28 May REVIEW: The Frog (London)
In 2013 the missus and I sat enraged as Adam Handling came runner-up in Professional Masterchef, both agreeing that his dishes and style were a cut above the competition, they resonated with us more than any other, and that he would effectively ‘walk it’. In 2016 we watched, mouths agape, as Handling failed to clinch a spot in the finals of Great British Menu, citing it as perhaps a step up too soon and hoping he would return the following year to prove his mettle (fingers still crossed).
Last weekend we were invited to stay with some friends in London.
Give you one guess where we took them for lunch…
Having begun his post-Masterchef rise with a space at Caxton Street, Handling’s sophomore endeavour, The Frog, located by Brick Lane in the Spitalfields area, in what looks like a pop-up that didn’t realise it had to pop back down at some point, seems a world apart from the stuffiness of Scotland Yard.
Whether the stylings are Handling’s own proclivity or merely an attempt to make the most of the hipster population on his doorstep, I couldn’t say, but frankly I couldn’t give two hoots (or, more aptly, ribbits!). The combination of indoor and open-air seating sections answers the ‘what if I’m too hot/cold’ question and the general décor – ivy-dowsed light fixtures, graffiti- clad walls and frog memorabilia litterings – seems to fit in with the surrounding hipster vibe. If he’d gone another way, I think The Frog would’ve stood out for all the wrong reasons.
The menu is admittedly a touch confusing upon first glance, advertising ‘tapas’ style dining but it is only the Snacks section that echoes this sentiment with its ‘eat with your hands’ subtitle of encouragement; the proceeding sections read like a series of mains, and are delivered as such, but make no mistake the emphasis is on sharing. Which we did.
First up, the Snacks. I both love and hate the mystery of vague menus with equal measure, but going in we felt as though we were in good hands so the choice of Pork & lovage (£4.00), Cheese, doughnut, black truffle (£5.00) and Smoked cod, crème fraiche, caviar (£6.00) was a straightforward one.
All were delightful, with an intensity of flavour I fail to recall having experienced before and a decadence that almost had us reordering the same plates for another round. Of the three I can always see myself coming back to the Cheese Doughnuts (never have I experienced cheesier!); infinitely moreish, it’s understandable why they appear on the menu more than once and Handling would do well to open a pop-up or takeaway that produces a variety of these alone.
I feel as though the Doughnuts will dominate any conversation that centres around The Frog, so it’s worth advising that the Pork & Lovage were no slouches neither. Packed with flavour and ever so soft, a plate between four was begrudged.
To follow we each chose a ‘main’ to share amongst the group. The missus opted for the Squid, potato skin, black garlic, sour cream (£14.00), a delightful combination that evoked flavours of a charred ocean, while I went for the Piggy, BBQ Hispi cabbage, pomegranate (£14.00), essentially pork belly but given the Frog touch, which was a show-stealer for me. Good sized chunks of belly with BBQ cabbage and cauliflower strewn about.
Our companions plumped for the Mac & cheese – the frog way (£15.00), a simply-presented dish that offered even more of that fantastic doughnut cheesiness (I had to be held back from dooking for the macaroni!) and the BBQ veal tartare, chilli, garden herbs (£11.00), doubtlessly the centrepiece of the lot and runner up to the piggy in terms of flavour and texture, the duck yolk focal point cooked to an even semi-liquid state that initially had us worried but convinced us of its state within a forkful – it certainly loaned itself to sharing style more fittingly.
To chase it down we shared an array of bourbon, beer and cocktails, of which the Basil and Lime Mojito (£10.00) was a tasty standout.
Service was of a decent standard, our waitress, although initially appearing disinterested, seemed to warm up and was a good source of banter and knowledge. When trying to come up with any negatives, the only thing I could consider was the addition of the option to Buy the chefs a beer (£5.00) on the menu, which seemed a little cheeky given A) there’s a service charge of 12% included in the bill, and B) I’m sure if the chef’s really wanted a beer, they could bloody well have one. I understood its presence as consistent with the rest of The Frog’s banter, but can’t really agree to them having it both ways. Maybe I’m not London enough.
The Frog has had its critics since opening and the general reception seems to be a middling 3 stars out of 5 wherever you look. Whether this is a kneejerk reaction to Handling and his team’s own rash online responses only the reviewers could say, but to call out details like the bantering parentheses on the menu or the blatant Twitter and Instagram promotion for me is a little petty and a lot clutching. In an era where someone doesn’t get sarcasm unless there’s an emoji attached to the end of a sentence, these are all details that resonate with the masses and hats off to a chef who recognises that and isn’t so quick to dismiss their humble beginnings because they’ve won an award or two.
Of the general averageness of said reviews I am bewildered. The Frog is the new benchmark for flavour in my book, evoking superlatives I thought only existed in the BBC’s television studios and deserving of much higher praise than has so far been bestowed upon them.
Any trip to the Big Smoke should incorporate a ribbit… I mean visit.