Champagne and hot dogs, eh? That’s where we’re at in London, in the grip of pimped up fast food Americana-esque, buried under a slew of burger openings, with fried chicken and dogs close behind. There’s something different going on behind this latest opening from James Knappett and Sandia Chang, however: some big cojones have been placed on the block with an unswerving focus on grower Champagnes as a big part of the offering. No Grande Marque big daddies. Au revoir Veuve. Je ne regrette rien, Möet. Ballsy.
Grower Champagne: why should you care? These valiant and for the most part brilliant expressions of Champagne have always been the ‘go to‘ for those of us in the wine trade, offering higher quality, more interesting wines at cheaper prices. Why so? These are the essence of what makes wine really interesting, back to the notion of the farmer growing his grapes, making his wine, from vines they have tended all year. They own their vines, grow their grapes, make their Champagne: no break in the chain. The big Grande Marque houses by neccessity of volume, buy grapes from many different smaller growers. They have big bucks to throw at marketing and advertising, lakes of free stock to throw at fashion launches and sponsored events. Champagne as a brand swaggers around like the Cock of the North. These smaller grower Champagnes offer Another Way.
CODE: Look for the letters RM in tiny letters at the bottom of these bottles (Récoltant-Manipulant), the proof they ‘manipulate’ their own vines. Big brands you find in supermarkets will have NM (Négociant-Manipulant), sourcing grapes from a number of growers to produce a wine under their own label.
Many of the names will be unfamiliar to most people, and a quick preview glance at the list earlier this week sparkled with many growers that I love, and a fair few which I’ve not encountered before.
A sharply worded layout is enticing, headed with: ‘So fresh and so clean clean‘, ‘A lick of chalk and stones‘, ‘Ripe fruit bowl‘, ‘Fresh fruit bowl‘, ‘Touch of spice‘. Imaginative wording, and showing lots of love and attention to detail on the list (they’ve tasted around two-hundred Champagnes prior to opening).
Seeing names like Benoit Lahaye inspires further, particularly his brilliant laser sharp Essentiel Grand Cru. Larmandier-Bernier has long been regarded as one of the top Blanc de Blancs producers, a brilliant example of the purity of the style, and I’m stunned to see a Georges Laval Cumieres 1er Cru on the list, a wine I’ve only so far come across when selling it at independent wine shop The Winery, who source Champagnes solely direct from the growers. Tarlant is another established grower who have been flying the grower’s flag on good Champagne lists in London.
There’s a very swankily kitted out nineteen cover separate room at the back, Kitchen Table, essentially a kitchen with bar seats where Knappett will get to flex more highbrow cooking moves with £29-80 tasting menus. His CV includes Noma, Marcus Wareing and Per Se, so expect some seriously top drawer cooking.
The Bubbledogs ‘dawg’ himself is a bit of a hero, with cartoons of him framed around the restaurant, drawn specially for the opening by José Reis de Matos. He’s found in various compromising situations, as a vampire, canoodling with a female poodle admirer, flying through the air hugging a popped cork (looking quite happy about it).
The Dogs have echoes of the playful combinations at Crif Dogs in New York, as well as the chef inspired specials through the adjacent phone box at cocktail bar PDT. The Small Eye has Sriracha chilli mayo and coriander, Buffalo Dog is deep fried with spicy buffalo sauce, K-Dawg features the spicy Korean fermented cabbage Kimchi, BLT is wrapped in bacon, caramelised lettuce and truffle mayo, José (inspired by chef friend José Pizarro) has salsa, avocado, sour cream and pickled jalepeños. They start at the £6 mark.
Does all this make sense to be drunk with Champagne? There are possibly only a couple of wines that could successfully cut through the combination of an onslaught of salty, fatty meat and the swathes of sauces and additional flavours: sparkling wine is certainly one of them, and Champagne its highest expression.
The room is orchestrated by the unflappable Sandia Chang, assisted by the very affable Jack Settle. It’s their first service. While not a dress-rehearsal (these are live bullets being fired, with real punters and hard cash being exchanged), service copes admirably with a slew of eager first hour rubber-neckers.
BLT: bacon, caramelised lettuce, truffle mayonnaise - Straight in with this, pork dog, drizzled with truffle mayo. Strike a pose, she’s photogenic. Subtle funk of truffle, loving the wilted lettuce (healthy, yeah?). Requisite ‘snap’ on biting into dog. CHAMPAGNE: Gaston Chiquet (£6.50). Fleshy Pinot Meunier heavy blend (60%) just about pulls it off, riding over a pretty salty mouthful with that mayo.
K-Dawg: kimchi, fermented red bean paste, lettuce – Plenty of kimchi, with a proper kick of lingering heat, feral enough to satisfy perverted kimchi fetishists, beef dog. Kimchi ends up stealing the limelight. CHAMPAGNE: Laherte Frères (£9.50). This non-dosage beauty has piercing lemony acidity, an uncompromising mineral intensity, pretty hardcore. If you licked a light sabre, it would taste like this (the blue one, of course, the blue one). It’s blown away by the chilli fire of this dog though, the heat only accentuated by each sip of this skeletal Champagne. Need more sugar to tame the heat on this dog. A sip of Gaston Chiquet fared far better. Red grapes needed.
Small Eye: pickled vegetables, Sriracha mayonnaise, coriander – Where’s the dog? It’s ok, just idling beneath some pickled cauliflower. Sriracha mayo a great touch. CHAMPAGNE: Juillet-Lallement Grand Cru (£8). Fared better than Laherte Frères with chilli spice, but still knocked off course by each mouthful, Sriracha mayo proving a distraction, stripping it of some of its perky Pinot Noir fruit (60%, the rest Chardonnay).
I slummed it at the end and finished off with a glass of Cava, a Raventos rosé (£6) and the last sip dealt well with a final morsel of kimchi-laden bun. Yeah, it’s not all about you joggers who sip Champagne. Have a well made cocktail, have a beer if you must.
Conclusions: Chilli heat f**ks some Champagne. Champagne can stand toe to toe with hot dogs, with some caveats. A Demi-Sec style would be in its element here, dominating chilli heat with extra weight and sugar, dampening any irksome fire.
Champagne and hot dogs? Some may argue its faddish and has a limited shelf-life. I’m happy to see the two elements rubbing shoulders, and it’s a brave statement from the outset – one that’s unique in London.
High culture meets low culture and has a snog.
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