Once again, I find myself mourning the end of the latest series of Masterchef. Three times a year, for about 6 weeks, we get to watch amateurs, professionals and celebrities attempt to create some outstanding dishes in an attempt to be crowned Masterchef Winner [insert year here]. And I bloody love it. My career goal is to be invited to be one of the critics that get to set challenges and judge the quality of the dishes on offer. in fact, THAT is my life goal.
The Frog’s executive chef Adam Handling was a finalist of Masterchef The Professionals in 2013. His love of Asian flavours and techniques – particularly Japanese – is what can be seen throughout his menu at The Frog, with carefully sourced top quality seasonal ingredients and beautiful presentation, he uses his creativity and passion to create dishes that are both special and memorable.
I arrived at the Old Truman Brewery hot and flustered after a particularly busy day at work, gasping for a refreshing G&T. What arrived was an unexpected bright green concoction that tasted like a fresh Gin & Tonic but looked like a green smoothie. This signature Chefs G&T is made with a dill puree. It didn’t effect the taste for me, but I certainly appreciated the novelty. We were dining at The Frog after all – may as well keep on brand!
In order to ensure we tried as much of the menu as possible, we plonked for the tasting menu at £50 per head. This is an 11-course menu which we actually managed to turn into a 13.5-course menu by sharing the three dessert options at the end of the meal… more on those later. As you’d expect, not every course floated our boats so I won’t dwell too long on each of those, but I will give time and sing the praises of a few stand-out dishes that blew our freakin’ minds!
Starting with the first trio of dishes that arrived in very close succession to each other: BBQ beef with chilli and lovage, Smoked cod with creme fraiche and caviar and a portion of Bread and Chicken Butter.
Each dish different, and each very special. The BBQ beef rested itself on an intriguing looking ununiformed black cracker, which had the consistency of a softer (but still crispy) prawn cracker, or skips – remember skips?! It didn’t so much add flavour as it did texture and acted as an extraordinary vessel upon which the beef was served, which was like a smokey tartare with a hint of sweetness.
The beautifully presented cigarillos of smoked cod were sublime, with a smooth consistency and a richness not too dissimilar to foie gras, all contrasted by the thin, delicate pastry within which it was wrapped. And finally, the chicken butter.
And finally, the chicken butter. Oh, sweet lord, did my heart love until now? This quenelle of smooth, salty butter slathered thickly and inelegantly on the bread (which could have been a slice of Hovis for all it mattered) is the definition of luxury*. With brittle chunks of skin flaked across the top, and all the rich, fatty and salty flavours of a chicken recently roasted – it is something I have never experienced before in this form, but is all the comforting flavours of a chicken resting in the pan, gently oozing out its delicious fatty juices which congeal thickly against the pan with the bits of skin that have been left behind. It sounds disgusting, but we all know it’s one of the best bits of a roast dinner.
To follow came yet another outstanding dish of Salmon & Pickles. The salmon was beautifully cured, light and elegant with a not-too-overpowering flavour which allowed the sweet and sharp notes from the pickles to play their part in livening up the plate, without taking centre-stage. The sweet apples calmed the sourness and meant that the entire plate (and a quick hats off to the stunning choice of crockery used throughout the entire meal – absolutely gorgeous!) was balanced, fresh and memorable.
I shan’t dwell too long on the next dish, a plate of Celeriac, truffle, yolk, apple and dates as this was my least favourite of the entire meal. Though I quite liked the contrasting textures on the plate and the crunch that came from the celeriac, I didn’t find the flavours particularly harmonious or exciting, rather it was all a little… beige. The intense sweetness from the dates was overpowering and made all remaining flavours pale in the mouth.
The dish of cod, crab and seaweed was interesting. The fried crisps on the top alongside the crispy strips of seaweed were gorgeous, like thin slices of salt and balsamic vinegar crisp. I could have eaten a whole bowl of those. The crab bisque beneath was smooth and the Cod well cooked, but it was reliant on the texture of the crisps which softened as they sat within the creamy sauce.
Time for another drink and on the recommendation of the manager we chose On The Streets of Kingston, a gin-based ginger drink served in a bottle, hidden within a paperbag. Gimicky but quite fun, and extremely delicious and spicy.
Upon the recommendation of a friend of Seetal’s, we ordered a bowl of the Macaroni Cheese before the “main” main course arrived. A large bowl of macaroni topped with a light yet rich creamy cheese sauce. Unfortunately, however, the macaroni was a mixture of hard and chewy, not too dissimilar to a pasta bake I once made where I was so hungry I removed it from the oven 20 minutes early. We sadly had to send it back, though the chef assured us that due to the technique they use to create this dish, that is how it should be. The sauce was dreamy, though.
The final of the main dishes was Piggy, cauliflower and kimchi. A pretty plate with succulent, lightly flushed pork and a good attempt at elevating what is to me the dullest ingredient one can use, but lets me honest, at the end of the day a cauliflower is never going to taste of anything special and it did mean that this dish didn’t live up to its full potential.
On a separate note can we stop trying to make cauliflower rice a thing? It is not good.
Before dessert, we had the £3 supplement cheese course of cheese doughnuts. Hot doughy balls filled with a thick, rich cheese sauce not too dissimilar to a fondue cheese, topped with an overly generous grating of cheese on top. One inelegant bite in and my hands were covered but I had no qualms with licking them clean! It was incredibly rich and one is certainly enough to give you that cheese fix, but gosh they’re good.
The pre-dessert was a simply named dish of Beetroot, beetroot and more beetroot. Seriously that’s what is says on the menu. Wafer cylinders with a sweet beetroot filling, covered in a beetroot dust. They were gone in a bite and I found them to be an enjoyable light pallet cleanser.
For dessert, we had the choice of three puds, and as we were three diners it made sense to order the lot and share.
Left: Strawberry, Yoghurt & Watermelon. Top: Passionfruit, Rum & coconut. Right: Chocolate, Cherries & Caramel.
We ate these in the wrong order, starting with the best which was undoubtedly superior to the other two: the chocolate, cherries and caramel, with a light and fluffy cherry mousse hat on top of a smooth, dark chocolate ganache base. Dig to the middle and you find silky caramel and combine it all together and you have the most beautifully sweet and rich mouthful. It ticks so many boxes for my sweet dish needs – a fruity tang from the cherries, the indulgence of the chocolate and the enjoyable texture of the caramel.
Our meal lasted three delicious hours and cost us £70 each, with the mac & cheese and our first round of drinks removed from the bill (very kind of the manager after we were asked to move tables to accommodate a larger group). There is an option to “buy the chefs a beer” for another fiver, and we debated for a bit whether this was something nice to do, or a bit of a cheeky suggestion when you’ve already paid the service charge.
For 13 courses (plus the half plate of mac & cheese) we found this to be an extremely well-priced meal, as we got to experience so many different flavours and techniques. A week later and I’m still thinking about the first four dishes and that cherry and chocolate pudding, and if I could keep a vat of the chicken butter in my fridge for me to enjoy with a spoon, I absolutely would.
You can head to the Old Truman Brewery to enjoy Adam’s interesting dishes, but if you’re not a fan of heading East, you’ll be pleased to learn that The Frog will be opening a second venue in Covent Garden in the midst of Summer. Good to know that Chicken Butter will only be a short walk from me soon!