Handling, who opened his first solo venture The Frog E1 in London’s Shoreditch three months ago, responded to a review on ratings site TripAdvisor from a Piotr P, which described the restaurant as “overpriced, overhyped, too complicated, not tasty with average service” and called Handling’s beetroot dish “just beetroot with a lot of sugar”.
At the time, under The Frog E1’s TripAdvisor account, Handling wrote: “You are the prime example of an imbecile. If you think that we are overpriced, you lead a very sad life. The food is sharing plates costing from £4…[you’re] just stupid, as the beetroot is not just some beetroot with sugar on…please never come back or for that matter stick in McDonalds, I know it’s a touch out of your price range, but try it.”
But the chef – who is appearing on the BBC’s Great British Menu: The Great Britons' Banquet Scottish heat this week ‒ has since apologised to the reviewer personally, and confirmed that he regretted writing the reply.
In a statement to BigHospitality today, Handling said: “In hindsight, I wouldn't have written this response at all, and I have since apologised for my use of language to the person concerned, but as chefs, particularly ones in the public eye, we open ourselves up to criticism and I'm fast learning that opinion can and will be divided at times.”
“When I get amazing reviews, I feel incredible. When I get bad ones, and particularly if I feel they're unfair in some way, I feel horrible and so does the entire team.”
He added that he and his team worked very hard, and that he had been cooking since he was 16, so it felt “personal”.
He said: “I'm so passionate about it and so determined to make the hours I put into it result in happy diners in my restaurant, [so] when I get a review such as the one I did, that passion can bubble over. At the end of the day, I’m a chef and not a politician and I will continue to deliver great food to my guests.”
No opportunity “to put things right”
Handling also encouraged diners to be honest at the time of the meal, and ask questions about the dishes and food, to give the team a chance to explain or address any issues at the time.
He said: “[Negative reviewers] don’t give us the opportunity to put things right, instead they choose to take to the internet with their complaints once they have left. This is an issue all restaurants face. Whilst TripAdvisor is a great platform in terms of giving diners a voice and direct link to the restaurant, it can be frustrating when criticism is given in unconstructive ways.”
He added: “I believe what we’re doing here is amazing, and unlike other restaurants in London. Many well-respected food critics, trip advisor reviewers and guests agree.”
Handling, who previously operated his eponymous restaurant at Caxton at London's St. Ermin's hotel, before setting up The Frog E1, was a finalist on the BBC's MasterChef: The Professionals in 2013. He has also reached the finals in a number of chef competitions, including the Craft Guild of Chefs National Chef of the Year in 2014 and 2015, and in 2014 was named Chef of the Year by the British Culinary Association.