Photo: Jamie Lau
By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
Londoners are showcasing a real desire for fast food at the moment, as has been omnipresent with the success of particular restaurants (especially American) in recent months. So it comes as no surprise that so many restaurants are jumping on board with this trend. The burger renaissance has been occurring for some time now, but with three restaurants focusing particularly on hotdogs having opened throughout the year – it seems that we can expect even more to open as we traipse into 2016 – uncomfortably full from holiday over-indulgence, but still hungry for more in terms of hip new restaurants and trends that are constantly unfolding across the capital.
One of the three aforementioned openings is Top Dog, having arrived in Soho during the summer, launched by Californian TV star Marissa Hermer and her husband Matt – having previously enjoyed success with his Boujis nightclub, Eclipse, and Bumpkin restaurants. Fortnum & Mason’s CEO – Ewan Venters – has also been involved, adopting the title of “non-executive chairman”, whatever that means. Alas, Top Dog is one of the last restaurants in London that I’d expect to have the slightest association with the luxury department store. Inspired by Marissa’s favourite food and her Californian heritage, this restaurant is very much inspired by West-Coast style hotdogs that have been reimagined in an attempt to tie in with the UK’s raised awareness of healthier eating across the past few years. Instead of rolling the scraps that nobody wants from pig, cow, and most probably horse, then compressing them into a man-made skin – the hotdogs here are sourced from Islington butchers Cobble Lane Cured, using free-range and grass-fed meat. Meanwhile, a number of options are available with pork or beef, as well as a vegan tofu dog, while buns are available with or without gluten. There are also some burgers to try.
Inside, the décor is heavily inspired by Californian biker gangs, and is modestly furnished with plenty of bare wood furnishings and motorcycle art emblazoned across the walls of the ground-floor dining room. As is the case with many new restaurants of this ilk, there’s a no reservations policy but during our early dinner visit the space is practically empty so there was no need to queue in the rain. Given the choice of seat, we picked a window-side bench, allowing us to watch the characters of Soho glide past as we await our meals. One thing that’s most prominent about the visit to Top Dog is the absolute confirmation of a theory that I’ve pondered for some time now: there is no dignified way for anybody to eat a hotdog. That’s especially confirmed when perched beside a window on display for passers-by to press their faces up against the window and get a closer look, almost as though being exhibited to the masses as some sort of wiener-chowing circus freak with a face covered in residual toppings.
Unable to decide between two dogs, our waiter for the evening suggested that I try both, insisting that some diners order all ten in a contest-like manner. The pulled pork dog, serve with apple slaw, chives, house sauce was adequate, although the pork is less delightfully moist than I’d have hoped for. The beef chilli ‘n’ cheese offering, on the other hand, is far better. A scrumptious beef sausage is topped with copious amounts of chilli con carne that’s been slow-cooked; thus allowing the meat to melt in one’s mouth, as well as the cheese. It was by far the best thing eaten here during our trip. Over the festive period there’s also a Christmas special here, boasting a smoked pork dog that’s wrapped in bacon, which is quite unfortunately less brilliant then it sounds. The crispy shallots are interesting but the saltiness of the bacon is overpowering, the cranberry sauce is somewhat insipid with its cloying sweetness, and the single leaf of sage adds very little – if anything – to the overall dish. Fortunately we were able to seek solace in the restaurant’s very good sweet potato fries.
As far as good valued, low-thrill restaurants are concerned, this new opening does an admirable job with its clean interpretation of dirty food. But although the quality of the ingredients are exceptional, the restaurant still has some work to accomplish in order to be ranked top dog when it comes to London’s imminent hotdog revolution.
Top Dog can be found at 48 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SF.