Eat Here: Adam Handling, ChelseaBy Andy Williams
On reaching the final of Masterchef: The Professionals in 2013, Adam Handling set himself a high bar. But few would doubt that he has cleared it with panache. Six years later, he has given his name three excellent restaurants, two classy cocktail bars, and, in the shape of Monica Galetti, has one very influential champion.
At the age of 30, Handling is making his west London debut as chef-patron of the renovated Belmond Cadogan. A luxury hotel in the heart of the capital’s embassy district, it has finally emerged from a £28 million renovation which began way back in July 2014, when the EU referendum was merely a twinkle in David Cameron’s eye. It is a grand venue – Oscar Wilde used to live upstairs, we are told – with plenty to live up to.
Handling’s first opening, recently rebranded as The Frog Hoxton, offers a menu so enticing that my party of three ordered the entire menu in one sitting on a recent visit. Je ne regrette rien. The following year, Frog by Adam Handling arrived in Covent Garden to widespread acclaim. The common denominator has been his signature chicken butter: whipped to within an inch of its life and sprinkled with crispy skin, it is a borderline religious experience.
Suffice to say, there was further brilliance on offer at Adam Handling Chelsea. Let’s start with the cocktail menu, each page of which bears an illustration by the British artist Craig Davison. Hidden in a secret compartment behind the final page – a tiny bottle of gin, orange and Earl Grey liqueur to blow off the May bank holiday cobwebs. Alice in Wonderland stuff.
We take our seats at the table and scan the room. This being a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, the vibe is a world away from the bottomless brunches of Shoreditch and Clapham, so I make a note to adjust my own personal volume dial and we discuss our options in (relatively) hushed tones. That is not to say this is a stuffy environment; rather, a haven for people who want to appreciate brilliant food, first and foremost, with service to match.
Two snacks to start with: the cheese and truffle doughnuts come recommended, and arrive as a trio. They are sensationally creamy and quite decadent. Two king crab mini quiches arrive simultaneously, managing to straddle light, yet rich in flavour – and perfectly offset by punchy notes of chilli.
We soak up the little that remains with soft sourdough bread and yes, that chicken butter is back. Vegetarian? Console yourself with the regular butter on offer and, should you be so inclined, an extensive wine list. ‘Sommelier’ is becoming an overused term in the restaurant world, but we are lucky enough to have a true expert at our disposal here, who pairs each course with the perfect drop. Our first choice hails from vines planted during the French Revolution. These details may not seem to matter greatly, but they are everywhere, and only enhance the experience.
For starters, we go for grilled octopus with salsa verde (faultless), and Wagyu beef tartare (sumptuous). As Handling fans have come to expect, this is precision presentation. We’ve been heavy on rich dishes so far, so one of us plumps for a stripped-back main of wild garlic risotto and charred broccoli. A shining sea of green and white, it is the ideal partner for your glass of vin blanc.
The highlight, surely, is John Dory with shrimps and caviar. A plump white fish cooked to perfection, it is lifted higher by its sea-dwelling accompaniments and I start to wish that this long Monday afternoon could go on forever.
We are, frankly, stuffed, but it would be rude not to try a dessert each. The Gariguette strawberry with Thai basil and lemon is an intriguingly complex take on a classic, and real winner at that. I don’t quite ‘get’ the chocolate stout with whipped miso and buckwheat crumb – the flavour combination slightly jars – but that is just me, and my friend and business partner begs to differ. It will please many diners.
The excellence of the front-of-house team is worth dwelling on, too. We are treated like kings, belying our status as lowly millennials without so much as a hope of getting onto the housing ladder, and much of the joy of this experience is down to them. This is a very fine restaurant for that special occasion. Handling should be proud.
Photo Credit: Tim Green