A chat with Adam Handling: How to start a London dining empire
Feb 12, 2019
We sat in the plush cavern that is his underground bar, Eve, in London’s West End and dove straight into his work as a chef. In 2013, Handling reached the final three of Masterchef: The Professionals. During his time on the programme, he got some pretty impressive compliments, with food critic Jay Rayner saying of him, “he has talent the way Ukip has nutters”. Surely this should have been the making of any young chef. The problem was, he explained, that no one knew how to find him.
“It was the BBC, so their advertising rules meant that they weren’t able to say where I worked. No one knew where I was. Was I working in London? Was I in Scotland [where he was born]? No one was sure.”
This changed after he appeared as one of the chefs whose kitchens the finalists work in on a series of the amateur edition of Masterchef. This created a buzz around Handling that allowed him to make the move that has led, two years later, to the 29-year-old chef running a mini restaurant empire in London.
With the closure of his London eatery, St Ermin’s Hotel, Handling was forced to go out on his own. Thankfully, the excitement around him, a lot of hard work and a dedicated small team allowed him to leap into the first The Frog in 2016. Located within an East London car park, it was very much a DIY effort.
“We had to do everything,” he explains. “We painted walls, we knocked them down. There’s even a little bit of wall somewhere that we haven’t painted, but I like it as it reminds me of how hard we worked.”
Cut to two years later and this first Frog has spawned a second restaurant in Covent Garden. The Frog tasting menu, with its £100+ price tag, is a very different beast (or should that be amphibian) to its East London sister.
“It’s a question of what ingredients we use where. We use the finest cuts of meats in Covent Garden, where we might use stewing cuts in our East London restaurant. Both taste amazing if done right.”
This desire to create amazing flavours out of anything and everything has fed into the Eve bar menu. Handling’s approach to creating a bar menu is exactly the same as planning a restaurant menu.
“Food and drink are exactly the same thing and have exactly the same rules. You have to have all five tastes, with one or two dominant and all of them balanced.”
“Then you have to think about things like mouth feel. When we’re developing drinks, we think about these things a lot and that’s how we’ve got such a varied menu. You can drink our drinks all evening and get a new taste sensation with everyone.”
It also feeds into the (amazing) bar food at Eve, with a number of dishes built around sour, sweet, bitter, salty and umami respectively.
Drinks at Eve are decided by a majority in a committee of Handling’s closest advisors. One of them will create a drink and the rest of them will vote on whether it should go on the menu. Occasionally, this means a drink will go on the menu that he is not so keen on, but this democratic technique allows for variety on the menu. This works for now, but as Handling himself pointed out, so far none of his drinks have lost the vote…
Though we can only speculate what would happen if one of Handling’s drinks didn’t make the grade, this process has brought out some unique cocktails. One drink on the menu, ‘Insurrection’ was based on a challenge Handling set to make a drink based on one of the dishes on the menu at The Frog, the descriptively titled ‘Beetroot, Beetroot and More Beetroot’. Other drinks stemmed from members of the team trying to make Handling enjoy things he said he usually hated, or just out of mad thoughts like ‘wouldn’t it be great if, seeing as the bar is called Eve, we served a drink with a golden apple’. The result of this fun idea is now one of the signature drinks of the bar.
Handling has lost none of the playful and rebellious nature that made him such a hit in Shoreditch. Eve is definitely not one of those Covent Garden restaurants that feel ancient and old-fashioned as soon as they open. Or, as Handling put it, “we’re not just going to start serving certain drinks because old people staying in the Savoy want them”.
Whilst they aren’t catering to the elderly lost on their way to the American Bar, they are a dream for those looking for an exciting West End bar. And soon, drinkers in London will have even more chances to sample Handling’s food and drinks, with a super-secret East London project soon to open. Though Handling won’t give much away, if it’s anything like Eve, it’s something to get very excited about.