Adam Handling

Luckily for Adam, he had been putting plans together to open his own restaurant – The Frog E1 – whilst working at St Ermin’s. However, this sudden change meant he had to leave immediately, and he could only take five of his seventeen chefs with him. ‘It was really emotional; we’d all worked so hard and put everything into the place, and then all of a sudden it was all gone. But I got jobs for the twelve chefs I couldn’t hire myself, and over the years I’ve been able to offer all of them a job. Today, fifteen of those original seventeen chef are working for me.’

The Frog E1 was when Adam really came into his own – shunning the luxurious ingredients and classical training of his past and bringing in influences of the food he experienced during his travels. ‘I worked my ass off and got five restaurant of the year awards within the first two years. It was phenomenal – the best experience of my life. Travelling helped me find myself as a person, because I was a nasty son of a bitch before that. E1, however, helped me discover the sort of food I wanted to cook. We started cutting down on salt and introducing soy instead; there were way more aromatics and ingredients like kimchi in British dishes, which made it quite different.’

The restaurant was a big success, and led to Adam opening a second restaurant – Frog by Adam Handling – in Covent Garden. This is now his restaurant group’s flagship, with a menu that best represents his style of cooking and a separate bar called Eve in the basement. ‘I wanted Covent Garden to be something that got us noticed,’ he says. ‘The menu is a reflection of our personality. There are only around twelve dishes on there but we change them whenever we want. Dishes can appear and disappear from one day to the next. We wanted it to be about theatre, too – Covent Garden is theatre land, after all – so we have the pass and kitchen in full view.’

Frog by Adam Handling enjoyed the same success as The Frog E1, offering a slightly more fine-dining-focused experience (although it’s still representative of his relaxed, contemporary style). The two worked in tandem until the lease ran out at E1, which meant Adam had to find a new site. Rather than a hindrance, this gave him the opportunity to take the essence of The Frog E1 and move it into a bigger site, The Frog Hoxton – just a leap away from his Shoreditch base. He took stock of all the mistakes he’d made when opening his first restaurant (which was done incredibly fast and saw the kitchen team helping with everything from painting the walls to attaching door handles) and learnt from them.

‘I took the soul of E1 and put it in a new body with a new direction,’ says Adam. ‘Hoxton is not the same as Shoreditch; people want things cheaper and quicker, so we changed the menu completely. Portions for the sharing plates were made bigger, we made sure everything was extremely affordable and learnt from everything we’d done in the past.’

Adam’s next project involved teaming up with the Cadogan Estate and Belmond. He opened Adam Handling Chelsea, a restaurant and bar, and Cadogan’s tea lounge at the Belmond Cadogan Hotel in Chelsea. He also looks after all the private dining, events and room service within the hotel. ‘It’s very different from my other restaurants – because of the history of the hotel, the dining spaces are a bit more traditional, but the food offering is very much my style,” he explains. ‘At first, I didn’t want to do it because I’d had bad experiences with hotel restaurants in the past, but they made it clear they wanted me to have a restaurant within the hotel, rather than work in a more executive role. When I heard Belmond were covering the hotel side of things, it all fell into place.’

Adam has now proved that he’s not just an incredibly ambitious and talented chef; he’s a dab hand at opening and running restaurants, too. Whether it’s fine dining tasting menus, bar snacks and cocktails, zero-waste deli lunches or room service for a world-class hotel group, he has it covered. While he’s yet to get a Michelin star – something he says he’d love to get but certainly isn’t chasing – he's won a whole host of other awards that prove Adam is a chef at the top of his game. And a meal at any of his establishments is testament to that.

Three things you should know

Having a variety of restaurants and bars means Adam can implement a zero-waste policy across his group. His zero-waste ethos is built into a training programme for all of his staff.

Adam’s signature dish is a plate of celeriac, truffle and apple called ‘Mother’ (a tribute to his mum after she told him she’d decided to become vegetarian), which can be found on the menu of all his restaurants.

Adam loves art – he’s quite the collector – and music, something that’s evident at each of his locations. He says these are included in the four essential pillars of his restaurants: food, drink, art and music.