Single-concept restaurants and pop-ups abound these days, and as silly as some of them are (gourmet crisps, anyone?), their mission statements have the merit of being clear. Arriving at The Frog, Adam Handling’s first solo venture in Shoreditch is destabilising from the outset as it’s like entering a greenhouse on a semi-derelict industrial estate.
The covered terrace through which you pass en route to the main restaurant is leafy and mostly home to large, low-hanging swings best suited for sipping drinks then having a quick snooze rather than dining. Fortunately, our table is indoors, a space so flooded with natural light and featuring many contemporary, colourful canvases on the walls it could almost be mistaken for an art gallery. But unlike their hushed atmosphere, there’s a nice buzz coming from the open kitchen at the back, the bar along the side and the music, which thankfully isn’t so loud as to induce tinnitus.
We’re moved to accommodate a larger group, an inconvenience which is forgiven after a round of complimentary cocktails. Another surprise: the G&T is grass-green. Dill purée gives it the healthy glow of a smoothie, but it tastes far better. “On the Streets of Kingston” follows later, a potent ginger number served in a superfluous crumpled brown paper bag.
It’s tasting menus all around, and there are plenty of dishes deserving of rapturous applause. A smoky cod mousse inside a thin, crispy potato tube lingers in the mouth long after you finish it, like the way a beautiful scent remains once the person wearing it has disappeared. Its fellow amuse-bouche of BBQ beef tartare spiked with chilli and lovage on a puffed seaweed cracker is visually and texturally playful.
Hot on their heels comes a signature Handling homerun: Chicken Butter. Silence falls as this time machine of a dish takes us all back to Sunday lunches en famille where the smell of roast chicken filled the kitchen before the flesh filled our bellies. The light-as-air butter is smooth, scandalously savoury and scattered with crushed chicken skin; it’s an absolute must.
Another winner is the confit salmon with apple, yoghurt, herbs and pickles, which expertly balances smoothness, sharpness, freshness and sourness. The plate, with its blue and white border resembling waves gently lapping at the shore, completes the coastal picture.
The tide sadly turns with a string of disappointing dishes. The wigwam of sliced celeriac and julienned green apple wrapped around a confit egg yolk on truffle cream with dates is confused, with each element fighting for the limelight. A squid dish is pleasant, but needs a lighter touch with the mayo. Mac ‘n’ cheese – a circle of macaroni under a fluffy, cheesy blanket – is sent back for its inconsistent texture; some pieces are soft and others chewy. We’re told this is intentional, but it’s not entirely to our liking.
A pretty pile of pork, kimchi and cauliflower (fatty, spicy and smoky in equal measure) and cheese doughnuts calm the storm, the latter being an utter delight: a rich, cheesy filling inside a small sphere, sitting on more sauce and dusted with Parmesan.
The transition from savoury to sweet begins with beetroot and ends with a trio of desserts, the highlight being the caramel-coated chocolate. Against such tough competition, the other options are inevitable runners-up: the beetroot panna cotta-filled sugar tubes are a little too sweet; the strawberry, yoghurt and watermelon lacks intensity; and passionfruit with honeycomb and coconut is too sharp.
This restaurant lives up to its namesake in the sense that it leaps from one extreme to another, missing the mark at times by overcomplicating things; it’s the simplest plates which score the highest points. Having different chefs introduce the plates is a nice touch, but less enjoyable is being reminded of the one you sent back. A la carte would be on the cards for a return visit.
All photos are my own and remain the property of www.savlafaire.com.
Budget: £70 pp (including service; excluding the first round of drinks and the mac ‘n’ cheese)