Best In The Biz: Adam Handling Talks Cocktails

The Michelin-star chef dishes on Eve Bar's revamp & his first cocktail book

Welcome to Best In The Biz, where we catch up with the hottest names in the cocktail kingdom for an inside look at what they're working on now.

When an award-winning chef opens a bar, you know the snacks are gonna be on point - and Eve Bar, the Covent Garden drinking den set below chef Adam Handling's Michelin-star restaurant Frog, certainly delivers when you're feeling peckish (hello, cheese doughnuts). 

But Eve has also shown that Adam and his team are first-class at crafting cocktails, too. Now Adam's sharing his approach to booze in Perfect, Three Cherries, a new recipe book that highlights the relationship between the kitchen and the bar while spilling the secrets to some bangin' serves. We chatted with Adam about the book - and his big plans for Eve Bar's relaunch...

Hey Adam. We're keen to talk about your cocktail book, but first, we wanna learn more about your approach to the bar. What inspired you to open Eve Bar back in 2018?

Because I'd never opened a bar before, I just thought, what do I want a bar to be? Let's go crazy. I wanted to build it the opposite of Frog. So in the "risk and temptation" kind of style - a yin yang effect with the restaurant. Upstairs: elegant, feminine; downstairs: masculine and debaucherous, but in a very classy way.

But now we've completely knocked [Eve's decor] down, and we'll be ready to reopen on the third of February with a completely brand new look and menu.

We’ll miss those stained glass windows! Tell us more…

The look and feel of the bar is changing as of 3 February. It's going to be a lot more sexy, cosy and ultra-luxury - all blue velvet, with fabrics everywhere. All the bartenders’ uniforms are changing, and the cocktails are going even more incredible - a focus on foraged cocktails, all about Britain, still using food waste and what we find in this country. We're also getting rid of table times and having walk-ins only, which will make it a lot more relaxed.

We can't wait! Let's get into your book. Perfect, Three Cherries is broken down into sections based on the base ingredient of the spirit. Why did you choose this approach? 

As a chef writing this book, I did it how I would want to learn about cocktails. So I think breaking them down into the main ingredients [of their spirits], and then going from classic cocktails, which you can't really change, to British and waste-based was easier for everyone to understand.

Who is the book for?

No one's been mean or nasty or anything like that with me or my group, but I know for a fact that if a bartender came and opened a restaurant that’s all food led and not cocktail led, you'd get a few chefs putting up their noses. I just want the bar industry to open the book and think, "Eve is a contender for perhaps one of the nicest bars, and maybe we should go in and check it out and see what they do".

So my audience for the book is the industry. All of my books are industry focused, but I think they're pretty enough to sit on a shelf at home. With any cookbook - even if it's something like Jamie Oliver's 15-Minute Meals or it’s something like mine, complicated as hell - if you learn something, it has served its purpose, right? You don't need to master every recipe at home yourself. You can take the ideas, and you can run with them. 

What was something that surprised you as you wrote it? 

How bloody complicated it is! No, I think it's a really old game, cocktails, and being able to learn about their history was the best part of writing the book. I want to showcase British cuisine in my books, but British cuisine is very young - before that it was all French. But cocktails go back hundreds of years. For me, knowledge is power, so learning all about the exact history, things like the Prohibition, all the little distillers and farmers around the world - for me, that was the best part of writing the book. I learned so much.

The recipes in your book use ingredients from the kitchen in some pretty wild ways. Can you tell us more about the relationship between Frog’s food and Eve Bar's cocktails? 

Put the chef and the bartender together, and you can make something really wonderful because they both have skills that the other doesn't - so, for instance, having a waste product upstairs in the restaurant that we will then turn into bar snacks. If we don't produce enough of it, or it just doesn't work as a dish, then we’ll work with it to enhance a cocktail. 

The classics are there for a reason. But if you think out of the box and use something that normally gets thrown away to enhance them, they become new. And that was my thought process: do something that no one's doing, and also use food waste to make that happen.

What’s the craziest drink Eve Bar has created through its low-waste ethos?

Probably our red cabbage one [Purple Rain, a mix of house-made red cabbage liqueur, vodka, passionfruit syrup and fake champagne]. When you cook red cabbage, you don't use the stalks or the outside leaves, but they can make a wonderful colouring inside drinks, rather than having to add fake colouring or butterfly pea and that sort of thing. 

That cocktail took forever to make though, because it was like, how do we use that waste? At first, the smell wasn't so nice. So then we're stewing it, then we're doing it without oxygen. It takes trial and error, countless times, to make it work. Because as much as the ethos to utilise food waste in our drinks is strong, most of the time, it doesn't work. Then you need to pull back and think, okay, it's not working conventionally, how can we make it taste nice?

We know the Manhattan is your fave cocktail (hence the name of the book). What else are ya drinking when you're off the clock?

We do bottled cocktails, and I keep bottles of our Perfect, Three Cherries in my house. But if I'm going to make a drink at home, it is probably going to be a Spicy Margarita. It's easy - you just muddle up some jalapeños and coriander, add lime, mix it with some good tequila. And then later on during the night, it'll be the Manhattans and the White Chocolate Espresso Martinis!

Perfect, Three Cherries (£30) is available to purchase here

By Kate Malczewski