Frog by Adam Handling: Review
Adam Handling’s career as a chef is notable for a number of reasons, not least his stratospheric rise from the kitchens of Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland (where he started aged just 16) to the national stage as a finalist of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2013, aged still just 25. Clearly, to get this far you need talent and determination, and to be now opening another solo venture barely a year after the last opened in Spitalfields (while simultaneously planning a third due in 2018), you need a great deal of both.
But whether Handling likes it or not, users of social media are recently more likely to recognise him as the subject of a series of Instagram Stories videos by the restaurant critic Giles Coren, who ranted at great length about the rude couple in the corner of the Frog in Spitalfields working on their laptops and ignoring the lovely food they had ordered, before eventually realising it was none other than Handling himself and his wife, quietly catching up with some admin. Red-faced, Coren admitted his mistake, and now they’re all great friends. All’s well, etc.
Anyway, these frivolous distractions are just that – distractions. Where it matters, Handling is deadly serious, and the menu at brand-spanking-new Frog WC2 is a mature, carefully crafted tour of the finest British Isles ingredients, served in a beautiful, theatrical (literally – most tables are tilted towards the pass so you can keep an eye on what the kitchen is up to) space that invites you to appreciate to the fullest every bit of what’s offered to you.
First of which are the ‘snacks’, faintly familiar perhaps to anyone who’s done this Modern British thing in the last few years but absolutely none the less enjoyable for that. Dainty cubes of beef tartare piled on a vegetable cracker were softly bound with mustard, and ate with an incredibly satisfying bite. Attractive too were neat tubes of whipped cod’s roe, topped with dots of caviar and crème fraiche, boasting lovely fresh seafood flavours.
Speaking of theatrics, we aren’t so uptight here at Just Opened to not be able to enjoy a bit of horror movie special effects, and were totally on board with these mouthfuls of razor clam coming on a bed of animated dry ice, even if the seafood itself was a little underseasoned.
‘Chicken butter’ is the kind of thing you know you’re going to enjoy even before you taste it. In fact, we’ll go further – we think that enjoyment of ‘chicken butter’ forms part of our collective DNA; that at some point in our primordial past every human has formed an inherent desire for ‘chicken butter’, and our long evolution as a species has (among other things) been shaped by the fact that one day, ‘chicken butter’ will come into being, and we will, at long last, find nirvana. Yes, it’s that bloody good. Intensely reduced chicken stock, thick and salty as chicken-y Marmite, lies upon whipped chicken-flavoured dairy, and topped with crisp nuggets of fried skin. Spread (thickly, oh so thickly) upon the house potato and rosemary bread, it’s like all of your birthdays and Christmases have come at once.
Almost as dazzling was a ceviche, delicate slices of raw salmon layered beneath sliced jalapeno and dots of avocado cream in a citrus/pickle dressing, an utterly perfect balance of sweet, sharp and spice.
That the following courses didn’t quite live up to the astonishing heights of the chicken butter or the ceviche isn’t a scathing criticism; little would. Creamed celeriac had a nice umami-rich flavour and good strong pickles, and felt suitably decadent with black truffle shaved on top. Unfortunately, though, halibut was rather sad, a tad overcooked and overwhelmed by a sickly sweet sauce; and Iberico Presa had surprisingly little flavour at all for such a premium product, though the roast cauliflower it came with, golden brown and richly flavoured, more than made up for it.
Desserts were confidently unfussy and attractive. A delicate casing around malted chocolate mousse broke most satisfyingly with a bit of pressure from a fork, the supremely light centre dissolving in the mouth like chocolate clouds. And find us someone who can’t enjoy a sharp mandarin sorbet with white chocolate meringue and we’ll show you someone who’s entirely given up on life. This was top pastry work.
It’s tempting to frame whether or not you should visit The Frog as depending on your response to the question ‘do you want to eat some life-changing chicken butter?’, but perhaps that’s unfair. Yes, they do some things extraordinarily well, some things merely well, and one thing in particular gobsmackingly well, but these are all, to greater or lesser extents, still reasons to visit. Already a confident and intelligent operation, Handling and his team (including a sommelier bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jon Hamm, who matched some very interesting wines and a sake) can only get better from here, and we’re more than excited to see how the changing seasons will be reflected in the menu. Just so long as they keep the chicken butter on. We draw the line at that.
Frog by Adam Handling, 35 Southampton Street, WC2E 7HE
JOL was invited to review Frog by Adam Handling on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.