Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Frog cooks Kikkoman

I received an intriguing invitation to a food happening which sparked irresistible curiosity; a British food experience, with Kikkoman’s Japanese products as the inspiration. The happening was seven course dinner at The Frog by Adam Handling, the renowned chef. Chef Handling has achieved swift and remarkable recognition; Scottish Young Chef of the Year 2011, Scottish Chef of the Year 2015, Newcomer Restaurant of the Year 2015 and the British Culinary Federation’s Chef of the Year 2014. You might recognise him from Masterchef, The Professionals, where he was a runner up.

Arriving at the bar attached to The Frog, Eve Bar, Adam’s cheeky humour was immediately evident. The neon sign declared “resist everything except temptation”, a spin on the infamous Oscar Wilde quote. As I descended the stairs, apples were placed on each step. Geddit? Adam has called his bar Eve, and Eve succumbed to temptation, eating the Forbidden Apple. 

The evening was designed to show how well ingredients most usually used in Japanese cuisine can help add flavour to any cooking. In particular a new Kikkoman product, Ponzu.

Ponzu is a watery sauce made of Shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), Mirin (a sweetened rice wine), bonito fish flakes (the same thing sprinkled on Takoyaki in Japanese restaurants), Konbu (a type of seaweed) and citrus fruit. Here, Kikkoman have used lemon. The result is an umami flavoured, deeply savoury sauce with a sour, tart tasting edge.

Bing Yu Lee of Kikkoman told us we didn’t need to save Ponzu for Japanese food alone, suggesting we should use our imaginations. He suggested we could use it on our salads to give a healthy, flavoursome low fat dressing and particularly on fish, in the same way as you'd use malt vinegar.

Adam Handling talked us through his solidly British food philosophy. He explained that whilst he uses some ingredients not typically associated with England, that doesn’t make his food “fusion”. He explained that his cooking is not as French influenced as most British chefs. This is because he feels too often British chefs look to France. Britain, he emphatically explained, is multicultural. His intention is to be more British in his cooking which to him is bringing together those multicultural influences. Many of the dishes we were going to enjoy, we were told, featured soy sauce. Soy sauce, Adam explained, has the umami flavour which makes everything taste great.

Dish 1: Kingfish, Jalapeno, avocado
(with Kikkoman Tamari gluten free soy sauce)

Served on a beautiful, chunky, quirky handmade shallow plate, our first course brought together super fresh kingfish, intense dill, with squishy peaks of whipped avocado. The heat of the Jalapeno was subtle, just in balance, not overpowering the dish. A teasing dish, leaving me anticipating the courses to follow.

Dish 2: Baked celeriac, soy cured egg, apple, truffle
(Made with Kikkoman naturally brewed soy sauce)

Adam explained that this was a play on his signature dish "Mother" which includes an egg yolk which is cured in soy sauce for 24 hours. This is to alter the texture and to bring out flavours including sweet, sour and umami. Here the cured egg has been cut in quarters and served with very thin slices of apple, slim juliennes of baked celeriac with finely grated truffle. This was a a little dish punching well above its weight, with a creamy mouth feel, intense umami, sweet apple, and surprisingly sweet celeriac.

Dish 3: Agnolotti of mushrooms, Teriyaki broth, frozen Foie gras
(made with Kikkoman Teriyaki marinade)

Our hidden private dining room in the basement Eve bar has a kitchen bench where the dishes are given their final touches before going out for service. Naturally, I had to investigate, watching Chef Adam Handling at work!

The agnolotti were delicately thin pasta parcels stuffed with soft minced mushrooms, Adam had brought out umami savoury flavours in the mushrooms, ensuring the filling wasn't bland. Tiny little cubes of al dente carrot gave a variation of texture. The creamy yellow sauce with teriyaki broth, topped with a herb oil made from spring onions was rich, intense and so tasty, I wish I had some bread to mop every drop up. My photo was taken at the kitchen bench to take advantage of better lighting. At my seat (which was in a semi-lit corner) frozen foie gras crumb was added, but I wasn't able to take a decent picture. Trust me when I say it was a surprising ingredient which gave an original and tasty twist. 

Dish 3: Broccoli, chilli, Dengaku, lime
(Made with Kikkoman less salt soy sauce)

Watching Adam delicately top the next dish with a special secret ingredient, I knew we could expect something special. Turns out the precious topping was English caviar from Exmoor.

Adam explained that the grilled broccoli in this dish was picked today, having been grown locally. It had been marinaded in mirin (sweetened rice wine), sake (rice wine), miso (fermented soy paste), and sugar. Once cooked, it was cooled to bring out the inherent flavours. Even the most hardened broccoli refusenik would find this dish gorgeous. Served with the merest hint of chilli and a touch of broccoli puree, the reduced salt soy sauce did not taste like it was low in salt. I will be using the reduced soy sauce in my cooking in the future as here there is no sacrifice of taste. 

Dish 5: Cod, prawn, gem lettuce
(Made with Kikkoman naturally brewed soy sauce) 

You might think that a delicate white fish like cod couldn't stand up to a full on set of flavours such as you find in soy sauce. In this dish, the soy sauce (the regular Kikkoman sauce rather than the reduced salt version) was in the sauce drizzled over the dish at the table. 


Forgive me for the dark photograph, but I was sitting in an area with low light. My cod was cooked as I like it (just cooked where the texture has only just changed), the prawns were succulent with a touch of sweetness. The sauce, with more herb oil, complemented the seafood so well. A lovely dish! 

Dish 6: Tamari Glazed Pork, cauliflower
(Made with Kikkoman Tamari gluten free soy sauce)

The tamari glazed pork, featuring top quality Iberico pork was served with a sweet, thick, dark coloured sauce, intensified by the soy sauce. Served with roast cauliflower, creamy roasted cauliflower puree, beef jus and leek oil, this was meaty perfection!

Dish 7: Chocolate, Lemon, Soy caramel
(Made with Kikkoman naturally brewed soy sauce)

As this dish was being served, Chef Handling had a confession for us. He told us that he realised the dessert was too large after 6 previous courses. However, he had to serve up a big portion because he only has one mould available. As you can see, we benefitted from his kitchen's lack of equipment! (Don't do anything to remedy this, Adam! Your diners will thank you!). The Tofu mousse Adam explained was an obviously more Asian influence. The soft, intensely creamy centre to the mousse was indulgent and satisfying, served on a rich chocolate biscuit base. For me the most interesting element was the Soy caramel. Salted caramel is all the rage right now, with people falling for the juxtaposition of salt and sweet. Here, Adam has used the soy sauce for its salty and umami flavours. The soft caramel with its inviting contradiction of flavours was better than any salted caramel I've tasted. 

The bonus treat

Doughnuts with mango custard cream

Despite feeling very full by this point, there's always space for more sweet, right? I found my hidding "pudding belly" to enjoy these light, fruity and utterly naughty doughnuts. At one point Crab doughnuts were one of Adam's signature dishes (you can find the recipe in his book Smile Or Get Out Of The Kitchen), but right now, after so many memorable plates of food, this was perfect. 

Chef Handling's menu was a voyage of discovery, revealing a new wider horizon of British food. Before it, I perhaps had a form of tunnel vision about which ingredients can be used for which type of food. Obviously, nothing I cook at home will be anywhere as sophisticated or skilled as Adam's food. I am a unashamedly a home cook, with modest skill. However, I hope to use this evening as an inspiration for new cooking adventures!

So as I went up the stairs to get back to street level, passing by Eve in all her glory, I thought about how I might use what are seen as Asian ingredients in my wider cookery. 

Snigdha attended the Kikkoman press event at The Frog by Adam Handling as a guest of Kikkoman. Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this blog post.

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