Adam Handling’s ‘back to roots’ collaboration with Ruinart champagne is an unmissable dining treat on the fringe of this year’s Frieze, writes Arun Kakar
Adam Handling is a name that provokes excitement among gourmands. This is chef whose rise has been nothing short of meteoric since he became the youngest ever head chef at the Fairmont St Andrews seven years ago. Since then, he hasn’t stopped. Handling has enjoyed stints as head chef at St Ermin’s overlooking St James’s Park, then on Masterchef: The Professionals in 2013, before opening his first restaurant, Restaurant Adam Handling at Caxton the year after. Oh, and then there’s the opening of his first independent venture, the acclaimed Frog in 2016, followed by a juice range, a coffee shop and then this, his outpost at Belmond in Chelsea. He’s only 31.
And so Spear’s takes no hesitation in making its way to the Belmond Cadogan Hotel to enjoy a collaboration between Adam Handling, Ruinart and Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, at this year’s Frieze art fair.
Handling’s cuisine is one of modern British paired with the meticulousness of fine dining at its heady peak. Think science meets celeriac, serious food for discerning diners. And it is on this basis that this culinary-cum-artistic collaboration, named ‘Shared Roots’, arrives. Continuing throughout Frieze next week, it features a series of six artworks by Muniz, who takes his inspiration from ‘winegrowers and vineyards, who together, face challenging natural conditions each season’. It’s a theme that connects deeply with Handling, who has always made sustainability a focus of his work.
He’s very much in the spirit of Frieze himself, delivering a menu that is described as an ‘authentic encounter between an artist and a chef’, spanning five courses and paired with Ruinart, the official champagne of the fair.
And gosh, this would all sound so pretentious – almost a little cynical even – if it wasn’t all so bloody excellent.
Things begin with chicken bread and butter alongside and cheese doughnuts. The butter is a Handling favourite, rich, smooth and rustic. One could gorge on it all day, and we have to prevent our waiter from giving us another serving. While this is as close as one is likely to come to luxury comfort food, the cheese doughnuts present a bit more of a challenge because, well, they’re doughnuts. These are a fixture of the chef’s menus everywhere he cooks, rich morsels stuffed with gooey melted cheese, indulgence smattered with yet more cheese and black truffle that adds a satisfying crunch to the whole affair.
It’s followed by ‘mother’: celeriac, truffle, cream cheese, confit egg yok, apples and dates. So named in tribute to the chef’s mum, his ‘grounding influence’, it’s textured and very complex. Flavours swirl, clashing and combining in some mythical way that fine dining at its very best does. A knockout.
Turbot comes next, in an earthy mix of broccoli stems, vine leaves and caviar. Most people throw out broccoli roots, but not Handling, not here, and it again comes together in an outstanding dish that is light and subtle. It’s in contrast to the duck that comes next, blood red and rich, with wild herbs and Ruinart vinegar. A generous piece of meat that speaks for itself: a glorious cut, carefully enhanced and wonderfully cooked. What more could one ask for?
Before too late, it’s time for dessert: grapes, grapes and more grapes, in a mix of sharp goats cheese soft and firm. It’s not too indulgent, which we’re grateful for, and so the menu ends on the common ground between the chef and the champagne.
The first three courses are accompanied by Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, then concluded with Ruinart Rosé. Our glasses are never allowed to stay empty (this is not a complaint) and yes, this is Ruinart, a paradigm of sparkling wine, so needless to say it doesn’t disappoint.
Together with or five courses, this is a menu of abundant quality, with that understated gift for judging the size of the menu in a perfectly portioned and paced way, two aspects that one realises the importance of when they’re performed to such a high level (or done terribly).
After enjoying this menu, one realises why Handling has risen so quickly. There’s not an inch wasted in presentation, not a hair out of place, he is a technical wizard that isn’t afraid to go back to basics. This is not a menu to be missed. Too many art fairs? Not with menus like these…Catch it while you can.
Arun Kakar writes for Spear’s