Please note, Top Dog Diner is now closed. Time Out Food editors, July 2016.
The hot dogs at this new Soho eatery are about as pretty as hot dogs get. Artful lattices of sauce from a squeezy bottle announce that Top Dog wants to give the humble tube steak the Best in Show award in the Crufts of gastronomy. The proprietors put a ‘healthy’ spin on their offering, and the pups are produced in London.
As someone who grew up eating (and loving) hot dogs in New York, I applaud every effort to get serious about these tubes of delight. And I enjoyed eating a couple of times at Top Dog, which has arrived in Soho to a fanfare of PR and Twitter trumpets. (Lisa Snowdon attended the launch.) It’s a nice-looking place, and blessed with friendly staff. They were still a little flustered in the first week, as some systems were not fully up to speed, but a second visit a week later went much more smoothly.
On our first visit, our duo of dogs disappointed us. We ordered the ‘Soho’ (£4.95) and the ‘Sloppy’ (£7.50). When they arrived, we couldn’t tell which was which and neither, initially, could the waiting staff. After conferring, they pointed out a small fringe of baked beans peeping out of the cleft in the Sloppy. That minimal difference carried on in the eating experience. The two dogs didn’t taste very different from one other. They were perfectly OK, but they were undistinguished.
Second time round we barked enthusiastically for the Chicago and Kimchi version, which were more clearly distinguishable one from the other. The latter didn’t taste like kimchi, the Korean pickled-cabbage condiment that gives it its name, but it was good. Both cost £7.50.
We had two sides, fries and apple slaw. The fries were of unusually good quality, thin-cut and addictively crunchy. The slaw (£2) was more like sauerkraut than coleslaw on our first visit, dominated by the flavours of fermentation. On the second visit it was better, but we thought the recipe could benefit from a rethink.
Hot dog + side dish should = lunch. After finishing here, we still felt hungry. Which wouldn’t be so bad, but this light meal can set you back a schnauzer’s-hair over 20 quid (before tip). Spending the same amount at Herman ze German (there’s a branch one minute’s walk away) could render you immobile.
We liked the idea of Top Dog, and we liked being there. With luck, they’ll do what it takes to make them truly the top dog. They’ve got the bark. What they need is the bite.