Five minutes with… Scott Hallsworth
The chef of Freak Scene talks about pop-up restaurants, the joy of eating fresh sushi at Tsukiji Market, his love of A Wong, and what’s next
Published 26 AUG 2022
How would you describe your cooking style and food?
I used to tell people that it was Australasian – an Australian chef’s outlook on certain Asian cuisines. But that was equivalent to mental jiu-jitsu. I reckon that Jay Rayner summed it up perfectly in a recent review: ‘his particularly raucous brand of Asian-inspired, miso-slicked, ponzu-dribbled crowd-pleasing boom and blast’.
What made you want to go into running pop-ups such as Freak Scene when it first started, and the recent Double Dragon in Farringdon?
You proceed with a pop-up with a very different approach. It’s temporary, so you’re thinking short-term and focusing on the immediate future, not several years down the road. There’s an urgency, an excitement, which I really enjoy about pop-ups.
Having said that, Freak Scene was born out of necessity. I lost my restaurant, Kurobuta, so I pulled Freak Scene out of thin air in about two weeks. There was no over-thinking, no deliberating about nuances that don’t matter. We went out and bought a load of cheap Ikea outdoor furniture (the stools were about £3 each) and cooked like hell! And that’s another thing, no-one ever complained about our terribly uncomfortable Ikea stools, they came, they ate, they partied and most of the time they fully embraced it – because it was a pop-up!
What does a pop-up experience bring to diners and staff that a permanent restaurant doesn’t?
A pop-up sometimes rattles along like a slightly rickety train that’s going too fast. It’s exciting, a bit unpredictable and it’s a much scarier ride than you’d get on a slick, modern train (an established restaurant). It’s often a lot of fun for both the staff, as well as the guests.
What’s your favourite restaurant in London, and the world?
In London, it’s the lunch menu at A Wong – wildly creative and brilliantly executed. My favourite restaurant in the world was El Bulli, while it existed. But, since it no longer does, I’d have to say, The French Laundry in California.
What’s your most treasured gastronomic memory – either as a chef or a diner?
I’ve been lucky enough to do this a couple of times when I’m visiting Tokyo. I get up and head to the Tsukiji market at about 4am and sit at one of the crowded sushi bars within the market. Most of the fish is so fresh, it’s never even been refrigerated. Just to try and fit in, I order a large beer and then order up all manner of very simple, incredible sashimi and sushi.
What do you wish British people know about Japanese cuisine?
I think that, generally speaking, nowadays, British people know a fair bit about Japanese cuisines. But, I have noticed that sometimes they refer to Japanese food as sushi – as if that’s all that exists in Japan. I think one thing they may not fully appreciate is how specialist different cooking styles are in Japan. For example, if you’d like to eat good-quality sushi, you’d go to a sushi restaurant. It won’t also sell chicken wings and bowls of ramen; it’ll only sell good-quality sushi. Sometimes, Japanese restaurateurs in Britain think they need to serve a bit of everything that shows up on a Google search for “Japanese food ideas”.
The past two years have been difficult for people in the hospitality industry – what lessons have you learned from it?
Difficult, it was. I wouldn’t even want to start to tell you about the journey I wound up on – it’d probably sound fictional and also quite a bit like a cheesy country and western song. The big takeaway for me was, just keep going. If you lose a business, a loved one, whatever it may be, you just have to find your heading and push through the turbulence. I’ve also been getting into flying analogies!
What is next for Scott Hallsworth?
I’m continuing to do menu consultancy work for restaurants both in the UK and abroad as well as the occasional private dining event which I really enjoy. But, in the background I’m working on bringing Freak Scene back to life with a permanent site. And I’m working on a really exciting retail sauce and simple meal kit range. Stay tuned…