Having visited The Fat Duck the week before, I was becoming a bit perturbed that all of my restaurant visits were taking on a pond-themed characteristic. This time, fate had it that we found ourselves at Adam Handling’s new venture The Frog Restaurant, an exceptional new food and watering hole next to the Old Truman brewery in Shoreditch; apparently the first of many openings under The Frog franchise. Naturally, considering the setting, there’s an esoteric line in funky beers, including Squid Assassin and Arrogant Bastard. But of course, it wasn’t just the cantankerously named experimental beers we came for; there’s some serious cookery to contend with here. We’d sampled Handling’s theatrical, experimental fusion style which took centre stage at Caxton in Westminster, and of course, his stint as a MasterChef The Professionals 2013 finalist gained him revered status from the likes of Jay Rayner who claims he has ‘talent like UKIP has nutters.’ I couldn’t agree more.
But it was only so long before such a big fish in a small pond had to escape to greener pastures. Where the Caxton oozed 5-star chic, the Frog exudes all-roughed-up, arty vibes with industrial graffiti-embellished interiors. In these eclectic, artistic surroundings, Handling offers up a platform for creatives, DJs and young artists by day and night. We couldn’t help but feel this felt more like Handling’s natural habitat, suiting his contemporary, edgy food to a tee. Positioned in the tropical-themed watch-the-world-go-by terrace, and wallowing in the day’s last sun, we were ready to be wowed. At £45 a head, the tasting menu at The Frog is a snip, and there are options for drink or beer pairing. To begin, a Kermit-worthy cocktail of lime and dill radiated Day-Glo green, made with locally brewed gin: a marker of the native produce principles you can find in abundance here. Changing daily, the 5-course tasting menu looks understated in its dish descriptions with minimal ingredients listed, but the execution, we were about to find out, was seriously sophisticated with maximum creativity in its flavour combinations.
The snacks displayed a streak of creative genius. To begin, a cotton sack of sourdough bread and whipped chicken butter threatened to knock The Dairy off their perch for tastiest bread and butter selection. To follow, little hunks of shredded pork croquette livened the taste buds, studded with the fresh bite of lovage sauce.
The beer, beef and egg was far more complex than the menu might lead you to believe. This was a tasty re-take on the classic tartare; crunchy crackers loaded with textured raw beef bound with flavourful yolk.
Although it was tough to choose, one of my favourite dishes of the night was the zingy crab with apple and avocado purée, which washed the palate with zesty citrus and touches of salty samphire.
More sophisticated snacks ensued with a delicious salt-cod-loaded cracker, spawning with tangy globes of apple and lime.
A beetroot revolution came in the form of a crystallised tube of brittle, filled with beetroot and yuzu gel panna cotta fusion, atop a velvety carpet of ruby-red beetroot dust. This meandered around the taste peripheries and might be construed as a beet sweet, rather than savoury snack: either way, it was an incredibly majestic work of art.
Now time for the heavyweights. Beef with artichoke and black garlic meant business, drizzled with herby-green oil and smacking of robustly flavoured beef reduction.
Superbly cooked, the meaty piece of roasted hake sat on velvety limestone puréed potato, peppered with punchy tarragon, crunchy radish and gorgeous lime.
In all their gluttonous glory, the cheese doughnuts are a signature dish here, oozing with cheesy truffled goodness. They accidentally brought a second plate, and although tempting, we had to stay true to our waistlines and wave them away with a rueful farewell. The Chiltern Firehouse better watch their step: there’s a savoury doughnut newcomer in town.
The pre-dessert was refreshing in its icy coolness, with crushed strawberry ice and watermelon jelly cubes. Scatterings of sorrel added a touch of foraged freshness. To match, a glass of kombucha was a homemade fermented Japanese tea: a drinkable and mellow nectar.
Nitro tiramisu was an immense beast of a dessert: a rich cocoa chocolate ganache with deliciously crumbly chocolate base, topped with an element of tiramisu nitro cream. We only wished we hadn’t gorged so heavily on the preceding feast, so a few mouthfuls sufficed.
Where the chocolate was rich and gooey, the burnt honey, was mellow and soothing with lemon and cooling malted ice cream. A must-try on the dessert list to round off an exceptional evening of contemporary cookery from Handling.
On the generous menu, there’s even an option to buy the chefs a beer: we certainly felt that Adam and the team at The Frog had more than earned their hops when we visited. With the word out and restaurant bookings going off the hook, the Frog chorus is ringing loud and clear here in Brick Lane, and for miles beyond.
2 Ely’s Yard, Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR