Freak out!Scott Hallsworth's Freak Scene is still a thing
by Nick Harman - Sunday January 7, 2018 6:01 pm
Nick talks treason, taste and very heavy guitar riffs with the chef owner of the fabulous Freak Scene..
I find Scott beavering away in the basement of his tiny restaurant; upstairs the room that he fitted out with IKEA tables and chairs “cheap and easy” has emptied after lunch and now he’s preparing for the evening crowd.
It’s just him and one other assistant, a far cry from the old days when he was Head Chef of Nobu and then owned and ran the brilliant (at least it was when he ran it) Kurobuta
He buys us both a beer from his snazzy Peroni dispenser and we sit down for a minute. The important first order of business is to console each other on the sudden cancellation of the Dinosaur Jr gig at the Roundhouse a few days before.
Scott likes a good soundtrack to his kitchens and restaurants, usually indie guitar bands. That old restaurant Kurobuta, the one he opened in 2014, had a real driving beat to it all day and night, a beat that suited his masterly, elegant and yet at the same time inventive, take on informal Japanese cuisine.
It worked so well he opened two more restaurants, including South East Asian Joe’s Oriental Diner and a pop up in Harvey Nichols, but then it all went pear shaped. ‘It was an interesting lesson in business, about putting other people in charge of the books,’ he says sipping his beer. ‘We were making cost-savings, had a very good turnover, but were strangely still losing lots of money.’ He raises an ironic eyebrow. ‘So, we ended up in administration.’
Understandably fed up, but not yet ready to be counted out, he opened Freak Scene, this tiny pop up in the remains of the short-lived restaurant Sous-Chef with some financial help from his dad who at 81 years old even came over and helped put all that IKEA furniture together.
Scott kept the TV screens used to show orders and menus, but turned them into screens showing mad videos of people hurting themselves attempting Jackass style tricks, as well as weird Japanese Game Show clips. ‘I can hear customers pissing themselves laughing at them as I cook,’ he grins.
His kitchen upstairs is so small only he can really work in it, the advantage being that when he gets really busy he can reach almost anything he needs, from the bottle-gas camp stoves he’s installed to the large rice cooker, without hardly moving.
‘Octopussing, I call it!’ he says. ‘To be honest, I really like it, it’s kind of awesome being a one-man band, but I do notice now after a few days off how physically tiring it is, I guess it’s about getting older.’
I take a place just out of tentacle reach and he cooks me some dishes as we talk.
It’s a gloriously messy, and thus very millennial, dish that’s impossible to eat any other way but with hands. For once I’m happy to do without cutlery.
Next up, Tuna Sashimi Pizza with truffle ponzu, jalapeno and wasabi tobiko. The base is a crispy wonton that shatters when bitten into and once again I’m grabbing air to stop the lovely shards falling to the floor. That hint of truffle is remarkable, you breathe it as much as taste it.
People are coming in for takeaways. He cooks the takeaways fresh, just like he cooks the dishes for inside, the only difference is the cardboard box they end up in.
One woman happily carts his Chicken-fried chicken back to her office, ‘It seems to confuse some people though;’ Scott muses, ‘chicken-fried just means the confit chicken leg is fried in chicken fat. The hyphen’s the clue!’
He passes me a plate of it. ’I didn’t want to just do battered chicken, everyone’s doing a version of that - Japanese battered chicken, Korean battered chicken, their mum’s ****ing battered chicken!’
His chicken is just superb, tender and juicy and packed with flavour with a skin that’s a special dish all on its own. It sits on a bed of sharp cucumber pickles and a sticky, spicy, soy peanut sauce, which grabs onto the meat and won’t let go but I’m not complaining.
Seared beef tataki, an onglet marinated in beer, sesame and soy is ‘delightfully chewy’ as Scott says, while thousand leaves potato chips, basically boulangere potatoes cooked, pressed, chipped and deep fried and served with a green chili dip are irresistible.
And who would think a dish of aubergine could be so good? ‘One of our top sellers at Kurobuta and here too,’ says Scott. ‘It’s surprising, a best-seller is usually a protein based dish like the black cod we did at Nobu.’ I can see why, it’s a melting mouthful, topped with candied walnuts. Most people only know aubergine through moussaka or Parmigiana, this is something else entirely.
Talking of Black Cod, Scott does it here, everyone loves Black Cod but not everyone can afford Nobu prices. Here it’s Miso-grilled Black Cod Tacos with sushi rice and scorched red chilli and tomato salsa. It pretty much sums up Scott’s style, informal but with classic ingredients and old-skool cooking skillz (yes, I used a z, I am so hip).
I leave enthused by his energy and delighted by the food.
The Freak Scene train is in town for another three months
91 Cowcross StreetLondon, EC1M 6BH