Tuesday 1 June 2010

The Ginger Dog - Brighton

Expectation, or indeed, the lack of it, can sometimes be a blessing when it comes to eating at restaurants. Stumbling across some anonymous dining gem, purely by chance, where the food exceeds, surprises and delights, somehow accentuates the whole pleasantness of the experience by a considerable factor. You happily settle the bill and stroll into the cool night air, radiating a feeling of contentment only made possible by such unexpected gratification.

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



PDH said...

Really good read Dan, shame you had a shoddy meal but at least you got to pen such gems as:

"As you pick yourself up from the floor, clutching your bruised and mangled crotch the only feelings you’re radiating are resentment and sadness"


"As we finished our starters, an uneaten, unloved donkey choking sized lump of Salmon remained on the plate, a monument to excess."


Anonymous said...

Fran gave me the same appraisal when I saw her last week. Gutted. I was delighted to hear about the Ginger empire expanding, but now I'm afraid they are going to undo the good reputation that they have built up over the last few years. I'm going to give them a month and then go... hopefully I'll be able to give a more positive review by then!

Dan said...

Paul - Hahaha Thanks very much.I guess it's easier to write in a more amusing style when the subject matter is so abysmal. But like you say, at least it gives me something to write about!

Feedetgastro - I was gutted too. Love the Ginger Pig, such a good place. I was so dissapointed when the Ginger Dog just wasn't upto scratch. I really hope they pull it together, and will be hoping to read a positive review from you in a months time!

meemalee said...

Sad but true that the worst dining experiences often give life to the finest prose.

Lovely read x

catty said...

Sounds like a terrible experience. The iced vanilla parfait looks so pretty it's a shame it was horrendous!

Dan said...

MiMi - very true. Thanks :)

Catty - I know, was a real shame - especially as a dessert I'd sampled before at its sister restaurant, The Ginger Pig (peanut butter parfait, praline and marshmallow) was soooo bloody incredible. High hopes - dashed!

Unknown said...

I hate wasting food so I can see why the excess salmon annoyed you. What a pity when speaking from experience I can agree with you and say that The Ginger Pig is a fantastic gastro pub.

The Ample Cook said...

Oh wow, that salmon was sheer laziness wasn't it? Not easy to put that on your blini eh?

This place is a work in progress I think.

As always Dan, great write up.

The Ample Cook said...

ps. How could I have omitted to comment on the potted rabbit? A. Disgrace. Should never have left the kitchen.

Unknown said...

Screw the quality (or otherwise) of the food; they lost me at 'bitches'. Sorry Gingerman Group but misogyny is NOT cool. Not cool at all.

Dan said...

Gourmet Chick - Agreed, it was such a waste of nice food, and one Blini with such a huge lump?

Jan - Thanks, yep seems like its definitely a work in progress, and yep - the potted rabbit was a disgrace, the more I think about it - the more it pisses me off. I may go back and give it another chance the next time Im in Brighton, see if it's got its act together.

Hugh - I can see what you're saying, but in fairness, the two women in our party that we dined with found it mildly amusing, and I think I'm right in saying neither would be backwards coming forwards if they thought it the slightest bit offensive.
I think accusations of misogyny may be coming it a bit strong, but they are leaving theselves open to it.....perhaps more ill judged.

Greedy Diva said...

Only 1 blini! Sob.

Dan said...

Greedy Diva - I know. Massive chunk of Salmon, 1 Blini..eh?

Graphic Foodie said...

"I think I'm right in saying neither would be backwards coming forwards" - damn skippy!

It's a good point made by Hugh but one must remember this is the Kemptown area of Brighton and this sort of thing would titillate the locals.

Dan said...

FOLLOW UP - I recieved this email from one of the owners of The Ginger Dog, I asked for their permission to post it here as I believe it does them credit....

Hi Dan

Ouch this has made very hard reading and sadly in the restaurant business you are only as good as your last meal. But can I assure you our eyes have been very much on our new site The Ginger Dog and its hurts reading such a review. But whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and we very much want to tell you we didn’t get it right the time you came in but we do get it right more times than not. All our sauces and ice creams are made on site by a team who have been with us for years. We source meat from farmers we know and animals we have seen being reared.

The sign in the toilets was a bit of fun, we asked customers on our facebook site what they thought before we opened. The response was good so we went with it. After a few weeks of being open we removed the signs after a couple of our customers complained. We would never set out to offend people.

All I can say is we are sorry you didn’t enjoy your meal and please give us another try, I’m sure your experience will be different.

Kind Regards,

Pamela Mckellar
The Ginger Dog

Anonymous said...

I've been eating at the Ginger Dog since it opened. I did have one sightly less than perfect experience but very early on. Your review seems a very damning one; hence I felt the need to respond. I am a hardened Brighton based foodie and can reassure readers the food at this place is now fabulous and the staff (in particular their restaurant manager Zoe) are brilliant. Please don’t let the comments from our somewhat bitchy (pardon the pun) reviewer dissuade you.

Dan said...

Anonymous yet hardened Brighton based foodie -
I'm really pleased to hear that the Ginger Dog has improved. As you would have read in my review, I wanted nothing less, as I'd loved the previous Gingerman group restaurants I'd visited (Pig/Fox). I was so dissapointed when the Dog wasn't up to scratch. Best of luck to them.

Colin Greenland said...

We've just had a wonderful meal at the Ginger Dog: fresh, inventive, tasty; beautifully presented and served with just the right degree of friendly attention. I loved the slow-braised cuttlefish, and the dripping-fried chips are perfect. Good beer too.

Whatever your complaint was with the loos, they've clearly sorted it out. We'll be back there just as soon as we can.