Donald Reid goes to The Dogs, David Ramsden’s new venture, and discovers a menu with a distinctly homespun flavour
There’s a little place I know – great spot for a bite to eat, glass of wine, right in the centre of town, up a staircase, not the most obvious. A little place I know . . . and so does the rest of Edinburgh, despite the fact that the launch party was held only last week.
Anywhere billed as ‘David Ramsden’s new venture’ was always going to be the talk of the town. The tall, bald, looming, deep-voiced restaurateur is regarded, variously, as a visionary or a freak, someone you’d cross town to dine with or make an exaggerated body swerve to avoid. His previous enterprises, (fitz)Henry and Rogue, attracted admiration and accolades, but, in the end, insufficient income to keep the bank and Ramsden happy. Both restaurants were innovative, idiosyncratic and ambitious, but neither were in the centre of town.
Back in December last year Mexican restaurant the Tijuana Yacht Club closed with the sudden, sad death of owner Yatts Borzecki; a venue in the centre of town was available.
Compared to the previous ventures, the Dogs is a simple affair: dressed down, smallish (just 30 covers in the larger of two rooms), and, apart from the blown-up portrait of a dog’s snout behind the bar, fairly free of ostentatious style statements. It’s not strictly a bar, though it has elements of a wine bar with undressed old tables and chairs, a good wine list (of which more below) and little dining formality. Ramsden isn’t a man who likes to be categorised, so he insists the Dogs is just ‘a place’.
The menu doesn’t have a thing on it that you could describe as foreign. No token Mediterranean standards (such as pasta), no French names, no South-East Asian twists. The most exotic flavour, served with a nicely moist ham hock terrine, is piccalilli, a spicy pickle invented by the British. Dominated by offal, cheap cuts, unusual fish and root veg it’s a menu with attitude and individuality. An unsieved tomato soup, trying to make a virtue from being rough and unrefined, is cooked with wild garlic (gathered by the proprietor himself), while the ‘risotto’ uses pearl barley and the chips (half tatties, in fact) are crispy and dark brown from beef dripping. Flavours are generally robust – a deeply savoury dish of meaty ox cheeks with pickled walnuts and a horseradish mash isn’t demure in the slightest – and overall there does seem to be a lot of heavy food, even for the end of winter. Overcooked mussels are a sign of either a stretched kitchen or a lack of real finesse, but ultimately you’re going to come here for food with gumption rather than garnishes.
Worth noting are two Ramsden trademarks that are often drowned out in the din of opinion over the man himself. Prices are incredibly reasonable, particularly for such interesting, freshly cooked food, and the wine list is uniquely conceived. The house wine is £10.30 (with 500ml carafes available for less) and there are over 50 bottles available at less than £20, most in the £12-£16 range. This is a list with genuine choice and lots to discover at realistic prices.
If you haven’t already gone to the Dogs, you might want to count it as a wee place you know. It’s right in the centre of town, after all.
110 Hanover Street, Edinburgh,
0131 220 1208, www.thedogsonline.co.uk;
Small bistro/wine bar serving proper British flavours.
Average two-course evening meal £13