Freak Scene was born out of necessity…
In July 2017, I lost my beloved restaurant company, Kurobuta – a rock ’n roll Japanese izakaya which started as a small pop-up on the Kings Road in Chelsea back in 2014. We soon outgrew the pop-up space and shifted across the street to a much larger premises as well as setting up shop on Kendal Street, near Marble Arch, on the fifth floor at Harvey Nichols and with the Mandarin Oriental in Bodrum as a summer time operation called Kurochan.
The day I found out that Kurobuta would be sold (the story is too long and too old to get into anymore), I was devastated. Years of work, gone in a flash! Not only had I lost my restaurant company, my ultimate chef’s dream, I’d also lost my income. As I sat there in my living room with my dad who was visiting from Western Australia for the summer, he reluctantly asked me, ‘what are you going to do?’, I told him, defiantly, ‘I’m going to sell food!’ And that’s what I did…
We worked night and day for two weeks – yes, that’s all it took, to create, devise, recruit and sign-up to a pop-up site on Cowcross Street in Farringdon. Dad loaned me a small amount of money (relative to what this type of thing would typically cost) and we went for it – with portable camp stoves, £3 Ikea stools and (somehow) a lot of drive and energy, Freak Scene was born!
Fast forward seven months and a much better location came up on Frith Street in Soho – it was the original Barrafina restaurant location and it was offered to me on a one year lease. At that time, the building was due for major refurbishment so a long-term lease wasn’t an option. However, Freak Scene hit the ground running and we’d finally found our feet, our identity, our spiritual home even. After six, very rock ‘n’ roll, months, the landlord came to me to explain that their plans had been delayed and that I could have another year, on top of the first, if I wanted it – naturally, I jumped at the chance and we kept the party going!
Dad had come and gone for the winter as he’d done for many years, and when he made it back to see how his small loan was getting on (which came to be treated more like an investment), he was as proud as punch. He’d sit at the bar, munching on chili crab wonton bombs and slamming sake bombs with our staff, friends and guests! Legendary times, which I will lovingly cherish for the rest of my days…
But, this is only a tiny part of the Freak Scene story. Like any love story, it was like a rollercoaster at the funfair – so scary that, at times you just want to get off. But, when you get off, you just want to get back on again (apologies, Billy Bragg). There are far too many anecdotes to include here – I’ve always thought that if the story of Freak Scene was made into a TV show, it would be conceived as pure fiction. It was that hard, that brilliant and that tragic – sometimes all during the same service!
Enter the covid years – like many other independent restaurants, Freak Scene became a victim of the very first London lockdown. Reluctantly, we stripped the place out and kept most of our fixtures and fittings in a storage unit. In a way, I’m grateful that I’ve had the time to re-think and even re-brand Freak Scene. The Freak Scene in Parsons Green is the Freak Scene I dreamed it could be, even back then!
This brings me to the part where I give praise and thanks to those who believed in my mad idea back then, who constantly supported me, collaborated with me and who were firmly part of my Freak Scene pirate ship.
Through it all there was Phar, who was as much a part of Freak Scene as I was and she worked like crazy to bring Freak Scene to life, every single day. She was my partner (in business and life) for many years and quite simply, I couldn’t have done it without her. Phar has moved on now but the respect, recognition and appreciation for her hard work and support will always remain.
Then, standing by me with dad and Phar back in Farringdon was Ian whose (un)official role is ‘making our lives easier’ with digital technology. Ian manages all things digital for Freak Scene as he did for Kurobuta. But, he does a hell of a lot more than that; from booking our festival dates, emergency graphic design and so many other things – he is an important part of the Freak Scene family and he will never be defeated by the internet machine!
Also back in the Farringdon days, we had the unrelenting support of Pauline and Stu. Neither has a background in hospitality but both jumped in when they saw Phar and me at breaking point – Pauline would serve guests and run food and I recall a very late night when I had a mountain of dishes to hand-wash by myself, Stu rolled up his sleeves at about midnight and did them all with me! But it didn’t stop there, Stu DJ’d at our special events and Pauline provided mentorship to Phar and me when the chips were down. If that wasn’t enough, they then invested in Freak Scene when we shifted over to Soho. They remain partners and resolute supporters.
Freak Scene had so many loyal supporters and guests, including THE Adam Hills. Adam and I met at an annual charity event in aid of Australia’s Royal Flying Doctors Service. I invited him to Freak Scene and he invited me to be in the audience at his brilliant TV show, The Last Leg. Adam would bring in droves of guests and even asked one of his interviewers to conduct their interview over lunch there. Last summer (2022), I created a pop-up joint called Double Dragon – the menu was a bit like the ‘greatest hits’ from Kurobuta and Freak Scene. Adam came for dinner with his wife, Ali and I told him that I had plans to bring back Freak Scene and that I was currently seeking investment – not at all expecting him to call me and say, ‘hey, let’s grab dinner next week’. When we did, he explained that Ali had suggested that he invest! We ate dinner, chatted about the plans and the rest is history! Without Ali’s suggestion and Adam’s all-round support – moral and financial – The Freak Scene (version 3.0) may not have happened. Thanks for believing!
What about the staff? I’m pleased to say that our senior crew are back at the helm. Andre, Gia and Dom all worked their fingers to the bone back in Soho. I’m reluctant to call them staff, they are my pirate family and I’m proud of them. The same can be said for Elle (she’s the Weetabix kid, Adam is the KFC kid). She would move heaven and earth to be on board this time around but she’s the grand new Mummy of Rocky!
Finally, I’d like to introduce, Geoff. A fellow Aussie, Geoff is the newest partner and pirate collaborator onboard The Freak Scene family ship. Despite Freak Scene closing its doors before Geoff and I met, he did have a chance to visit the Freak Scene pop-up that was held over 4 very hot nights on the banks of the Thames, opposite the Millennium Dome. Geoff’s primary focus is finance and back office but he too rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck into anything that needs doing.
To everyone I mention above; I’m blown away when I think about the time, effort and sacrifice you have given to The Freak Scene. It’s more than transactional, it’s passion, it’s pirate family and it’s an exciting journey that we have ahead of us.
Freak Scene & The Freak Scene
I’m not a fan of the generic four-letter, two-syllable, Japanese / oriental restaurant names. Everyone’s at it, including my ex-boss, Nobu and all that followed, Zu-ma, Ro-ka, It-su, etc. It felt as if there was (and still is) a formula that was being followed and that isn’t how I like to do things. Freak Scene is the name of a song by American indie-rock legends, Dinosaur Jr.
I wanted the name to be rock ’n roll, provocative and it had to tell the punter that this wasn’t any old oriental / pan-Asian / Japanesy restaurant. It had to express a wild energy that didn’t just manifest in great food but also in a louder than average indie, hip-hop soundtrack, graffiti on the toilet walls, staff that were your friends and an overall experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
When I told dad that I wanted to call it Freak Scene, he was shocked and just said ‘no way, you can’t call it that!’ – bingo, that was the reaction I needed…
Freak Scene in Soho was, most certainly, a wild kinda energy. It wouldn’t be right to try and replicate that place and time – it happened, it was great then we all moved on. This time around, I want to harness some of that energy and use it to present a new Freak Scene, The Freak Scene – a crew of matured, weather-beaten, masters-of-their-craft that have new, fortified ship and this time they even have a map!