Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Dogs

For my actual birthday dinner T and I went to The Dogs, a fairly new place that has only been open since the start of this year (sadly replacing T's favourite Mexican restaurant). The owner is David Ramsden, who has also be waiting tables every time we've been, which I think shows much more commitment than I would have if I owned a restaurant. I'd be sat in the corner drinking the free wine and sampling the chef's latest ideas!

For starters, I had sardines with red cabbage slaw, and T had mushrooms and brie on toast. Both of these came out the kitchen lightening fast, which was good as we'd had a strenuous day walking around Edinburgh Zoo and were pretty peckish. For someone who is not a cabbage fan, I seem to be ordering it a lot lately, and what is more, liking it! The slaw was crunchy and had a good amount of sauce, and worked well with the cured sardines. It was also presented slightly oddly, with the sardines buried underneath a heap of cabbage. However, my main complaint with this dish that there was too much cabbage for the amount of sardines. It was also pretty hefty for a starter, although to some extent The Dogs doesn't have starters and main courses, it has small, big and sharing.

T was happy with his mushrooms on toast, and it seemed a much more suitable sized starter than mine. There wasn't much brie in the dish, and we weren't sure if this was intentional or not. Luckily, T had ordered it for the mushrooms on toast element, so wasn't really bothered about the lack of cheese. We also had some bread to go with the starters, which was good, especially to mop up some of the excess coleslaw with!

For the main course, we shared a crispy pork belly, with roasted carrots, parsnips and butter beans. We also got some chips as the were advertised as "cooked in dripping" and we couldn't resist. The vegatables were all very good, and I particularly liked the parsnips. The beans also matched the pork belly and homemade mustard very well. I thought the pork belly was a little tough in places, and the skin could have been crispier. You'd take one bite that was perfect, melting meat with a crunchy topping, and the next would be tough with chewy skin. I don't know whether we were just unlucky or if it could have been done with being cooked in a different way. T is quite fussy about his meat, and won't eat it if it is too chewy, rare, dry or fatty. He seemed to enjoy his half, so I am tempted to think that I was just unlucky with my half.

My other complaint was again portion size. We got a massive slice of belly meat, and plenty of vegetables, and it was far too much. I much prefer to have small portions of several dishes than a massive plate of one thing, although when I cook myself I tend to give out generous portions! I felt a bit overwhelmed by the size of the dish, and felt the pressure was on to finish it. I think if it had been T and one of his male friends eating just a main course, they would have been very happy, but with a starter and a girly appetite there wasn't enough room!

Concerning the chip thesis, The Dogs furthered supported my theory. The chips were fat cut, but perhaps a little too fat in places, the crispy:soft ratio was sometimes a bit off. Cooking them in dripping meant the outsides were very crunchy, and the insides soft and fluffy, with an overall hint of meatiness about them. T and I fought over the crunchy scraps at the bottom of the bowl! Like the starter and main course, the chips were very good but not quite perfect.

Despite this, there is always room for dessert. I went for the lemon and lime posset, although I was sorely tempted by the mince pie parfait (I've also been thinking about making brandy ice cream with bits of Christmas pudding in it, but that's another story). This was refreshing after such a big meal, and possibly a contender for one of my favourite foods. T had ice cream with toffee sauce. The sauce was dark and treacley, and not too sweet.

Overall I really like The Dogs, as I like being able to get good local food in a fairly relaxed atmosphere, and with a reasonable price tag. I also like that they bring you a jug of tap water as standard, and that you can get wine in a 500ml carafe. We've also been here with my parents and siblings, so it is good for a meal for two as well as a family gathering. Many reviews I have read online of The Dogs complain about the service, which is a bit brisk. For us, this was fine as we didn't mind being left alone during the meal and didn't feel we had to wait too long for our order to be taken, or for food to arrive. Another issue here is that the staff, particularly David Ramsden, have a bit of an individual sense of humour that you either get or don't. Kismot is another Edinburgh restaurant that suffers from this. Personally I like a bit of banter, although I have been out to dinner with others who have interpreted the comments as rude or inappropriate. The mismatched furniture and china reminded us of Monster Mash, which a bit of googling suggests was founded by David Ramsden as well. He also used to run the Outsider and the Apartment, which I also like, so I think we are obviously on a similar food based wavelength!