Adam Handling has established himself as one of the brightest young talents on the London dining scene since opening his first solo restaurant in 2016. In mood and food, this Covent Garden dining room falls halfway between his original Frog restaurant in Hoxton (the name expresses the chef’s sink-or-swim attitude) and the high-end Adam Handling Chelsea within the super-swanky Belmond Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street. The setting is casual-contemporary, but the technique and pricing are ambitious.
Walk past at night when the restaurant’s glow spills out onto Southampton Row and you’ll be struck by the sort of convivial scene that makes you want to make a booking on the spot. The open kitchen is the focus of the dark and stark dining room, with chairs angled to give a view of the chefs toiling away and a counter for diners who want to get up close and personal with the restaurant theatre that unfolds over the course of a service.
You can, of course, ignore what’s going on at the pass and focus instead on what arrives on the plate. Start with a couple of ‘snacks’ while you peruse the menu: cheese doughnuts, like a supersize gougère discharging a warm torrent of gooey Lincolnshire Poacher, are so good we’d suggest you order a double portion. A sphere of caviar-topped taramasalata in a flower-shaped pastry cup, and stubby little cylinders of wagyu beef with truffle, are more delicate, albeit more like canapés than snacks.
Starters proper include lamb tartare, milder than the beef equivalent and a better conduit to show off the flavours of the herb seasoning, with salt coming courtesy of a topping of caviar. Mushroom agnolotti with black garlic, meanwhile, delivered pungency tempered by soft textures, through like the main course that followed – A5 Wagyu beef with horseradish and black mustard – the full-on umami sensation is not for the faint-hearted.
A pair of tasting menus offering the signature dishes in miniature (including stunning lobster tail and claw cooked in wagyu fat) may be a better way to get the most out of Handling’s undoubted talent for bold brushstrokes of savoury flavour.
What really made the meal for us, though, was service from a crack team of suited, booted and bearded waiters, clearly loyal to Handling and his vision, not least beverage director Kelvin McCabe, one of London’s most enthusiastic wine communicators and an expert at matching wines by the glass while accommodating diners’ vinous preferences.