Over the centuries, many of life’s greatest lessons have been pithily summed up by philosophers. Plato, for example, once sagely declared that necessity is the mother of invention, a proverb few would dispute – particularly Scott Hallsworth. In 2017 his successful Japanese izakaya concept Kurobuta closed unexpectedly, forcing an emergency brainstorm with his dad and partner at the time about what would come next. The answer, they decided, was a pop-up called Freak Scene.
With his business gone and income lost, there was little time to deliberate different names and concepts, and within two weeks the kernel of Freak Scene (inspired by the Dinosaur Jr song) had sprung to life. Fast forward six years, and the pan-Asian brand has built a loyal following with its playful, fun food and energy to match – Scott says he set out to create something provocative, with a rock and roll feel that would set it apart. ‘I always say it really did begin out of necessity,’ Scott laughs. ‘My dad said ‘what are you going to do’ and I said ‘as usual, I’m going to sell food’. We created the brand and the name – my dad hated it, which I thought was great. I wanted to be challenging and didn’t want to do the four-letter, two-syllable names that were popular. We pulled it together in two weeks with portable camp stoves and £3 Ikea furniture – it’s hard to believe it actually happened.’ Now, with six years as a pop-up under its belt, Freak Scene is opening in its first permanent home, in London’s Parsons Green.
In his pre-Freak Scene days, Australian-born Scott spent six years at the helm of Nobu, mastering Japanese cuisine and launching restaurants across the world, from Toronto to Cape Town. His subsequent Japanese Kurobuta concept began as a pop-up and went on to open in Marble Arch and Chelsea, establishing his reputation for fun food with attitude. Freak Scene initially followed a similar path – its original iteration in Farringdon lasted a few months, before he moved it to Soho (in the former home of Adam Simmonds‘ fine dining Test Kitchen and Barrafina), where it lived on a one-year rolling lease. Then lockdown came, forcing Scott to pivot to meal kits, before the business closed, with Scott keeping Freak Scene alive as a caterer. This latest iteration, mark III, is thanks in no small part to fellow Aussie and comedian Adam Hills (known for his stand-up, Channel 4’s The Last Leg and Super League rugby coverage), who Scott first met at a charity fundraiser. They struck up a friendship over Scott’s cooking, and the comedian came on board when the chance to revive Freak Scene in a long-term home arose.
Back to present day. We speak on the brink of its opening, with the finishing touches in place and the menu whittled down to a collection of fifteen of his greatest hits – it is, Scott says, fair to describe it as a whistle-stop tour of not only Asia, but his career, with favourites from down the years making the cut. There’s the chicken fried chicken with peanut soy, as well as his salmon sashimi pizza with truffle ponzu, and the magical cabbage with dried miso truffle and ponzu (Adam’s favourite – he named it), all of which will be served alongside fresh sushi and sashimi. And then there’s the Singapore chilli crab wonton bombs. ‘There’s an amazing dish in Singapore with massive chunks of crab, it’s wok-fried and deep-fried and served in this incredible sticky chilli sauce and it’s just killer,’ Scott says. ‘I’ve refined it so it isn’t quite as messy and you can have it in one or two bites in a wonton.’
Scott likens its style to the Asian cooking found in Australia; a melding of cultures. There are flavours from across Asia in his menu, his background inevitably ensuring plenty from Japan, but the service comes straight from the Land Down Under. ‘We offer a very Aussie hospitality experience – we like our staff to be all smiles and genuinely engaged,’ he says. ‘That’s one of the first things I like to instil. It’s exciting and fun and we don’t take ourselves super seriously when we talk about our food. You can sit there and have a great experience without analysing and dissecting the food – you can just get a mouthful of something and think ‘holy crap that’s good’ and carry on with your meal.’