IT IS a Thursday night and I’m in town to meet friends for a post-summer catch up. We’re looking for good food at a decent price somewhere that is conducive to chat, so I’ve booked a table at Hanover Street hangout, The Dogs.
I haven’t been here for a while, but the aim of this distinctive eaterie was always to offer great food and good value in a relaxed atmosphere. Dog lover and founder David Ramsden – still a hands-on and charismatic presence in the restaurant – has long been a prominent figure on Edinburgh’s dining scene (he previously owned Rogue on Morrison Street) and launched The Dogs eight years ago. There were three other “dogs” establishments in the interim, but sadly the original is the only one still operating.
The informal tone is set from the off. A couple of stone dog statues guard the entrance to a hallway that houses an old sofa, pictures of dogs abound and an old staircase winds its way up to two dining rooms, giving the sense of visiting a friend’s house.
The main dining room to the right – filled with the buzz of conversation – is a white-painted space with a bar at one end and a huge portrait of, what else, a dog’s head, above it.
We are seated in the smaller dining room to the left, which has a handful of tables. Black and white patterned paper adorns one wall while the canine capers continue with a silhouette-style wall covering portraying dogs on a door behind us. Candles flicker warmly on wooden tables and food is served on pretty, mismatched crockery.
We order a bottle of Chilean Condorito, Sauvignon Blanc (£18.30) from the concise wine list – there is also a range of “finer wines” which start from around £35 a bottle – to aid our choice from a menu I would describe as British and Scottish classics with a modern twist. Cullen skink and beer-braised rabbit sit happily alongside mixed nut and quinoa loaf.
Tracey starts off with whisky-smoked salmon piled atop baby potatoes, beetroot salad and crème fraîche (£5.95). Beetroot and salmon might not seem an obvious combo, but judging by how quickly they are dispatched they are perfect partners, with the whisky adding a spicy hit.
Helen has beetroot and goat’s cheese barley risotto with pine nuts and watercress (£5.55). It is served in an enamel dish, reminiscent of 70s camping trips, and features a naturally sweet mix of textures; the beetroot doesn’t overwhelm, but the dish on the whole doesn’t bowl her over.
I can’t see past the mussels (£5.75) and these moreish morsels with a slightly tart cider sauce and a hint of cream are spot on – little bits of bacon add a wonderfully salty bite, although, as they don’t come with bread, I wish I’d had the foresight to order some to properly soak it all up.
Tracey’s main of fish and chips with mushy peas and homemade tartare sauce (£12.80) is ideal comfort food. Lightly battered fish, generous chunky chips, and the best mushy peas and tartare she’s had in a long while all add up to a major hit.
Helen’s hake, served with creamed leeks and chorizo in a pool of green curry sauce (£10.45), is just as popular. Chorizo and white fish are great plate mates, while the green curry flavour is more of a nod to spiciness and suitable for even the mildest curry eater.
With all this fish swimming around, I opt for the flat iron steak, which comes with chips and beef tomato (£12.95). This is a cut I’m not familiar with, but it turns out to be an excellent choice, with the rectangular, chunky slab of meat full of flavour and far more tender than expected. The chubby chips mop up juices beautifully. No doggy bags here – the plates look licked clean.
The dining room next door is now empty and there is only one other table aside from us left in our room, but thankfully there’s still time to squeeze in a bit of pudding and no feeling that we are being chased out of the door.
Helen’s lemon posset with ginger biscuit (£5.20) is a dream with its light, cheekbone-drawing sharpness. My apple sour cheesecake with gin and tonic sorbet (£5.55) is as pretty as a picture – it has a glossy green topping and the cheesecake is firm and creamy without being cloying, but the almost fizzy sorbet with its hint of gin really elevates the dessert.
Our bill for three totals £70.15, which seems very reasonable for three courses, while service is friendly and efficient. The consensus is that The Dogs is a fine place to eat, drink and chat; still barking up the right tree.
Desserts £4.55-£5.55 (cheese £5.95)
ALSO ON THE MENU
Lunch at The Dogs is served from noon-2.30pm. Choose from the likes of marinated salmon and cream cheese relish and toast (£5.75 as a starter or £8.15 as a main), red curry with rice (from £5.30), coronation chicken open sandwich (£6.45), although the beef burger, smoked cheddar, bacon and baby gem (£7.60) served up with spiced chips (£2.45) on the side might be hard to ignore.