Scott Hallsworth on his new Balham restaurant
Scott Hallsworth on his new Balham restaurant
The top chef has brought his much-loved Freak Scene to Balham… but this time it has a twist…
Australian chef Scott Hallsworth has carved out quite a reputation since he first shot to wide acclaim as head chef at Nobu. He branched out on his own with Freak Scene and Kurobuta, and his pan-Asian fusion dishes have won him a legion of fans with dishes such as tuna sashimi pizza and chilli crab wonton bombs.
And now he’s set up in Balham with the fourth re-incarnation of Freak Scene after a successful launch last year in Parsons Green. So, what’s the inspo behind opening in SW12? Well, he lives in Balham and he’s also had his eyes on the site on Ramsden Road for a while, although previously it had never been the right time. More importantly, he’s excited by the area’s burgeoning nightlife. The neighbourhood has the likes of Soho House’s Little House Balham; and it has a raft of top neighbourhood joints, as well as pubs, bars and the long-standing SW London favourite, the Banana Cabaret comedy club.
“It was a no-brainer. There are a lot of people coming in to Balham to dine, as well as the locals. And also, there isn’t really any restaurants here doing what we do,” says Scott.
Freak Scene Balham soft-launched 18 January with an official opening date of 1 February. Scott tells us: “It will have the hallmarks of Freak Scene in terms of experience, lighting, music and the same sorts of flavours but we will focus on sushi, the robata grill and wood oven, which is new for us. It won’t be ‘another’ Freak Scene as that would be boring for me and everyone else.”
He says it’s the kind of place he and his family would love to eat – his three teenage kids love sushi, Scott loves the grill.
There will be some Freak Scene classics on the menu such as grilled hispi cabbage with beurre noisette, ponzu, dried miso and truffle, but the Singapore chilli crab wonton bombs will be switched up to a sushi dish. Behind the sushi menu will be ex-Kurobuta sushi chef Yauheni Kharytonau. Among Scott’s favourite dishes, he says he is looking forward to serving a wood-fired lemon sole with ponzu.
The main restaurant will have similar vibes to Parsons Green but will also have outside seating and a basement den for late-night drinks. There will be cocktails, and sake, of course, with a menu curated by sake expert, Oliver Hilton-Johnson of Tengu Sake. Adds Scott: “There will also be a return of the frozen-head Kirin beer we did at Kurobuta, which keeps it ice cold until the last sip. Pints are a bad idea as when you get near to the end of the drink, what you’re swilling isn’t that nice. This Japanese idea solves that.”
It has been quite a twisty journey for the chef. He launched Kurobuta, a rock ’n roll Japanese izakaya in 2014, as a small pop-up on the Kings Road in Chelsea. A permanent site followed, along with more locations, including Harvey Nichols – but in 2017 the company was sold, leaving Scott devastated. The first Freak Scene was born out of necessity, and with a small amount of money loaned from his father and a camping stove, he set up another pop-up, this time in Farringdon. Its reputation grew, and Freak Scene moved to Soho but the pandemic forced its closure.
During the lockdown, Scott’s passion for cooking meant he couldn’t stop and he brought some professional equipment to his home to make meal kits. “It was hard work but I just wanted to be able to carry on cooking the food I love and send it out to our followers,” he says.
Scott then worked as a private chef before moving back to Australia to be with his father, who was ill. When he passed, Scott came back to the UK and continued his work as a restaurant consultant.
But he was eager to get back in the kitchen and launched a pop-up called Double Dragon, and a chance meeting with Australian comedian and presenter Adam Hills led to a partnership to re-launch Freak Scene. It opened its doors in Parsons Green last year. Adam is backing the Balham venture, too.
Says Scott: “Adam has always been a great supporter even before he was involved financially. He’s always been shouting about Freak Scene! He is also well connected so he brings the actors, artists and celebs in.”
The two became friends after meeting at the Royal Flying Doctor Service charity ball, where Adam was compere. Scott tells the story: “I put myself up as a prize in the auction to cook for someone at their home. I thought I’d make a fool of myself with all these big names associated with the prizes, but it got the highest price, I raised £10,000, and I got Adam’s attention!”
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The Parsons Green launch was a big hit. “The reception from locals has been great. I think that is partly down to what we did at Kurobuta. Many customers remember the good times they had in Chelsea, and they live in the neighbourhood still.”
He hopes that Freak Scene will go down well in Balham, too. He’s lived there for seven years and loves the area. He is a fan of the local restaurants. “There is a Mexican restaurant, 1910, which does great tacos and cocktails. While I’m not a member, I have eaten at Soho House and that’s good, too. And we have lots of casual sushi places, which are good to drop in to with the kids. I also like Pho – it’s a chain but I do like to go there for the big bowls of soup.”
What else does he enjoy when he gets some downtime? “I love working to be completely honest. But I do play guitar, running through Wandsworth Common and ice swimming. I read the Wim Hof book and I started cold swimming in the ocean. I also used to be a member of Tooting Lido and swim there in the winter. The benefits are apparent immediately when you come out of the water. I now have an ice bath in my back garden and I jump in there each morning. That is my drug of choice.”
I ask who inspires him in the food world. “Pierre Koffmann. His was the first book I had as a young apprentice in Australia. When he was making waves in London there wasn’t much going on. It was a wasteland and a risk. There wasn’t the scene there is now.”
“And obviously Nobu [Matsuhisa] – he was the pioneer for modern Japanese food. He did it first and he is a legend, and the way that he and the people around him grew the company… Nobu is a big influence.”
Scott says it is Nobu’s ethos that has provided him with the most useful advice. “No matter how many people pat you on the back, stay humble. There is always someone who knows more than you. You can never master it all.”
While his path has brought many challenges, is there anything Scott would do differently? “Probably not, even through the hard times, I see them as lessons, in business and in food, and if they hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be feeling as comfortable and happy as I do these days. But maybe I would have worked even harder when I was younger: I do believe in the adage that youth is wasted on the young!”
Photos (c) David Loftus