Adam Handling is not only a chef to watch; he is a chef you probably have watched.
The 27-year-old Scot has already been a finalist on MasterChef: the Professionals in 2013, won Scottish Chef of the Year, and earlier this month fought for the Scottish crown on Great British Menu. He is a man with ambition as well as culinary skill – Great British Menu judge Prue Leith made a point of observing what a “competitive guy” he was on GBM.
His appearance on Great British Menu was bittersweet. He was pipped to the post by Michael Bremner (Handling looked crestfallen and likened the judges’ decision to reaching down his throat and pulling his heart out), but he hasn’t let that deter him.
In June, he bought his first restaurant, The Frog, in Shoreditch (pictured below), the achingly trendy quarter of east London.
The Frog is an appealing, relaxed space – there is a bar next to the indoor dining area and a lovely outdoor terrace draped with plants. Being Shoreditch, you can expect to be eating alongside hipsters with hats and facial hair. But the USP of this place is that it’s fine dining in extremely relaxed surroundings. It’s like a chilled out pub with exquisite cuisine. (It’s called The Frog, I gather, because Handling likes the animal, and little wonder – there is something about that particular amphibian’s eagerness and energy he shares.)
The kitchen is staffed by Handling and a clutch of young chefs, and is an exercise in youthful exuberance. If you opt for the tasting menu, experimental flavours come at you in rapid succession that aims to surprise as well as delight. It’s definitely the one to go for if you fancy acting out the part of a Great British Menu judge.
The menu constantly changes as Handling tweaks and refines his dishes, but when I went the results were pretty impressive. My favourites included a beer, beef and chilli starter of beautifully cooked meat rounded off with the sharp, piquant flavouring.
Another delight was his signature chicken butter – one of the dishes he served on Great British Menu, which was described as something that could “enliven just about anything” by GBM guest judge Tim Hayward. It was a creamy, meaty calorific treat eaten with warm sourdough.
The fixed menu included two main courses: a pleasing mini lamb roast dinner with tiny panfried potatoes (below) and a delicately composed cod, limestone pitta and tarragon plate.
This was followed by another one of his signatures dishes: the cheese doughnuts (below), which are as flavoursome as they are undoubtedly tough on the waistline.
I’d recommend taking things slowly. It’s easy to get full quite quickly, especially given the speed with which the enthusiastic staff appear with dishes, and you wouldn’t want to miss dessert. The highlight was a “nitro” tiramisu dessert, which froze the tiramisu (Heston Blumenthal-style) at minus 180 degrees over a rich, velvety chocolate pudding. As you eat, it melts and the flavours explode in your mouth while space-age smoke floats away from the dish.
Handling’s cooking makes for a fun night. His style is to use British produce and give them an Asian twist. As Great British Menu viewers observed, he is also a big fan of truffle so you will also need to be one to enjoy his cooking. I certainly did: it is brimming with verve and excitement.
Handling may have missed out on two TV trophies, but he’s clearly still set on the big time.
The Frog is at 2 Ely’s Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street E1 6QR. The tasting menu is £45pp. Website: thefrogrestaurant.com
Fancy eating at the restaurant of one of the other chefs on this year’s Great British Menu? Here’s where to find them:
Michael Bremner, 64 Degrees, Brighton
Ally McGrath, Osso, Peebles
Josh Eggleton, The Pony and Trap, Chew Magna
Jude Kereama, Kota, Cornwall
Chris Wheeler, Humphry’s at Stoke Park
Adam Reid, The French at The Midland Hotel, Manchester
Kim Woodward, The Savoy Grill, London
Matt Worswick, Thornton Hall, The Wirral (Please note Matt is now at The Latymer, Pennyhill Park)
Adam Bannister, Slice, Swansea
Andrew Birch, Fishmore Hall, Ludlow
Phil Carmichael, Berners Tavern, London
Danny Gill, The Flitch of Bacon, Essex (please note Danny is now at The Bell at Coleby in Lincolnshire)
Andrew Scott, Restaurant 56, Oxfordshire
Daniel Smith, The Ingham Swan, Norfolk
Russell Bateman, Colette’s at The Grove, Hertfordshire
Mark Froydenlund, Marcus, The Berkeley Hotel, London
Ronnie Murray, Hix Restaurants (Please note Ronnie is now at Peckham Manor)
Chris Archer, The Cottage in the Wood, Cumbria
Tommy Banks, The Black Swan at Oldstead, North Yorkshire
Mini Patel, The Pointer, Buckinghamshire
Mark Abbott, Midsummer House, Cambridge
Eddie Attwell, Ardtara Country House (Please note Eddie is now at St Kyrans County Cavan, Eire)
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news