Street food is invading restaurants, and restaurants are taking to the streetsby William Skidelsky / October 17, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Fancy dining goes underground in the Old Vic Tunnels
Champagne and hotdogs: one of the world’s least appetising culinary combinations, or a marriage made in heaven? Many, if asked, might err towards the former, but James Knappett is of a different opinion. The menu at Bubbledogs, his recently opened restaurant in Fitzrovia, central London, consists of a dozen “gourmet” hot dogs and a selection of “producer” (or grower-made) champagnes. On the website, Knappett explains that his inspiration for the concept was the Italian custom of pairing prosecco with cured pork. It was, he writes, a “no brainer: greasy, spicy, salty meatiness with an ice-cold glass of refreshing bubbles.” And so diners at Bubbledogs can munch their way through, for example, a “K-Dawg” (a kimchi, red bean paste and lettuce hotdog) accompanied by a glass of Laherte blanc de blancs champagne, all for under £20.
The ad executives who work in Fitzrovia evidently approve of the concept, because Bubbledogs has become hugely popular. On the quiet street where it is situated, the early evening line for a table often snakes back past several neighbouring buildings. (As is de rigeur for edgy London restaurants these days, Bubbledogs doesn’t take bookings, except for parties of six or more.) Yet the champagne-and-hotdog operation is itself only really a kind of front for a more ambitious undertaking that started up in October, a few weeks after Bubbledogs first opened. At the back of the dining room is a thick brown curtain. Part it, and you find yourself in a larger, less frenetic inner sanctum, comprising of a state-of-the-art kitchen surrounded on three sides by a bar.
Secure a booking in this section of the restaurant, as I did recently, and after elbowing your way past the hotdog-hungry hordes you are seated at one of the bar’s 19 places, before you proceed to eat your way through a no-choice, 13-course meal that is prepared in front of you and served by Knappett himself. The handwritten menu, which changes daily, gives little away. The first four courses on the night I visited read: “Scallop. Cod. Chicken. Cauliflower.” But this doesn’t matter much because you get to observe each dish being made and then Knappett gives a fuller description when he hands it to you. Thus your attention is drawn away from the menu and waiters—the customary props of the restaurant—and towards the cooking process itself. This is theatrical cooking of an unusually intimate kind, an almost literal dining-in-the-round.