Conversely, expectation can sometimes deliver a brutal, steel capped kick to the groin. That restaurant you were so looking forward to visiting, the one you were so sure would be fantastic, that on paper (at least) couldn’t possibly fail…does…and badly. And as you pick yourself up from the floor, clutching your bruised and mangled crotch the only feelings you’re radiating are resentment and sadness.
It depresses me to say that last week; the recently opened Ginger Dog in Brighton’s Kemp Town delivered that particular boot to my nether regions, and it wasn’t pretty.
Let me begin by saying that I’ve eaten at two of the Brighton based Gingerman Groups restaurants in the past. The Ginger Pig in Hove and The Ginger Fox, just outside town in Albourne. Both experiences were good, very good in fact. The food was excellent, the service spot on. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the Ginger Pig delivered a couple of dishes of such quality, I’d rate them as two of the best plates of food I’ve eaten at any gastro pub in the country.
So, as you can see there’s the expectation, nicely positioned to be dashed to pieces.
The Ginger Dog is pleasant enough from a décor sense; the pub has been refurbished in an inoffensive contemporary style with some humorous touches “Dogs” and “Bitches” on the toilet doors, and top hat style lampshades illuminating the bar, last seen at the Pierre Koffman pop up on the roof of Selfridges. But, the eye of the interior designer obviously hadn’t extended beyond the jokey signage on the lavatory doors. Inside, it's business as usual, grim 70’s era pub toilet horror. I’m reliably informed the ‘Bitches’ toilet has been shown the same lack of attention. Perhaps the owners ran out of money, or its work in progress…. Which, strangely enough brings me to the food.
The menu looked promising, British…. seasonal, all the right boxes being ticked.
I started off by ordering a starter of Potted Rabbit with hot mustard piccalilli and bacon brioche. Sounds good right?
What arrived ‘looked’ the part, the bacon brioche was fine, as was the hot mustard piccalilli, but the potted rabbit was freezing cold, and just wasn’t set…. Meaty chunks of rabbit and vegetables swam past grimly, like survivors from a shipwreck as I plunged my spoon into in a sea of freezing cold, barely gelatinous fluid.
This wasn’t just a solitary errant miss, my dining companion “Mr Graphic Foodie” had ordered the same dish, and his rabbit was equally awash within a sea of arctic, jizzmesque liquid slipperyness.
Around the table “Miss Graphic Foodie’s” Sussex coast Smoked Salmon with Blinis, Gin Crème Fraiche and Baby Sorrel tasted fine, but was an incredibly unbalanced dish – a veritable slab of smoked salmon, (enough in fact, to sink the battleship afloat in my potted rabbit). It came partnered with one desultory blini.
Perhaps the kitchen had received a job lot of smoked Salmon. Or were too busy to slice the veritable hillock of fish presented on the plate. It’s unusual to complain about being given too much food I guess, but this was ridiculous. As we finished our starters, an uneaten, unloved donkey choking sized lump of Salmon remained on the plate, a monument to excess.
‘E’s starter of Fried Field Mushrooms on Toast with a Poached Duck Egg was better, but the beautifully spherical but depressingly gloopy egg needed 30 seconds more in the pan, and as with the salmon, the starter was way too big, ‘E’ commenting that it was more like a filling brunch sized dish rather than starter.
So, I think you’ll agree, a bit of a car crash first course. But, pressing on and optimistic perhaps that some decent mains could salvage the meal. I eyed my cricket ball sized Parmesan and Truffle Arancini with a naive sense that everything was going to be alright. It looked good; the accompanying goats cheese fondu and the caponata were tasty enough. Taking my first bite, yes it was ok – bit claggy perhaps, but dipped in the fondu it was pleasant. I couldn’t taste the truffle, but so far so good. Five minutes later, having barely dented its massiveness, I was sick of it, too much tasteless, leaden risotto stuffed into a behemoth of an Arancini. Another unbalanced plate of food.
Around the table – “Mr Graphic Foodies” Ham Hock, Trotter and Potato pie with buttered cabbage, although not much to look at was apparently ‘OK’, but nothing special.
“Miss Graphic Foodies” Roasted Lamb Rack with soft garlic puree and anchovy dauphinoise was generating a matching resigned lack of enthusiasm.
Once again ‘E’ had lucked out with her choice of Grilled Rye bay Plaice with Brown Shrimp, Lemon and Cucumber Butter. Although not exactly ecstatic, the feedback was ‘good’.
Hoping perhaps that at least the desserts might be up to scratch, two of us went for Ice Vanilla Parfait, Poached Rhubarb and Honeycomb and two for the Treacle Tart and double cream (‘E’ asked for ice cream instead, and a rather nice clotted cream ice was substituted).
The treacle tarts were very good, as good as any I’ve eaten anywhere, no complaints there. Although, it was noted that the clotted cream ice cream worked a lot better than the double cream that came with the dish as standard.
The iced vanilla Parfait, poached rhubarb and honeycomb was a real disappointment. The honeycomb tasted burnt and its bitter sourness pervaded the whole dish, it was quiet unpleasant actually.
All in all, our meal at The Ginger Dog was not a very good experience. It’s surprising that such a strong restaurant group, who have got it so right in the past, has got it so wrong here. Admittedly it’s only been open a month or so, but that should be more than enough time to get it right. The unbalanced dishes are something that could be perhaps overlooked, but the un-set potted rabbit and burnt honeycomb were real clangers and deserve to be highlighted.
It’s also interesting to note that some decent service and attention from the staff could have salvaged the meal entirely.
The two harassed looking waitresses were neither particularly welcoming nor much in evidence throughout the meal, not once were we asked how our meal was. Which is a bit of a cardinal sin when it comes to service really. It provides the diner a chance to make any problems known and the kitchen a chance to correct them before the diner leaves unhappy with their meal.
I offer this as an example.
After a soft opening period I recently ate at the first night of a new restaurant (which shall remain nameless). It was bloody abysmal, truly bad. But, and here’s the important bit. At the end of the night, one of the chefs came out of the kitchen and quietly went around the tables asking for honest opinions. He came to our table, and he got exactly what he asked for. The result? He ripped up the bill, asked only that we come again when they’d bedded in, and to give them another chance, which is why I’m not writing about that restaurant and writing about this one instead.
I’m afraid there’s much work needed at The Ginger Dog before it lives up to the standard of its older, more established sister restaurants.
The dogs danglies – right now, it isn’t.
The Ginger Dog
12 College Place
Telephone: 01273 620990