After winning Scottish Young Chef of the year in 2011, Adam Handling’s career has gone from strength to strength. A runner-up on MasterChef in 2013, he has since brought his unique love of Asian flavours and his creative approach to seasonal ingredients to various residencies, and now has four restaurants and bars across the capital, including Frog by Adam Handling in Covent Garden and Iron Stag Bar in Hoxton as well as the latest The Frog Hoxton, which opened in July.
Outside, The Frog is a picture of elegant cool with its black facade, gold sign and tagged logo. Inside the graffiti references continue – a reflection of the Shoreditch street-art scene on its doorstep – with a vibrantly graffitied wall on one side of the dining room, framed graffiti tags and an Origin of the Species-inspired wall sculpture depicting the evolution of man from, of course, a frog. The atmosphere is instantly lively. There are windows on two sides of the space, and sills peppered with potted herbs and greenery, and a long open counter-top kitchen opposite. As well as the ever-popular counter dining stools, there is an eclectic mix of simple wooden tables and Bentwood chairs – reminiscent of school days – and larger sharing tables with antique-style dining chairs upholstered in Union Jack fabric. This is the place to be if you’re feeling sociable.
It requires someone who really understands food to take a seemingly random selection of ingredients and pair them together in delicious harmony. Handling is one such chef, whose passion for Asian flavours and cooking techniques pays off in all of his dishes. The best way to experience Handling’s creative combinations is by ordering the tasting menu: eight or nine courses of explosive, experimental flavour. The first three courses, to share between two, are small but they pack serious punch. There is a delicious BBQ heritage carrot with roasted hazelnuts and mint, some moreish black beer chips cascading out of an umami cod roe dip, and the most incredible chicken butter (garnished with crispy chicken skin), which is served with an almost-too-perfect-to-break, spherical mini loaf. Needless to say we scooped up the entire dish and – had it not been for the six courses still to come – we could have easily ordered a second helping. Celeriac is the centrepiece of the next dish. Paired with yolk, apple, dates and Aussie truffle, Handling has created a completely unidentifiable yet delicious flavour with this one, reminiscent, we thought, of a pungent Burmese dish. A shrimp tartlet, and a plaice, crab and potato schnitzel followed, all complemented by a selection of paired wines. The next dish, a delicious BBQ lamb, was the ideal precursor to the absolute delight of Handling’s cheese doughnuts. Sweet and savory and oh so rich, these alone are worth repeat visits. A much-needed palette-cleansing sorbet separates the mains from the dessert: a joyful concoction of chocolate tofu, cherry and pistachio, which we were very glad to have squeezed in. Next time, we’ll make sure we arrive with completely empty stomachs.
Tasting menu, £45 per person + £50 per person with wine, and an extra £3 to add the doughnut course (recommended).
Gastronomically forward-thinking and vivaciously atmospheric, this is the ultimate Friday night hang out for in-the-know foodies. If you haven’t been already, get booking now – and have a very light (early) lunch before you go!