The Frog Restaurant

THE FROG RESTAURANT

The Frog is the latest restaurant by Adam Handling, one of the most notable young chefs on the London restaurant scheme. He first came to fame as a finalist in the 2013 series of Professional Masterchef and was the youngest person to be tipped by the Caterer magazine as one of the ‘30 under 30 to watch’ in the 2013 Acorn Awards. In September 2014, he became the head chef at The Caxton Grill by Adam Handling in the St Ermin’s Hotel, a fine dining establishment for which he was awarded three AA rosettes. Adam was also recently featured in ‘The World’s Best Food Magazine’ FOUR, as the ‘one to watch’ for 2016.

With The Frog, Adam brings his love of Asian flavours and techniques to his menu which is very in vogue, with small sharing a la carte dishes priced at around £10 each, as well as a daily-changing tasting menu priced at £45 per head. The restaurant itself, located in Shoreditch, is much more low key and rather eclectic in taste. The floors are concrete and the finishings are bare. It feels grungy, made somewhat odder by the mismatched outdoor space perched under an awning.

The food was very good, and in some places great. There was lots of skill and flair on show, even if I did occasionally find the dishes somewhat heavily seasoned in parts. We had the tasting menu which began with a number of canape sized snacks. The first was chorizo, cheese and onion, a lovely and crispy croqueta made with chorizo and served with treacle for a touch of sweetness and some onion puree for contrast.

Other snacks included a delicious and freshly dressed crab with seaweed and green apple. This too was tasty if a tad salty. My favourite of the snacks was a beef tartar with egg yolk perched upon a beer cracker. The beef was meltingly tender and packed a punchy flavour. Warm bread made from hackney flour followed, served with a delectable chicken butter.

The Frog - London Food Blog - Crab, seaweed, apple

The Frog – Crab, seaweed, apple

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Koji – Visit no. 2

KOJI

I first tried Koji Japanese Restaurant in Parsons Green last year, not long after it first opened and had a fabulous dining experience. Koji was a collaborative effort between Nobuhisha Takahashi, the former sushi head chef at both Nobu London and Nobu Cape Town, and Mark Barnett, the former proprietor of the now closed Mao Tai Chinese restaurant.

In January 2015 Rolando Ongcoy joined the ranks, replacing Nobuhisha Takahashi, and took the food at Koji up another notch. A Japanese chef for some 33 years, he began his career in the Philippines before coming to London. In recent years he has also been the head sushi chef with both the Nobu group and Uni in Pimlico.

The ethos at Koji is to provide diners with first class Japanese food in a highly elegant setting, but without any pretentiousness. The Koji menu centres around contemporary Japanese cooking, ranging from fresh sushi and sashimi, to meat and seafood on the robata grill, to a variety of modern Japanese dishes that draw upon European and South American influences.

Second time round, and I found Koji to be that much better than first time round – no mean feat considering that the benchmark standard had been set pretty high during my first visit. At Koji, only the finest ingredients are used. This coupled with the finest of techniques makes for splendid dining experience.

We shared a variety of dishes as is customary with Japanese food, and one of my favourites of the evening was the salmon tartare with caviar umami jelly (£19). This dish was divine. The salmon itself was fresh and flavoursome, but it was the umami jelly – a thin layer of jelly placed over the salmon – which electrified the tartare. The umami jelly was abundant with flavour and it paired perfectly with salmon.

Koji - London Food Blog - Salmon tartare

Koji – Salmon tartare

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Mestizo

MESTIZO

Last month, Mestizo, Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar, celebrated Día de la Independencia (The Mexican Independence Day) with a special gastronomic week. One of the most traditional, authentic Mexican restaurants in London, the week was designed by Mestizio to showcase the diversity and depth of Mexican food by curating a regionally inspired menu that took guests on a culinary journey around Mexico. For this purpose, the menu included such dishes as pescadillas from Guerrero, to a warming Pollo con Mole from the highlands of Puebla, to the Mexican lamb stews from Birria.

Gastronomic Week at Mestizo is long over, but it was still a good opportunity to experience one of the most authentic Mexican dining experiences one can get in London. Mestizo first opened its doors in 2004, and has long been one of the leading ambassadors of Mexican food in London, often championing this diverse cuisine through special gastronomic events such as the Gastronomic Week seen last month and other events organised in conjunction with the Mexican Embassy. Moreover, Mestizo, has the largest tequila selection in the UK (some 260+) and is proud to share the Mexican’s love of its iconic national spirit through the various tequila Masterclasses, tequila tasting experiences or ‘Tequila and food pairing experiences’ at Mestizo.

Mestizo - London Food Blog - Tequila Bar

Mestizo – Tequila Bar

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Zima Russian Street Food & Bar

ZIMA

When Zima ‘Russian street food and bar’ opened next to Ronnie Scotts in Soho, we were very hopeful. Russian cuisine has struggled to break onto London scene up until now. Maybe this is because it has taken Russia a couple of decades (after the fall of communism ) to start growing its own chef talent. But right now, the Moscow restaurant scene is frothing with people and places that dig into their Slavic roots, combining them with the techniques of the brave new world (just look at ‘White Rabbit’ in the top 100 restaurants this year).

Zima - London Food Blog

Zima – The menu

The man behind the Zima menu is Alexei Zimin, a known chef on the Moscow restaurant scene. With a bushy beard, kindly intense eyes and just a smudge of a smile, he fronts the brand perfectly –a kinda 21st century style Russian bear. Zima is located in a Grade II listed building. Originally Zima was only a bar that occupied the tiny basement, but it has since expanded and taken over the ground and the first floor in the building– a sure sign the guys were doing something right.

We sat on the first floor, which was all starched white table cloths and understated colours , with the ‘Russianness’ of the place only being hinted by some (well curated) hip and happening Russian art. The ground floor ryumochnaya (vodka bar) had a livelier vibe of mainly Russian speaking youngsters. Russian rock music and vintagy enamel bowls of homely food boded well in the bar, but upstairs seemed out of place (and was frankly a tad boring as there were so few customers – we are in Soho prime estate after all).

The service was warm and friendly, with recommendations on what to choose given with a genuine twinkle.

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Noble Rot

Noble Rot Restaurant and Wine Bar is located on quirky Lamb’s Conduit in Bloomsbury and is run by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew, the same pair who founded the well-known wine magazine of the same name, Noble Rot. Wines obviously play a key part in this Parisian-styled wine bar, but the sizeable dining room serves a seasonal British menu which changes regularly. The kitchen is headed by Paul Weaver who has worked at both St John Bread & Wine and was at The Sportsman for 5 years. Noble Rot also has another link to The Sportsman, with chef/owner Stephen Harris acting as a consultant.

Our first course of gazpacho, Lincolnshire smoked eel and lovage (£8.50) was lovely and fresh. The sweet and slightly tangy gazpacho was richly intense with flavour, and it married wonderfully with the smokiness of the delicious, fatty eel. This a wonderful dish, packed full of punch and finesse.

Noble Rot - London Food Blog - Gazpacho

Noble Rot – Gazpacho

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Social Eating House

Located in the heart of Soho on Poland Street, Social Eating House was the third restaurant in the portfolio of celebrated Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton, once a protégé of Gordon Ramsay.

Set over three floors with a basement chef’s table, a group floor restaurant and a top floor bar, Social Eating House offers a contemporary bistro menu and currently holds one Michelin star. I loved Jason Atherton’s food when he was still cooking under Gordon Ramsay at Maze, before he got financing and expanded internationally. His restaurants can now be found not only in London, but also in Asia, New York and as far afield as Sydney. It’s not easy to maintain high standards when chefs expand so rapidly. Too often I find that with such expansion the food develops a formulaic feel to it and lacks the sense of heart and substance that won the chef his accolades in the first place.

We went to Social Eating House and dined on the special prix-fix menu which was priced at £29.50 for 2 courses and a cocktail or £34.50 for 3 courses. The vibe was informal and quite buzzy, with a fun and funky energy. It was all very nice if a little too noisy. We found the experience to be acceptable relative to the price we paid, but didn’t find it particularly special for a Michelin starred restaurant. Sure we only had the prix-fix menu, but we hadn’t expected to find errors in the food.

Starter number one was the Normandy chicken with BBQ sweet corn, popcorn, strozzapreti pasta and laksa sauce. The chicken was pleasantly cooked, but the sauce was quite strong which ended up overpowering the chicken. There was also quite a lot of the sauce which didn’t help matters. Moreover the sauce hadn’t been heated up properly and so was slightly cold. I didn’t much like the popcorn in the dish either – it did not taste as it had been freshly popped. However the pasta was lovely.

Social Eating House - London Food Blog - Chicken with laksa sauce

Social Eating House – Chicken with laksa sauce

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Cau St Katharine Docks

CAU ST KATHARINE DOCKS

Cau (cleverly pronounced as ‘cow’) stands for Carne Argentina Unica, a chain of Argentinian steakhouses by the same people behind Gaucho. I visited the Cau St Katharine Docks branch which is located in the newly refurbished Commodity Quay. On good weather days, the front of the restaurant opens up for al fresco dining, overlooking the West Basin of the marina.

Designed to embody the spirit of the trendy area of Palermo, Buenos Aires, the design of the Cau St Katharine Docks was sharp and funky with booth seating and bright blue sky and grass imagery. Cau has a quirkiness to it, notably with the waiters and waitresses wearing endearing ‘cauboy’ and ‘caugirl’ T’shirts.

The menu at Cau displays the best of Argentinan grass-fed beef. Dominating the menu was a variety of steaks, burgers and steak sandwiches. But for non-steak eaters, there was also a choice of twice-cooked pork belly and fresh market fish.

We began with a selection of starters, the first of which came highly recommended – the homemade jamon and manchego croquettes (£6). These were excellent, with a crispy crumb coating and a gloriously creamy filling. I would highly recommend trying these.

Cau St Katharine Docks - London Food Blog - Croquettes

Cau St Katharine Docks – Croquettes

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Picture Marylebone

PICTURE MARYLEBONE

Picture Marylebone is the second restaurant after the originally named Picture Fitzrovia, an independent restaurant venture serving small plates inspired by British seasonal ingredients. Behind the scenes is a team that previously worked at the Arbutus Restaurant Group, Alan Christie and Colin Kelly who were both head chefs at the Michelin starred Arbutus, and Tom Slegg who was the restaurant manager at the similarly Michelin starred Wild Honey.

With its minimalist interior, Picture Marylebone is a picture of pared back urban chic. For lunchtime dining, it provides a perfectly smart setting. For evening dining, the lights are dimmed for a more intimate vibe, with the dinner menu consisting of both a six-course tasting menu priced at £40 and an a la carte menu divided into three savoury sections (vegetarian, fish and meat) plus dessert.

Reasonably priced, the food at Picture Marylebone was also excellent. We began our meal with a prettily presented ravioli of caramelised onions (£9). This was a very tasty dish decadently oozing with lots of delicious butter, which for some, might have made the dish too rich. However, I really enjoyed it. The pasta was al dente and the onions were delightfully soft and sweet. A nice mixture of fresh peas, lettuce and pecorino rounded off the dish nicely.

Picture Marylebone - London Food Blog - Ravioli of caramelised onions

Picture Marylebone – Ravioli of caramelised onions

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