Adam Handling’s ‘The Frog’
For the most part, fine dining is still something to experience in a quiet, immaculately decorated room. White linen tablecloths, carefully chosen china and shiny, matching cutlery. Hushed voices discussing the merits of Margaux over Pomerol with an attentive sommelier on hand to advise. And, not a chef to be seen, except perhaps through the window to the pass. Adam Handling’s new restaurant, The Frog, turns all that on its head in a counter to the ever-so-refined setting of his previous restaurant, Caxton Grill in St Ermin’s Hotel.
A well-timed move, in my eyes at least, the world of dining out is evolving fast. Of course, we understand the attraction of the Theatre of Kitchen now – Masterchef and Hell’s Kitchen have made sure of that. And, we understand that great food can be served in many contexts – from the Michelin Starred Hawker stands of Singapore, the best of the gastropubs in England right through to the elite surroundings of Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester . Adam has grown-up as a media personality – winning Scottish Young Chef of the Year in 2011, Scottish Chef of the Year in 2015, Newcomer Restaurant of the Year in the Food and Travel Reader Awards 2015, as well as the British Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year 2014 all by the age of 27. So perhaps it’s not surprising that his own restaurant has a theatrical element to it. The kitchen is open, the dishes are mostly served by the chefs who prepare them and there’s something of a rock and roll feel about the place. You can even buy the chefs a beer at the end of the meal if you’ve enjoyed yourself. For me and my companion for the evening, when we arrive the music is a little loud. But I suspect the target market is a younger generation and, if I’m honest, it’s something that stops being important after you start to eat.
We went along to try the Tasting Menu at £45pp. For the purpose of research we also ordered one of the drink pairings (£40pp), most of which ended up in my glass! And, that was preceded by a rather splendid Old Fashioned for me and a Kombucha Bellini for my friend.
The tasting menu at The Frog starts with a whole set of what might otherwise pass for extremely posh bar snacks. Pairing with a glass of prosecco seemed like the obvious solution – especially as I don’t like beer (there is a full craft beer pairing for those who do).
Chorizo, cheese and onion was rich and Spanish tasting, yet still very dainty.
Crab, seaweed and apple, a morsel of sea flavours where I’d happily have eaten a trayful
Beer, beef and egg, rich and creamy on the lightest and crispiest cracker with added piquancy from chilli and ketchup.
And for us, the star of this section, a seemingly simple dish of bread and chicken butter. We asked how the chicken butter was made – it’s clarified butter which is cooled and whipped with crispy chicken skin and nori seaweed powder. It tasted for all the world as if you were being wrapped up in a warm and comforting blanket. My companion looked wistfully and asked if the remainder could be wrapped up for her to take home…only to be presented a little later in the evening with a full piping bag of contentment.
Celeriac, truffle, yolk, apple and dates was one of the dishes we’d sampled at the launch party. I think both of us had gone back for seconds, maybe thirds on that occasion. It was no lesser a dish this time, with delicate wafers of celeriac complementing a carefully balanced palate of flavours. I loved the pairing with a Vermentino too.
The roast cod with white beans and pancetta was a classic dish, beautifully executed, updated with a light sauce and garnish of nasturtium leaves and paired with Etra Albarino from Spain.
And, our final main dish – beef with sour cream and black garlic was a kaleidoscope on the plate and in the mouth, with meltingly tender beef complemented by the smoky black garlic and by a glass of Finca la Escuela Tinto Negro Malbec 2011.
A naughty cheese course of those terribly morish cheese doughnuts we tried at the launch party, paired with a glass of late bottled Grahams Port, followed before a welcome, light and fresh pre-dessert of cherry and chocolate – a sorbet in a cherry soup with tiny crisp chocolatey morsels.
For dessert, there’s a choice of three options – we picked the Nitro Tiramisu (which adds a £5 supplement, well worth the extra) and Yuzu, white chocolate and whisky
Our matched dessert wine was a remarkable Late Harvest Sauvignon Bland Noble, from Stellenbosch, the 2010 Mulderbosch.
It was a meal to stagger home from. One which was memorable and truly delicious. And one which I hope I’ll be able to repeat, dragging some of my friends kicking and screaming to hip East London for the sake of some very, very fine food.
The Frog Restaurant, 2 Ely’s Yard, Old Truman Brewery, London, E1 6QR