The Belmond Cadogan Hotel marks the first London property from the travel group famous for operating such luxury icons as Le Manoir aux’Quat Saisons and the Orient-Express. Legendary chefs such as Raymond Blanc (of Le Manoir) and Eric Chavot (whose much-missed two Michelin-starred restaurant at The Capital has acquired a near mythical status hereabouts) were rumoured to be in the frame for the plum job of running the new hotel’s F&B offering. In the event, the gig has gone to young Scottish chef Adam Handling of The Frog fame, presumably in a bid to inject some street cred to the bluechip Belmond brand.
For his part, 30-year-old Handling (who is shaping up to be a restaurateur of distinction) seems determined to show off an impressive maturity at his self-titled restaurant. The wood panelling of the two dining rooms has been painted a sombre shade of grey while instead of cut flowers on the unclothed tables there are potted plants and herbs to fit Handling’s commitment to sustainability – an admirable ethos, but one that leaves the room lacking the colour and joie de vivre that former residents Lillie Langtry and Oscar Wilde might have felt at home in.
A sense of playfulness is however injected with the arrival of the amuse bouches and bread – luscious truffle cheese doughnuts, and chicken butter to spread on IPA sourdough – that serve as the opening salvo to the à la carte or seven-course tasting menu.
We found that the more classical dishes worked better with the high-end setting (and high-end prices: starters average £24, mains £35). Butter-poached king crab with carrot and sorrel was a lovely piece of crustacean, its sweetness amplified by the carrot and cut by the sorrel, a traditional pairing for seafood.
Lemon sole to follow, meanwhile, came with seashore accompaniments of monk’s beard and seaweed butter and a chunky slice of white beetroot to stand up to the soft texture of the perfectly timed fish.
But we weren't so taken with everything we ate. The chicken butter seemed more redolent of chicken fat, while the signature pudding of compressed cucumber with burnt basil and dill seemed more like a palate cleanser than a dessert proper. Yeast parfait with Earl Grey ice cream and pickled Granny Smith struck us as a more successful fusion of the classic and contemporary.
Still, Handling is a chef with ideas to spare and this junction of Knightsbridge and Chelsea undoubtedly needs a transfusion of new blood. And he’s already got off to a flying start with a cool bar that has instantly become the best place to go for a drink on Sloane Street, while afternoon tea in a dedicated lounge next door has pretty crockery to match the daintiness on the plate. Handling might not have seemed the most obvious partner for Belmond, but Adam Handling and Chelsea are names that belong together.