The orchestra of Adam Handling's culinary life culminates The Frog E1's chart-topping symphony.
The buzz surrounding the opening of the latest addition to Ely's yard has been exuberant and expansive. The rockstars of the restaurant scene have weighed in heavily with their support for Adam Handling and his exciting new venture The Frog after leaving The Caxton Grill this spring.
I booked my seat for a packed Friday evening; only 4 days in and they are already spinning flawless plates with a deftness only the masters can achieve.
Adam Handling spent years travelling the world and found fame bringing this experience back to the UK as Head Chef at the Fairmont Hotel at St. Andrews then Head Chef at St. Ermin's Hotel St James Park. Winning both British Culinary Federation Chef of the year 2014 and Scottish Chef of the year 2015 certainly helped along the way, but his opening of Adam Handling at Caxton in 2014 left his permanent mark in the chef world and his new venture The Frog, E1 continues to forge his stardom amongst the greats.
Adam spent the evening busy but ordered at the pass in control at the helm, standing tall above the dishes, but leaning in with care and attention for each. One of his heros Massimo Bottura is much influenced by art and reason, and it's clear that this Scottish fellow now has his own canvas on which he's making a similarly imaginative mark.
First up Pork, Lovage, Crackling. This mouthful of porky goodness is crisp and light on the outside, and the most succulent juicy pork on this inside. Good on Adam for the nose-to-tail eating here, and the lovage is a perfect accompaniment.
Beetroot, beetroot and more beetroot. Well known in Adam's repertoire, this dish continues to delight. Beetroot panacotta, beetroot yuzu gel in a sugar tube with beetroot powder, these starting dishes brought out by the chefs themselves it's all I can do but stare at the beauty plated before me. What fun! I do so love a tasting menu. If I were to say it packs a punch it would convey perhaps too much power, but in truth it is very beety but expertly moderated.
Beer, beef, chili. While this might look like a fold of rice crispies, it's actually a glorious beer batter crisp topped with light, sweet and ever so slightly tangy beef tartare and grated egg yolk. A bit of a trick to pick up and eat easily, but well worth it.
Bread, chicken butter. How to add to bread and butter? Easy, add chicken! I reckon the butter is softened with some great chicken stock into a perfect quenelle - a great idea by the Frog and one that makes this ordinary side dish into an event itself. Moorish and had to be careful not to eat too much!
Mackerel, apple, avocado, lime. Served on a large pleasingly irregular plate (Adam gets much of his plate-ware made specially for the restaurant) the flavours balanced well here; the lime across the fish, the apple sharp to balance the avocado smoothness and I thought the caviar a nice touch of contrast in colour while giving a gentle nod to the sea. The mackerel was cooked perfectly as you'd hope, but always delight to behold the crispy skin and silky white fish underneath. Damn it wish I had grown so many edible interesting leaves in my garden - time to get planting!
Roast hake, limestone potato, tarragon. Hake is a great fish, and here sets itself aside the potato which hails from limestone soil - a fact that grows a very high quality tuber. The most fun part of this dish has to be the vividly green tarragon oil pooled with beurre blanc, which when you burst it's banks it create a river akin to all the glory of breaking a golden poached yolk. This is Adam's favourite dish and quite rightly so, it looks simple, but it takes a mastery known to few to achieve such a harmonious flavour balance.
Lamb, artichoke, wild garlic. For me the main event of any menu, even that of a 10 course tasting menu is that in which meat features prominently. Although each course explodes in my mind with excitement it was my soul that exploded courtesy of this lamb rump. The wild garlic dressing has an earthy grassiness which reminds me of the meadows and pastures on which this expertly cooked lamb once roamed. The message is clear here and the honesty of that message makes me smile. Nice one Adam. Very nice indeed.
Cheese Doughnut. Various cheeses, stuffed, grated, melted - added to a light savoury doughnut dusted with truffle makes the cheese course interesting and the right size when coupled with all the others. I could have eaten more but there were still two more courses to go!
Almond, dill, milk. I'd have never known to put dill with milk, but then I'm not a chef and here's proof it works in spades. The complexities of texture and colour made me gleely chuckle out-loud, hopefully I was not overheard by 'Dundee Jake' the superb and ever attentive barman (you will not find a water spot on any glass anywhere, and scarcely a better G&T in London either). More good plate-ware by Adam again, feeding my infatuation with interesting crockery.
Nitro tiramisu. Arriving in a flurry of nitro-mist this impressive dish is akin to a birthday sparkler for adults. Icecream, sticky middle, rich chocolate and biscuity base, by this time I didn't care who knew it, I was in love with this food and wondered if it was rude to lick the plate? I am done - done with ways to describe how pleasurable to food is, how well thought out the restaurant, the friendly staff and how this meal has knocked my proverbial socks off. A sublime way to end the meal.
So, Adam Handling is set to win the heck out of not just Ely's Yard; there's now no need to go to any other restaurant in London.
The Frog, E1 who's bar champions local beers, theatrical cocktails and decent sparkles has a pass run by a superstar, a kitchen run with pure passion and a front of house run with familial fluidity turning out fine dining food with a heart-warming acceptance that customers now want really great food, but should not expect to pay £200 for the pleasure. Just £40pp for the tasting menu and I feel like I cheated him - so I bought his book too to make up for it.
This first week of opening usually proves the toughest for any venture, but this one is solid, well thought out and worth the trip from any part of the country.
I left the restaurant surrounded by delighted smiles and loud elation.
Do not watch this space, visit it instead, and lead others to do so for there is no greater event than to experience this creative triumph. I look forward with eager anticipation to see what's next...
More details and to book click here
2 Ely's Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street E1 6QR
I wish Adam every success at The Frog and also in the soon to be shown Great British Menu - details here
*I was not invited to review, all words are my own.*