spice, for the Ewing. How very apt... The colours of the wine were far more distinct than the photo suggest with the Ewing's glass showing a hint of Irn Bru, with my more like a vintage Appletise.

I won't bore you with any more of my learned and detailed opinions on the wine (or lack of), other than to say - as I've written about on the blog before - I like champagne rather a lot, and these fine examples did very little to change my mind.

Wine isn't the only drink made of grapes, of course, and I had to sample a concord grape soda from the Goose Island Brewing Co. I do love that 'American grape' favour, and while I'm more familiar with Goose Island wheat beer, this was just the icy sweet refreshment needed after the spicy, dry champagne and salty dogs.

Sadly the food didn't quite live up to the fizz. Maybe it was my choice, but I found the Buffalo Dog a little lacklustre; the small weiner, being rather sparsely decorated with chunks of blue cheese and (supposedly pickled?) celery that rolled off when I bit into it, and copious amounts of hot sauce that caused the bottom of the bun to disintegrate into a spicy red mush.

What I do know is, despite what others may tell you, hot dogs and champagne just work. Yes, you could probably say the same about oysters, slivers of cured ham, caviar or sushi; but a good tube steak and fries can be as fine as any of the above, and the mixture of hot, salty, creamy and crisp is just made for a cold glass of blanc de blancs.

The Ewing went with the Horny Dog (mostly because I thought she would be to embarrassed to ask for it), a corn dog on a stick which she proclaimed 'good, but a little heavy, and not as nice as your home made version'. I'm actually surprised she could face another corn dog so soon, as the the last batch I had made were pretty much wholly scarfed by her, plus most the the remaining batter which I had fried into corn fritters.

The price and size of these dogs means they are ripe for sharing, and I felt sad that on this visit we could only manage a couple between us. Not to mention having to turn down the sweet potato fries and tots. As I end up saying in most my posts, it certainly gives us reason to go back. Next time I'll definitely be trying the BLT, with caramelised lettuce and truffled mayo; the Trishna with mint, mango chutney, and coriander; and the Small Eye with pickled vegetables, Sriracha mayo, and fresh coriander

One plus point was that we had our drinking boots on, so we swiftly moved onto round two from the bar. I went with another glass of fizz, while the Ewing called for the cocktail menu, to really really get the evening's festivities started.

She ended up plumping for the, innocuous sounding, Snowy. A rather potent combination of Death's Door Gin, absinthe and possibly some other, dangerously alcoholic, things. This came served as an, inadvertent,  double which due to seasonal cheer was served to us and charged as a single on the bill. 

Due to the thinning crowd at the bar, we also got to see it being expertly crafted. There is something very elegant and refined about seeing the crafting of a well made drink, especially accompanied by a sountdtrack of the Smiths and early Prince. Potent enough to stun a small horse it was still remarkably restrained, and slipped down far too easily.

Bubbledogs is fun. Is it worth queuing around the block in the rain fun? Well, that's up to you. Here they do no more than call a spade a spade, and while for for some this may seem style over substance, for others it's simply a chance to eat comfort food while getting pissed on France's finest. I like the contradiction, and, as always with the very best experiences, it was a mixture of charming service, good company and booze that helped make our afternoon so memorable. A fitting ending to a fabulous year.

And so to the second part of blog. After the excitement of 2012 and the good cheer of the New Year it may seem inevitable the only way is down. Thankfully my healthy dose of new found optimism makes me think why can't life always be this good? Granted, nothing's ever perfect, how much fun would that be, but there seems so many more things to be upbeat about than negative in my life (and no, I'm not writing this while trapped in the self-help section of the library).

I'm not very good at abstinence, or giving things up, but when Ewing burst in when I was in the shower, to admonish my spending over Christmas and announce her latest hair-brained money saving scheme, it did get me thinking. What about setting a budget of twenty pounds a head (on food, to include drinks and tip if possible, but not obligatory) when eating out.

A score came to mind as that is what Grandad gives the Ewing and I each every year for Christmas, and every year we try and spend it on a going for a meal that we can tell him about when we next see him. Of course twenty quid can go a long way, and in many places it isn't a difficult prospect at all, but in many more it's simply not possible (unless eating from the bar/set menu or choosing very creatively).

It should give us enough flexibility to carry on eating out and discovering new and exciting things, while enforcing enough restraint to make an interesting challenge. So I can have my cake and eat it (as long as its not decorated with silver leaf and gold lustre).

Beans, beans...
I'm actually not too bad with money (it's surprisingly easy when you don't have very much) and really this is more about the idea of a challenge than any attempt at Scrooge McDuck type world domination (while he swam about in gold coins, I'd be lucky to fill a pool with coppers). So in order to preserve my wallet, and possibly my liver, I have decided to employ the twenty pound restraint until tax freedom day, the day on which we are, depressingly, deemed to have stopped paying the taxman and started working for ourselves.

Unfortunately this date doesn't fall until 13 May, and I already have an anniversary trip to Belgium, afternoon tea at Claridges, and a week in Cheshire/North Wales booked up before then. So I've decided to be forgiving and give myself a little leeway, if needed, on these occasions as they're pre-planned (and I'll be damned if I'm missing out on copious amounts of moules frites and bier). But for the rest of the next four and a half months, I will be held fully accountable for any further gluttonous lapses.

Of course there's not much point in doing this when we're out, only to dine in on prime rib, caviar and lobster at home. So look out for some frugal(ish) recipes coming up on the on the blog. To help stockpile some further pennies and banish those New Year blues.

1 comment:

  1. I also found the buffalo dog a little lacklustre! So you should check out my blog post and see how I recreated two of the better dogs at home - it's really easy :)