Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

Summary: very strong cooking, some of it outstanding, with many locally-sourced (apparently foraged but this wasn’t made very clear) elements. Not conceptual or modernist at all, but also not traditional or fusty. The service was excellent, and the wine good. Would get over there quickly.

Chef Knappett's kitchen
Chef Knappett’s kitchen

A new-ish opening on ever-trendier Charlotte Street, across from the best mortadella panino (Italia Uno), and smack in the middle of the hipster twatville that is London’s advertising and PR district (Saatchi, et al). Bubbledogs’ premise is simple: a) one naturally feels like paying $11 for a hot dog, and b) having paid that much, the natural accompaniment would be a $50 champagne from small growers (no Dom Perignon here for the football set, then). And I thought the food scene in New York had gone a bit weird.

Anyway, in the back of Bubbledogs is something quite new for London: a tasting-menu only chef’s counter with perhaps 20 seats which looks over a well-appointed, and spotless, restaurant kitchen. The chef James Knappett and manager Sandia Chang run the staff of 2-3 assistants and 1 wine waiter efficiently, while remaining utterly charming.

The concept exists in New York: Brooklyn Table or Momofuku Ko, amongst others. But where Ko seems to have this chefs-are-cooler-than-diners vibe, arms all covered in tattoos, waxing lyrical about rare-breed short ribs in Appalachia or something similarly obscure, Knappett and his staff are friendly, informative, and just normal. Tasting counters are sometimes just too intimate: Ko had some class A knobs dining there when I went in 2012, and judging from an online review of Kitchen Table (which was very complimentary of the food), there is the occasional bad customer night here also. However, I was there the day before Valentine’s Day at the 6pm seating, and the customers were perfectly behaved.

Chopping the meat gelatin for dessert !
Chopping the meat gelatin for dessert !

On to the food and drink. The Negroni (at Bubbledogs’ bar) was lovingly prepared with posh gin, and much gentle stirring in a beaker. Unfortunately, it was over-flavoured (artisanal herbs in the gin I suppose), and I would happily prefer the humblest bar in Milan. The dining area was lovely, very industrial, with locked metal-fence cabinets storing wine. There is no evidenced of hot dogs, fries, or virtually any other food being prepared in the kitchen. In a homely touch, the steel counter had a white tablecloth attached to it with blue tape.

Course 1: raw mackerel, shaved apples, and a granita made using Balfour wine from Kent. Super-clean flavour in the mackerel, well salted but not salty. The apple & granita was cooling and cleansing, but otherwise unremarkable.

Course 2: cod roe dip, with scallop roe shavings, served with home-made rye bread. The bread was outstanding, particularly for being griddled in butter, it had that delicious meatiness of a great wheat/rye mix. Reminded me a little of the chewy bread at Moro or Cigala. The dip, simple as it seems, had a very complex and long aftertaste – pure umami.

Fried bread with cod and scallop roe dip
Griddled rye bread with cod and scallop roe dip

Course 3: fried piece of chicken skin topped with rosemary mascarpone & bacon jam. Sounds utterly gross. But was wicked good, tasted a little like India crossed with China via England. Zero nasty taste of chicken fat.

Chicken skin fried with bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone
Chicken skin fried with bacon jam and rosemary mascarpone

Course 4: curly kale in anchovy dressing with shaved parmigiano, and breakfast radishes marinated in 12% alcohol dressing. Basically a reinterpreted Caesar, quite good, but not mind-blowing. Radishes are okay but not sure their taste or the alcohol dressing really add much, perhaps they cut through the rich dressing, but effect was marginal. A nice contrast to the other dishes though.

Curly kale with anchovy dressing and breakfast radishes
Curly kale with anchovy dressing and breakfast radishes

Course 5: salmon, crisped on the skin side, seared but mostly raw everywhere else and was served with a yoghurt, dill, cucumber, and bergamot dressing. The sauce was lovely and floral, the fish was good but had the weird texture that seemed a bit like sous vide, and was just above room temperature. So, perfectly good, but not awesome.

Salmon
Salmon

Course 6: home-made macaroni with Cornish wild garlic, in a brown butter and preserved lemon sauce. Absolutely the star – the pasta, which I understand were extruded using a bigoli machine, were tiny but densely textured and ridged. The garlic were incredibly fragrant without being overpowering, and the sauce with the little bits of preserved lemon was splendid accompaniment redolent of North Africa. Perhaps it’s my own preference for carbohydrates, and the Italian reference, but this was my favourite dish.

Macaroni with wild garlic, brown butter, and preserved lemons
Macaroni with wild garlic, brown butter, and preserved lemons

Course 7: pig cheeks on celeriac puree, elderflower capers the staff picked, and mustard leaves from London. The cheeks had a weird chewy cheeky texture and were somewhat, but by no means excessively, pig-flavoured. The celeriac puree was incidental, but the herbs and the mustard leaves lightened the dish. Again, great umami, and again a sense of cooking that really preserves moisture in the dish.

Pig cheeks with celeriac puree and mustard leaves
Pig cheeks with celeriac puree and mustard leaves

Course 8: meat of a young English roe deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress stems. Delicious, buttery meat with no gaminess, yet recognisably tasting of deer. The beets’ intensity had been toned down, and they were delicate and elegantly cut. The impact, or lack, of the hay-roasting was not evident, and the watercress stem reminded me pleasantly of samphire. Slightly disparate ingredients seem to come together effectively.

Deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress, and linseed cracker (art reference anyone?)
Deer with hay-roasted beets, watercress, and linseed cracker (art reference anyone?)

Cheese: Sharpham cheese from Devon, chopped and mashed into a textured mousee, served with pickled and roasted onions and a green sauce. Very different from a traditional cheese course, and very very good.

Sharpham cheese with pickled and roasted onions
Sharpham cheese with pickled and roasted onions

Dessert 1: mango mousse and granita. I loved it, but I love almost anything with mango.

Mango
Mango

Dessert 2: caramelised pear, caramel ice cream, chopped up meat gelatin ! It sounds grisly, but the gelatin had an excellent texture and mild flavour, and the ice cream was outstanding.

Pear, ice cream, and meat gelatin
Pear, ice cream, and meat gelatin

Wine: the standout was a 2008 Pierre Guillemot Savigny Aux Serpentiers. Perfumed haunting notes, very pale, very little tannin or fruit.

Food and wine in Rome

This is a bit long – but is basically stuff I loved about Rome during my 5 week stay there in the summer of ’12. As ever, my taste is idiosyncratic !

Neighbourhoods/hotels:

I liked the Hotel Eden from years of staying there, almost on top of the Pincian Hill, sort of above the Spanish Steps. It is very dear, and even if you aren’t staying there, it’s worth splurging on a drink or cigar, in the rooftop bar; on summer evenings, I’ve seen starlings massing over the Tiber.

For apartments, Rione (District) Monti is unbeatable: just up the hill from Via dei Fori Imperiali, putting it equidistant from the Colosseum and the Quirinale (Presidential) Palace. So very close to the main touristic spots, but relatively few tourists loiter there, as there’s nothing in particular to see. It also means that one can wander around the Forum and the Campidoglio at all hours, which is a lot more rewarding than going there during the day.

Restaurants/bars I tried & liked: for brevity I omit tens of others I never bothered with, once I found below and started cooking. See NY Times for excellent, and fairly up-to-date, tips on Rome.

Pommidoro – in San Lorenzo, it is my favourite. An old working class restaurant, yet with splendid game, some of it from the family’s hunting estate, it was a haunt of Pier Paolo Pasolini, and is filled with some of his artwork as well as old gallery posters. Very few tourists, and a somewhat artsy crowd due to the studio complex next door. Great steak, offal, mushrooms in season. They make & bottle their own oil for sale.

pommidoro
Pommidoro

Trattoria Da Teo – in Trastevere, but slightly removed from the busy bit. Very crowded, mostly regulars, but they try to accommodate. The potatoes mashed with tomato, bacon/lard, onion and garlic is gorgeous.

patate
Potatoes with tomato
pasta_ovoli
Fresh pasta with mushrooms at Pommidoro or Teo

Enzo – in Trastevere. Honestly, I don’t really remember the food, this is a humble trattoria, but I suspect we really liked it, as I retained a clipping from Il Messaggero on the best meatballs in town, and this place showed up.

polpette

Ristorante ai Marmi – in Trastevere, an old pizza joint. Named for the marble topped tables, recalling a morgue, very fast food: pizza and fried things, and precious little else.

Piperno – haven’t been here in a few years as it’s expensive, but the food is excellent, and a great place to try Jewish specialties (it is in Ghetto). Best anchovy stuffed zucchini flowers I’ve had.

piperno
Piperno’s dining room

La Matricinella – via del Leone. Quite touristy, but also lots of regulars/Italians. Food is standard Roman fare, very good, moderate prices.

Al Moro – near Spagna. Excellent food, very expensive, and sometimes requires a bit of spine, as they will try to stuff tourists into a back room. The preferred outcome is to sit in the second room (the front room is mostly regulars and a group of old men playing cards). The waiters are nice enough, the maitre d’ isn’t particularly pleasant (more accurately, he is strafottente…somewhere between arrogant and obnoxious). The food is great. Americans: you will really fit in a lot better if you don’t wear shorts, but do as you please (technically they don’t allow shorts, but a seemingly wealthy family of four were allowed in).

In Monti, on a street parallel to Via Baccina, very near to the Via dei Neofiti intersection (if not actually that), there is a fine little trattoria. Very good food.

Ai Tre Scalini – on Via Panisperna in Monti. Lovely wine bar, friendly staff and customers, they suffer hapless tourists with civility. The food is really good, albeit pre-cooked and warmed up (as you’d expect in a wine bar).

Also on Via Panisperna, further up the hill (going away from Pza Venezia), is a cafe, white I think, very simple, on the left side of the street. There is a very tall Argentine and a short bald man who run it, it’s nothing special, but great for coffee. Not open after 8pm.

Mother India – Via dei Serpenti, very good Indian food, and excellent service. Expensive (for NYC/Ldn conditioned curry-eaters), but pretty few choices if you get an itch… It is a stop on 3-4 coach tours from India, per day, so can get fearsomely crowded, best to call or stop in to check conditions. Sunday night I think was good – one of the few places where a channa masala actually has a burnt-tandoori flavour.

Al Vino al Vino – just across from Mother India, there is a little wine bar that’s perhaps less young and laid back than Tre Scalini, but is still pretty good, and quite possibly, less touristy.

Pizza – close to Vino al Vino is a pretty good pizza place, mainly for takeaway. Get pizza there, some beer from the tough old Filipino (I think) lady across the street, and grab a spot in the little square across from the church (with the fountain)

On Via Leonina there is a splendid paninoteca , I think the outside is a little garish and there are black-and-white pictures plastered inside; she makes super sandwiches, particularly with vegetables (marinated, as well as sauteed), anchovies (in oil or marinated), etc. I et there most days.

Ristorante Relazioni Culinarie – check before you go, but I think this was a Sicilian-inflected place, which is actually really nice once you’re sick of lard, pecorino romano, tripes, etc.

Bar Fico – for aperitivo a very chic bar/cafe with a found-object aesthetic inside, nice staff. There is a restaurant of similar name (probably the same business) around the corner, I prefer the bar, which is under a fig tree, and in the evenings has a gaggle of old men playing chess.

Shabby chic at Bar Fico
Shabby chic at Bar Fico

Pizza – at, or very close to, 284 Corso Vittorio Emmanuele is a takeaway pizza place. I shouldn’t rush across town for it, but I thought there pizza was great, and (it might be a chain) they took great pains to explain about their dough etc and it’s great digestibility/lightness !

Across from Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, on Via di San Michele, there is a little white bar/cafe with good drinks, very good food, that is mostly local office-workers. Is great for a cocktail while watching life in the, relatively tranquil, Piazza. The staff are nice and negronis good.

Bar Camponeschi – Piazza Farnese, very pleasant to spend a summer evening here watching the square. The staff are wonderful, the clientele rather posh (after all the restaurant/bar is in the ground floor some elderly Principessa’s palazzo).

Vineria Reggio – Campo dei Fiori, the journalists bar, and a touch more sophisticated than the others. Have a drink watched over by Giordano Bruno – Heretico, impenitente, pertinace, e ostinato, and stop by Fahrenheit 451 bookstore

Roscioli – there are two, one is a pizzeria/takeaway, one is a very fancy businessman/diplomat place serving simple food. I prefer the informal one, and there pizza marinara is outstanding.

A little enoteca on Via dei San Martino ai Monti, have a glass under the monastery and the big tower. Almost magically quiet, only 5 minutes from Cavour.

Dabbous Restaurant London

Apparently impossible to get into, one of the hottest openings of 2012, can’t get through on the phone, etc etc. I was lucky enough to get a space for lunch, on a snowy day in Fitzrovia. Main takeaway: flawlessly executed food with great ingredients, some innovative touches in the recipes, good but not especially warm service. IMHO, falls between two stools: it is neither true to any particular culinary tradition (as are St John, River Cafe, Kikuchi, etc.), nor is it aggressively innovative (such as Wylie Dufresne’s places, Viajante, etc.). So while it is very good food, at a somewhat above-average price, served mainly to businessmen (at least on a Friday lunch), so hardly worth the effort of getting into for the average hipster.

Detail of the set lunch menu:

The martini was excellent, floral, served in an old-style wide champagne glass. The bread, studded with walnuts, was super. The whipped butter, while very pretty on its slate plate, was unremarkable.

A salad of speckled endive in a bergamot, gingerbread, and mint dressing was wicked – textures of leaf and crunch, married to distinctive fresh yet complex floral flavour. However, an absurd tall bowl, almost a small glass, that was very hard to eat from. Duly mentioned to the waitstaff.

Skate with mustard and molasses (picture) had a fantastic texture, as skate should. The sweet and citrus sauce were great for the skate. The pickle was pointless and cloying.

Suckling pig belly with acorn praline, turnip tops & apple vinegar. Archetypical as far as pork belly goes, crackly, stinky, porky , meaty. The praline adds texture, and the vinegar is great, again for cutting richness. Turnip top is in such a small quantity, that, compared to an Italian contorno, it is pointless, and closer to decoration than an accompaniment. Nevertheless, very well executed – though one really must love the smell of pork, which I’m indifferent to, at best.

Waffle with smoked fudge – pretty awesome, the fudge tasted (and glistening globules under the spot lights made it appear) almost like a meat-glaze.

Wines: didn’t have any, seems like an okay by-the-glass and bottle list

Skate
Skate with mustard, molasses and pointless pickle