Ahh… smell the shit and seaweed in the air. That’s the smell of the fresh summer seaside breeze, the stench of highly oxygenic and smog-free air, something which I was assured time and again is duly absent in the vestiges of London.
I hope you will forgive my brief absence from this blog, as I am still only just recovering from the holiday season gone by. I spent much of it being holed up in a caravan park in little known Kinghorn in Scottishland. I took in a wedding, took some photographs and had literally gone to The Dogs for a swift chew in Edinburgh, which coincidentally coincided with the Fringe fest. I feel compelled to share the view with you…
So after haggis, nips, tatties and stovies at the wedding reception, I was duly informed by my lovely tweepers on twitter that there was resplendency to be had near the centrepoint in Edinburgh. It’s been four years since I was last in this town, and was glad to be received by the similar enchantingly cloudy skies that ruled over the street bagpipers. We had little time in Edinburgh, so we decided against the might of The Grain Store and opted for the stripped down, canteen splendour at the dogs.
Yes, the name itself speaks of the eccentric nature that surrounds this venue – I will keep the dog jokes to a minimum – kick started by David Ramsden (since 2008 I think) as an answer to the ‘gastropub’ culture which invaded London. The idea of marrying the very best of British (Scottish) produce with the very reticent nature of British (Scottish) cooking, to create the ultimate form of comforting genius. Of course, I’m no observer of the Edinburgh dining scene, but word of mouth suggests that The Dogs is a hot local favourite. We arrived as a party of five at one in the afternoon for dinner, and the first floor eatery was completely packed to the brim. Table turnover seemed high enough, as the leaving diners assuredly nodded and tapped the boys on the shoulder to insist that the food was well worth waiting for. The waiter told us to come back in an hour, and off we went to the goth-witch themed Jeryll & Hyde, next door to refuel with T-bombs.
While we wait, I studied Mr Ramsden’s track record on the iPad and noted how he had quietly built an empire of Dogs in Edinburgh. Beneathe the top dog, is amore dogs, which as the name implies, serves stripped-down food with an Italian accented. In the basement, the aptly named underdogs is a watering hole, and further away in Rose Street, Sea Dogs had opened earlier this year, unsurprisingly for seafood.
I really liked the Georgian setting, art-deco black and white tiled flooring and stone dogs that greeted you at the large front door. Up the creaking wooden stairs and into the white-walled, tall ceiling rooms at the summit. Cue the spiderman soft toy hanging off the chandelier. More unvarnished wood embraced this party of five as we settled into the comforting space. Looking over the room, were portraits of dogs, and more dogs. An abundance of natural light came crashing in to the room, thanks to the huge windows, it bounced off the glistening white walls, creating a very innocent and inviting atmosphere to dine in. It is a beautiful dining room, and one can tell that every soul in the room loved it too, what with the orchestral buzz of chit chat which had enlivened it. What a celebratory setting it was.
Two menus alternate in service at the Dogs, though unfortunately for me, the more interesting suggestions of coley with crushed potatoes and peas with herb mint oil; devilled ox kidneys and pork belly, mustard, pease pudding were not available for lunch. Instead we ate from the ‘day menu’ that featured sausage, mushroom and fennel casserole; pigs trotter and pigs ear salad and a ploughman’s lunch. Don’t see many of those on menus, and startlingly, all dishes averaged £5 each!
There were lots of comfort dishes that I wanted to order, completely torn with choice. As we watched the food fly onto the neighbouring tables, we were amazed with how jaw droppingly good all of it looked and smelled …Giant chips and fish, ohh, I want… All grub was presented in rather cutesy bowls, and the elements were layed on dollop upon dollop. Heartwarming.
Pork pie, poached egg and pea sauce. £5.60
I was so very glad I settled for this pork pie. Dense, immense with a crumbly and buttery puff, the intense saltiness of a damn good hock, and the sweetly, grainy mush and mash so lively one could almost taste the skin of the peas, on the tip of the tongue. The softly poached egg was the proverbial icing on the cake. What a crowning achievement, simple, wholesome, beautifully cooked and unashamedly modern. I really enjoyed this.
Seafood pie with boiled potatoes. £5.80
To my left, my companions were all coo-ing in unison, three of us had the pork pie, Matt the Yorshiremen, proclaimed that his seafood pie was so amazingly excellent, that he insisted I try a spoonful of this broth of the deep. And I agreed, the distilled exilir of haddock, mussels and dare I hazard, celery. Ee by gum.
Millet cake, cheese sauce and tomato chutney. £5.25
Finally, the last variation on the table, was this heavy muffin with heaving lashings of a heavenly white sauce. It carried a faint sweetness about it, and was a little like a lasagne with the pasta replaced with the millet cake.
Butterscotch pudding with Banana, £4.40
Oh my lordy lord, this style of cooking seems most suited to pudding. Half the table went for the butterscotch pud, and was this lovely. A whippy mess of sugary stick-to-your-gym butterscotch with a coalescing compote of banana, all of it served just abit above body temperature. I thought this was superb. Freedom and a sense of wonder imbued the cooking and presentation, there is soul!
Bakewell pudding with jam and custard. £4.40
Last but not least, another heartwarming, meltingly jammy, sugary gob of golden goodness, joy, tenderness and a good measure of cream. Fantastic.
As London pubs become even more laboured with overachieving kitchens, obsessed with churning out food that sail ever closer to a higher level of sophisticated complexity, one cannot help but feel fatigued with the progression of the genre. Which is why, the meal at The Dogs was a complete breath of fresh air for me. A reboot of the senses. A celebration of nothing but simply cooked, and simply delicious food. A reminder that the good life is and should be democratic and needn’t be weighted down with the expectation of pretension. We paid about £12 each, the cost of which includes a glass of wine each – stupendous value for money, considering the sheer quality of food we had. Might David Ramsden consider a Southern outpost, I suggest calling it The Gods, for its flipped geography. For now, I suppose I have to make do with St John Bread & Wine.
The Gist of It
110 Hanover Street
Edinburgh EH2 1DR
Tel: 0131 220 1208
Train : East Coast Connections from Kings Cross.
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