London Hasn't Yet Discovered This Millennial Chef But Should
The Frog looks like a casual bar-cafe for the East London hipsters who hang out around the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane.
The tables are bare, the design industrial, the music loud, the prices low.
Don't be fooled: The cooking is more serious than in many fancy restaurants, with a focus on flavor and an appreciation of aesthetics. Simply put, the food looks and tastes great. It's modern Michelin-level food, only the stars are in the kitchen not on the wall.
Chef Adam Handling sets out his stall with snacks at the start of a meal in this contemporary British restaurant. Pork and Lovage features the intense meaty flavor of compressed pig's head topped with the clean, celery flavors of lovage.
Beetroot and More Beetroot is prepared three ways, with panna cotta, as a yuzu gel and as a powder with burnt sugar. It's a mix of textures and tastes, the sweetness held in check by a hint of sourness.
There are six snacks altogether, each priced at £4 ($5.30), and it is worth ordering all before looking at the mains, which are divided into Garden, Sea and Land.
These are medium-size plates for sharing. Asparagus, burnt butter, crispy peas (£6) looks a bit Jackson Pollock and tastes crunchily fresh. Salmon, nitro peas, wasabi (£9) is another colorful dish whose clean flavors and mustard bite bring the fish alive. It's a combination that reflects the fact Handling has spent time in Asia and admires Japanese cooking.
The piece de resistance is an unlikely one. It's Mac & Cheese (£10), only here each piece of macaroni is injected with cheese, of which there are three types: Montgomery Cheddar, Parmesan and Gruyere. The dish is topped with an aerated version of the same cheese mix, along with dried egg yolks and burnt onion. It is rich and sharp, a Gatsby of a dish.
And while I probably never need to see another nitro cooked dessert, it is difficult to resist the theatricality of the Nitro Chocolate, Coffee, Caramel (£10), which is prepared tableside if you are lucky.
The tasting menu costs £40.
Handling is best-known as a finalist on the BBC's MasterChef but his success is based on years in kitchens. At 16, he was the first apprentice chef at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, and now he is just 27.
You can see him at work at The Frog with his team, the young chefs gathered round studying Handling's work as he puts the final touch at the pass, which faces the dining room.
The servers look casual but are professional and well-informed. The wine list is short and well-chosen. I'm trying to think of some negatives but all I can muster is that not much money has been spent on decoration. It may be good to be cool, but a little warmth would not go amiss. And the music is too loud.
I'm not sure if it is good news or bad that there is a plan to roll out The Frog. Handling's personality is so much a part of the place that I'd miss his presence. If he resists the temptation to jack up the prices, I'll get over it.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland