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Adam Handling, Covent Garden – Frog Restaurant and Eve Bar.
Not bad as a last before lockdown lunch, I’ve been meaning to visit Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden for some time. As it happens, I made it just before all restaurants in the UK were closed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a bitter symmetry to that for me, almost the first place I visited when I started writing for London-Unattached was the Caxton Grill, where Adam Handling was the head chef. I went to the first Frog pop-up, in Spitalfields. I’ve visited and reviewed The Frog, Hoxton. I’ve even had afternoon tea at the luxurious Belmond Cadogan Hotel where Adam is executive chef. (it was awarded ‘Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea’ at the Afternoon Tea Awards 2019). To date, I’ve loved every experience. I’m not surprised that Adam won Chef of the Year in the 2019 Food and Travel reader awards, another accolade under his belt.
Adam’s food focusses on dishes made with top quality seasonal ingredients, beautifully presented modern British dishes. The Frog Covent Garden is his flagship restaurant. Head Chef, Cleverson Cordeiro who comes from Brazil and after working at Maze for seven-year, joined Adam in 2017 for the launch of Frog by Adam Handling. And, there’s a team of friendly, knowledgeable chefs who both cook and serve the food, just as they did in the original Frog pop-up in Spitalfields.
The Covent Garden Frog is posher, swankier and altogether more grown-up than the Hoxton restaurant. It follows the same format with a basement speakeasy-style bar though – and Eve Bar is definitely on my list to visit once the world reopens.
It’s wonderfully quirky throughout, with stunning stained glass panels and a hidden semi-private area that would be perfect for a small group. Upstairs, the main restaurant achieves a muted sophistication with dark marble tables, designer copper lighting over the open-plan kitchen, comfy padded dining chairs and a wooden floor. It’s the kind of place where you could go for a date – or have a business meeting. Or just enjoy the food!
What’s particularly good for those of us who have followed Adam Handling over the years is to see some of the special dishes we tried when he launched The Frog in its pop-up site in Spitalfields reappearing. They have evolved, become more grown-up and refined. But, the much-beloved chicken butter is still on the menu, as are the cheese doughnuts and a curious dish called ‘Mother’ which just works when everything you hear about it screams out that it shouldn’t.
Apart from a concise a la carte menu with just four options for each course, there are two tasting menus. The five-course tasting menu is priced at £75 and, in the evenings, there’s a larger signature tasting menu for £125. There are vegetarian options and those with dietary requirements can be catered for
We started the meal with a glass of Champagne Lallier from Ay, a Grand Reserve Grand Cru champagne that’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A lovely toasty mouthful, it’s an excellent aperitif and paired nicely with the snacks brought out to us by one of the chefs.
Stunningly beautiful wonton wrappers were filled with wagyu beef tartare and black truffle and decorated with tiny flowers filled with smoked cod emulsion and caviar. An explosive mouthful of deliciousness.
Those infamous cheesy doughnuts, filled with mornay sauce and topped with parmesan were finished with a generous grating of fresh black Périgord truffle.
And, a hay basket contained eggs, filled with the lightest, fluffy mashed potato, hay infused beurre blanc, chives and Adam’s own brand of caviar arrived with a hay smoke.
Chicken butter, the next dish on the menu has evolved and comes with a topping of crispy chicken skin and is whipped through with nori and chicken jus. The first time we tried this dish, my companion was so enthusiastic that the kitchen kindly presented her with a piping bag full of the stuff to take home. Served with IPA sourdough it’s the sort of dish I’d happily pig out on and is so much more than the normal restaurant breadbasket.
‘Mother’ was apparently created when Adam’s mum phoned at short notice to say she was coming to the restaurant. As she was vegetarian, Adam created this dish from what he could – fine layers of salt-baked celeriac filled with cream cheese and egg yolk confit, figs, and lime and topped with cep powder and freshly grated black truffle.
Our pairing was the organic and biodynamic Sepp Moser Grüner Veltliner von den Terrassen 2018 with citrus and herbal notes.
Squid ink mushroom agnolotti, accompanied with a black garlic puree, garlic foam and parsley emulsion and finished with chive oil was a dramatic-looking dish. Perfectly al-dente pasta contrasted with the light, fragrant foam and the parsley emulsion. The pairing here was the single-vineyard Hungarian Monopole Blues Kékfrankos (2016) with notes of red cherry, redcurrant and leather – a fresh juicy red fruit wine that is aged for 22 months in oak.
Then the chefs brought out a special treat for us from the 8-course tasting menu, just so that we could try it. Lobster tail cooked in Highland wagyu fat was one of those delicious mouthfuls you just want to go on forever.
Next up, a dish of cod with spiced carrot puree finished at the table with lemongrass creme. This was paired with Cape Coral 2019 Mourvèdre from Stellenbosch, South Africa, a fragrant light rosé with crisp acidity and notes of raspberries
Our final savoury course was a Himalayan salt-cured duck, with Szechuan pepper and Earl Grey tea crust, with a quince reduction and burnt cream. Paired with a full-bodied 2014 Dao Sul Casa de Santar Reserva, aged in French oak. A delicious rich wine with firm tannins and a great end to the savoury part of the meal.
Pre-dessert was a tart blackcurrant sorbet with a creamy champagne foam.
We went on to try one each of the desserts offered on the tasting menu.
My personal favourite was the stunning and beautifully balanced chamomile, apple and beetroot dish which had a lovely earthiness from the beetroot contrasting with the tart apple.
Cucumber, celeriac and dill was fresh and savoury, a summery dish that was light and easy to eat.
The pairing of the Rude Mechanicals ‘Suck it and See’ Frizzante had my Aussie companion smiling. From the Barossa Valley, this wine is made by a maverick group who like to break the rules. This one is a blend of Frontignac and Gewurztraminer, to create a sweet, light and freshly aromatic sparkling wine.
We finished the meal with coffee and petits fours, tiny mouthfuls of a plum teacake, nougat and housemade fudge topped with yuzu. And, went home with a bonus brownie each – mine saved for elevenses the next day and absolutely perfect.
I’m really delighted to have finally tried Frog by Adam Handling – it’s Adams flagship restaurant site and has a fistful of awards including ‘Best Newcomer’ in the 2018 Food & Travel Reader Awards, was voted ‘Best Overall Wine List’ at the 2019 Wine List Confidential awards and most recently, was awarded ‘Cocktail List of the Year’ at the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards 2019.
Frog by Adam Handling
34-35 Southampton St,
London WC2E 7HG