This is really the nostalgic American burger that I’m after, and Byng confesses that he once brought back a suitcase full of Martin’s Potato Rolls from the States for “burger research,” so that he could capture the buns’ taste and texture. Byron’s burger is far less messy than Meat Liquor’s and boasts fewer frills, but it’s nice not to need a whole roll of paper towels to wipe my hands with.
Byng won’t concede that he started the trend, but since Byron opened in 2007, a premium-priced-patty craze has swept London. In a cursory search, I’m overwhelmed by all the choices: Burger & Lobster, Patty & Bun, Mother Flipper, Honest Burgers, Dirty Burger, Lucky Chip, SliderBar, plus Papoutsis and Collins’s infamous Meat empire of Meat Market, Meat Mission and Meat Liquor.
Even American restaurateur Danny Meyer, the owner of patty-chic purveyor Shake Shack, has caught on to the movement and plans to open his first British outpost in London’s historic Covent Garden market this summer.
The fad doesn’t stop at burgers. Since it opened last August, Bubbledogs, a restaurant that pairs hot dogs with champagne, has swiftly become the darling of this city fixated on poshed-up junk food. Though it may be the age of austerity here, I couldn’t believe that Brits would ditch caviar for wieners. But they have.
Instead of being scared off by the wait at Bubbledogs, which can be up to two hours on weekends, customers indulge in a pre-dinner street party outside. Fashionable media types from the local Fitzrovia neighborhood bring along cans of gin and tonic to sip while they brave the elements. (At the end of a Saturday evening, the sidewalk is strewn with empties.)
After friends warn me about the long wait around dinnertime, I decide to pop in for a late lunch on a weekday. At 3 p.m., Bubbledogs is tame, and I easily grab a seat at a high wooden table. The restaurant is relatively small, and I can see how it could quickly get mobbed.
The afternoon crowd is mixed, with a smattering of professionals, tourists and families. A few linger at the copper-topped bar, but for the most part, people seem to have come in for a quick bite. I know that it’s slightly early for alcohol, but I order a glass of Gaston Chiquet anyway.
Bubbledogs’ owners — Sandia Chang, a California sommelier, and her husband, James Knappett, former chef at Michelin-starred restaurant the Ledbury — have created a concise menu featuring 10 dogs. After mulling the New Yorker, served street-cart-vendor-style with sauerkraut and onions, I decide on the Fourth of July, a bacon-wrapped hot dog with smoky barbecue sauce and coleslaw, plus a side of crunchy tater tots.