It was a shame to see, only a few years ago, that one of London’s grand hotels, the Cadogan on Sloane Street, had closed for business with no immediate prospect of resurrection. Left to gather dust in the attic of hospitality, an institution with many stories to its name, such as the arrest and subsequent incarceration of Oscar Wilde, has finally been reinvented, dawning a new, evergreen chapter.
Adam Handling’s progress from acclaimed chef to Michelin star-attaining, multi-premises restaurateur, has been like the painting a life-defining self-portrait. Beginning in East London and hopping to Covent Garden and now Chelsea, the Frog restaurant brand has swiftly become established as a leader in British fine dining, under a new Scottish chef in the pond who really means business.
The Cadogan Hotel was acquired by Belmond, who really know how to do luxury hotels with heritage – Le Manoir in Oxfordshire and the Splendido in Portofino to name but two. Entrusting this regenerative venture to Handling was a shrewd move. The bar and dining room maintain classic features of the original interior architecture of the hotel, while also being effortlessly made contemporary without being too ‘safe’.
Negroni necked, the walk to the restaurant from the bar is a gauntlet heading through a narrow, open pass with the brigade on full display, before being seated in the separate dining room beyond. I’m still perplexed as to the layout of the kitchen concept, as it seems more like an interlude in the Crystal Maze where Richard O’Brien should be grabbing your arm, dragging you through the purgatory between the Bar and Restaurant zones which are completely separate.
The dining room itself is impressive; classical interior features are entwined with modern art, and the space is light and not remotely claustrophobic for a room of its size. The menu card offers straight-up a la carte. The description of every dish oozes comfort and familiarity with its ingredients; no pretence or words which you may have to feverishly Google on your phone under the table to avoid the crippling shame of daring to ask the front of house for a description when trying to impress on a first date. Every dish was incredibly appealing. Starters were all above £20, which seems punchy, but the portion sizes were noticeably generous. My veal sweetbread with wild garlic and morels was so new season I’m not sure that it would even have been possible to have some of those ingredients on the plate at that time in the calendar year. It was a perfectly executed dish which did exactly what it said on the tin. The fabled chicken butter (with crispy, salty chicken scratchings on top) to spread on sourdough is as post-watershed indulgence as your filthy minds are already thinking it is. Wow. You can actually buy it by the jar too.
This is where the paradox appears. The John Dory main, served with raw cuttlefish spaghetti and Oscietra caviar beurre blanc, completely bamboozled me. Alas, as much as I think about it, I still don’t understand the dish. With a lovely fillet of John Dory, the sauce and greenery would complete it. The virgin butter underneath, if you’re unfamiliar with it, has the texture of buttercream and a distinct acidity, swallowing up elver-thin slivers of fresh cuttlefish I found incredibly confusing. I’d forgotten that wonderful cephalopod element of the dish even existed until I unearthed it in the swirling rockpool underneath. That says it all. Did I mention there was Oscietra caviar in the butter sauce? In summary: flummoxing. The roast chicken dish opposite me seemed to be the stronger option.
It was day two of a new fine dining restaurant with a lot riding on it. The calibre of local fine dining restaurants in the neighbourhood these days is getting higher, which is excellent, as the area does need it. I do believe it will go the distance and achieve the accolades which it is clearly setting out to do. It was only one dish in an overall decent showing which caused a bump in the road. After all, as Oscar Wilde observed, hear no evil, speak no evil, and you’ll never get invited to cocktail parties.
Restaurant Adam Handling Chelsea The Cadogan Hotel, 75 Sloane Street, SW1X 9SE