Q&A: Bubbledogs' Sandia Chang on bar dining, wine, and fine-dining dude-food

Bubbledog's Sandia Chang's new pop-up is anything but the dog's dinner. We talk to the super sommelier about French and English sparkling wine and the quirks of the London food scene

Sandia Chang

Can't find a date for Valentine's Day? Ever thought about taking your dog for a delicious dinner instead? No, we're not barking mad – you'll be able to do just that at the Dogs Trust's MicroChippy, a dog-friendly restaurant running from 13 to 14 February. The food is guaranteed to be good too, as it's being headed up by hot dog and champagne expert Sandia Chang of Bubbledogs, whose CV includes stints at Simon Rogan's Roganic and Marcus Waring at The Berkley. Here, she tells us about the UK's unique sparkling wines, London's food scene and redefining the traditional champagne bar.

What is MicroChippy?

It's the first human- and dog-friendly food pop-up in the UK, working with Dogs Trust to promote getting your dog chipped. A new law is coming in on 6 April that every dog has to be microchipped, or the owner gets a £500 fine. It's important to me because I'm a dog owner myself, but it also was a good fit because I run Bubbledogs.

What's going to be on the menu?

There's going to be three hot dogs for humans. The Rescue Dog, which is just for the pop-up, has a bourbon and onion jam; cheddar; bacon and Coleman's mustard. There's the Slum Dog, which is vegetarian, with mango chutney; spicy mint and coriander sauce; and topped with crispy chickpeas. And the last one is the Snoop Dog; it's going to have a Southern-style barbecue sauce, with crispy coleslaw and crispy bacon on top. There'll be dog-friendly ones too. The 'sausage' will be made with sweet potatoes, and the bun will be made of bacon fat and whole wheat flour. It's as close to a hot dog as I can get. And the dogs will have a side, too – peanut butter and banana biscuits in the shape of a champagne bottle, so the dogs get their hot dog and champagne, too!

Will you be doing the champagne pairings like you do at the restaurant?

We'll have a grower champagne [a champagne from a winemaker that owns its own vineyard] that will be poured that day, and everyone who buys a ticket will get a hot dog, champagne and a side.

Do you think doing pop-ups like this is one way of doing new things in London's industry now that it's become saturated?

Doing things in partnership with charities is always great for everyone involved, but it's also a great opportunity for us to do something different and to push our boundaries. We've never made dog biscuits before, so it's quite fun. It also gets your name out there in a different market. We're mostly based in central London, so east is a new target market for us.

Who'd have thought we'd suddenly have a preferred country of origin for our coffee beans?

How did you come up with the idea for Bubbledogs?

I wanted to open a champagne bar – my background is in wines – but I always hated all the champagne bars I'd been in. They were too stuffy, with velvet couches and crystal chandeliers, and I wanted to create a place where people could enjoy champagne every day of the year. And I started thinking about the things that I like to eat with champagne, which is usually chips, charcuterie and cheese, really simple things, and, being American, I thought, why not hot dogs? Everyone understands a hot dog, it's not intimidating, so it's one of those things that makes people feel a bit more comfortable coming in, and it's also good to pair with champagne.

Setting up Bubbledogs wasn't about seeing an opportunity, it was about seeing a challenge. I saw when I moved to England that the English are very brand-driven when it comes to champagne. You see Moet and Veuve Clicquot everywhere, and, when we opened, no one knew anything about small-grower champagnes. I saw it as a challenge to get people to realise that there are amazing champagnes out there for so much less money, and some are even better. Somebody needed to show them.

In New York, people are a bit more well-travelled and bohemian, they want the smaller artisanal things so they seek it out. It has changed a lot in the UK though – there's fewer chains and more independents. All these different coffee shops have opened up, and all of sudden people have a preferred country of origin for their coffee beans. Who'd have thought we'd care?

How do you go about pairing champagne with a hot dog?

Generally a hot dog is really flavoursome and greasy, and that's why champagne pairs so well with it, because it's got high acidity and it's so refreshing. I think that as long as you pick the style of champagne that you enjoy, it'll go with any hot dog. I don't have a favourite pairing – that's like asking me who my favourite child is!

Do you have any favourite English sparkling wines?

At the moment it's Gusbourne, but we also used to pour Balfour, which is from Hush Heath Estate. Nyetimber is always very good as well. I love Gusbourne because it's really fresh and clean. I think English sparkling wines can tend to be a bit sharper in general because we don't get as much sunshine. It's a similar climate to Champagne, but there's more rain and less sun here, so the grapes don't get as ripe and are a bit more acidic. Some producers will showcase that acidity, but some compensate with sugar and then you get a sweeter style of champagne, so it makes it more consumer-friendly.

Would you ever open a second Bubbledogs?

I'd love to, and I'd love to do it outside London too, but I think to make that second restaurant it would have to be quite close so I could learn how to run two at the same time before I move it somewhere further away.

How come you decided to open Kitchen Table within Bubbledogs, rather than as a standalone restaurant?

The whole site was both my and my husband's idea, but we couldn't decide on a single restaurant concept. I wanted something casual and fun, and he wanted to stick with his fine-dining training. At the end, instead of fighting, we compromised and it just worked out. We wouldn't separate them, it wouldn't be the same, but we have been thinking about opening a more casual style of Kitchen Table's food.

In the UK, the bar and the restaurant are very separate things

What do you like most and least about London's food and drink scene?

It feels so young and fresh, and everyone's so excited all the time. New York is getting a bit stale and everyone expects to have lots of fun new choices, but here people are still so excited whenever something new opens. Everyone keeps looking for the best they can find.

I'd love to see more restaurants where you can eat at the bar. You can do that at Bubbledogs, although lots of people are quite surprised and seem to regard it a bit negatively. I think in English culture, the bar and the restaurant are two very separate things, at least from my point of view. You start in the bar and have a drink while looking at the menu, and then you move to the restaurant. It's really interesting. Kitchen Table [the Michelin-starred restaurant at the back of Bubbledogs] is all bar seating, and the majority of our guests in there are American. Very often, we'll only get one couple in there who are English. I think that's also because of the communal seating. The English aren't very big into sharing close proximity with strangers. Bar dining is more popular in the States, even at Michelin-starred restaurants.

How do you feel about doing pop-ups vs doing restaurants?

It's fun, but it's a lot harder to do pop-ups, because nothing is stable there, so you bring in your own equipment, you're setting up in a different area and everything is completely alien. If you run a restaurant, you're just there doing the same thing every day. When you have a restaurant and you do a pop-up in conjunction with that, you always have to find extra staff, you need to come up with different things to cook because you are away from home. It's never smooth sailing and you always have to prepare for the worst. Last time we had a day when all the gas canisters had run out and no one knew so we couldn't cook, there was a power cut and the hot water wasn't working for a while so we had to wash dishes uses water from the kettle. The show still went on, though!

MicroChippy will be running 13-14 February at Printworks Kitchen, 20-26 Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4SX;