Adam Handling in Hoxton – The Frog.
When Adam Handling made his move from The Caxton Grill at St Ermin’s Hotel to his own achingly hip restaurant, The Frog in East London, I was lucky enough to be invited to go along and try the tasting menu there. I couldn’t help but enthuse.
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.
That particular venue has closed now and The Frog has relocated to happening Hoxton. I’ve been invited back to try the new menu. Never one to turn down the chance to retry a winning formula, I’m happy to oblige, this time with the incorrigible Hedonist and his son in tow.
The structure of the menu remains consistent with amuse bouche of ‘snacks’ to eat with your hands, together with starters, mains and desserts. The tasting menu has a somewhat awe-inspiring seven courses for £60 – though, in all honesty, many are just taster size. There’s a wine pairing, a beer pairing and even a non-alcoholic cocktail pairing. The Frog, Hoxton Square houses more than just the restaurant – Iron Stag Bar in the basement offers a full cocktail menu while around the corner, Bean and Wheat helps Adam towards a zero-waste concept by using off-cuts and surplus foods to provide the neighbourhood with a sustainable coffee shop and deli with craft beers.
We started the evening with a glass of Lallier Champagne, a soft and easy mouthful with 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay. Meanwhile, The-Hedonist’s 17-year-old son was trying the non-alcoholic Citrus and Citra cocktail with Seedlip Grove 42, rhubarb cordial and cardamom soda. Zingy and refreshing this was pronounced a hit.
Meanwhile, we’d started to feast. Tiny nori infused puffed rice crackers were topped with heritage carrots and roasted hazelnuts, with a mint jelly topping.
Pretty buckwheat crackers were topped with soft trout, garnished with dill and passion fruit to create a lovely sweet and piquant mouthful.
A dense duck meat rissole was coated in a crispy panko crumb and topped with lightly pickled cucumber and spring onion shavings. Rather a nice take on a crispy duck pancake there.
And of course the famous chicken butter, with sourdough bread for us, this time topped with plenty of crispy chicken skin. Adam’s chicken butter is made with 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. The Hedonist is pescatarian and The Frog offered a similar plateful of onion butter with crisp shards of caramelised onions and instead of the duck, a dish of kohlrabi carefully spiralised and served on a little seaweed cracker.
With it, we drank a Pinela 2017 from Slovenia, a biodynamic white wine with a fresh apple and citrusy taste. The non-alcoholic pairing was an unusual coconut gimlet made with coconut water, raspberry, sage and orange which was light, floral and slightly viscous.
Salt baked celeriac with egg yolk, apple, dates and black truffle is apparently also called ‘mother’ and was a dish Adam developed when his mother decided that she was going to be vegetarian – on the same day he opened his first restaurant. The version we had is slightly different to the one described in his own recipe book – ours was a parcel of finely sliced celeriac stuffed with cream cheese whipped with truffle oil, roasted dates and egg yolk, then garnished with fresh truffle and julienned apple. The version in his recipe book doesn’t involve making a parcel and omits the egg yolk. I’m still planning on trying it at home because it looks astonishingly good. It’s one of the signature dishes at The Frog, Hoxton and one I’d urge you to try for yourself.
With it, we enjoyed Circumstance Sauvignon Blanc, a caramel and acidic white wine, while the non-alcoholic cocktail was ‘Say Low’ Elderflower and mint cordial with buckwheat, rosemary and soda.
Next up, a tiny smoked salmon tart with burnt lemon and dill for The-Hedonist, while we enjoyed a dish of cod, crab, radish and sticky limestone potatoes. The fish came beautifully cooked with that lovely noisette butter colour.
Gouffier Bourgogne Aligoté 2016 was the pairing, a natural orange wine macerated for 4 hours to give it a rich texture with notes of vanilla and tropical fruit. Meanwhile, our non-alcoholic cocktail was a strawberry and thyme wine served with Seedlip Grove 42 and sous vide carbonated sour grape juice.
The only seriously carnivorous offering was a dish of lamb with sour cream, black garlic and roasted Jerusalem artichoke. Deliciously tender meat with the earthiness of the artichoke complementing the sweetness of the lamb. With it a glass of Château de Montfrin Côtes de Rhone 80% Shiraz and 20% Carignan with lovely raspberry notes.
Next, our cheese course – a dish I remember from the original restaurant. Cheese doughnuts are morish little puffs, filled with melted cheese and topped with grated parmesan. This time they came with a kind of gooey melted cheese too, for even more deliciousness. To accompany, Domaine La Tour Vieille, Banyuls Reserva which tastes a little like a rather special port but is actually made by long oxidative ageing in big glass-jugs. After 15 months it goes back with the rest of the cuvée in oak barrels for several years. The contact between air and wine brings the ageing flavours of coffee, nuts and prunes. Our non-alcoholic option was Kosmic Stout which looked delicious and which I’d seriously consider keeping at home for guests who are not drinking.
Pre-dessert of Orange sorbet with tarragon oil was deliciously fresh with a light herbal acidity. Pairing with a light Frizzante wine, The Rude Mechanicals ‘suck it and see’ from the Barossa Valley, a fresh strawberry Frontignac Gewürztraminer blend and a Nospresso Martini with Seedlip Grove 42, Vanilla, Chai, Chamomile and Coffee as a non-alcoholic option.
The tasting menu at The Frog, Hoxton offers three options for dessert – and since there were three of us, we were offered all three to try. We also had three options to pair- an Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Chenin Blanc late harvest 2016 which was beautifully rich with notes of passion fruit, honey and raisin with a minerally acidity. Tiny Rebel Marshmallow Porter Stay Puft, a dark chocolate non-alcoholic porter with notes of bitter coffee and a rich Muscatedou from Corsica.
Each dessert was picture perfect, the chocolate with malt and lemon rich and toasty iced mousse contrasting with a light citrus lemon sauce.
Pear, lemon grass and molasses was a stunning combination of flavours and textures with lovely light pear sorbet, poached pear meltingly soft molasses cake and lemongrass tuille
Passion fruit with miso and white chocolate was the prettiest on the dish with a sphere of white chocolate filled with a passion fruit mousse and a fresh passion fruit sorbet complemented by a light white chocolate mousse.
Desserts rounded off the meal so well that none of us felt the need for coffee. And, it’s confirmed – I’m still an Adam Handling fan – I’m planning on returning soon to try the Iron Stag Bar. I’m also curious to explore how The Frog travels to Covent Garden and for that matter how Adam handles (no pun intended) a return to the world of Hotels with his new restaurant at The Belmond Cadogan. It sounds like I’ll be doing a lot more eating. But then, there’s nothing new there.
The Frog Hoxton
45-47 Hoxton Square
London N1 6PD
or call 020 3813 9832
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