What can we expect from your four-day Gastronomy pop-up at Goodluck Hope?
We’re going to replicate Freak Scene as best we can. It’s not just about recreating the food, it’s about creating the Freak Scene vibe. We’re passionate about music, so it’s going to be a casual, playful way of presenting a restaurant as opposed to the more formulaic stuff at the higher end, like in my Nobu days. I am more about the Japanese Izakaya, so we’re just trying to plonk that on the side of the Thames, with those incredible views. And once we’ve gone and there’s a restaurant there, that is going to be an absolutely brilliant place to sit and see the sun go down.
Why did you choose Goodluck Hope for this pop-up?
It is an area steeped in the history of London’s riverside and it is where the capital established its reputation as the world’s greatest trading hub (tea, spices, indigo, silk). Today, it is being transformed into a new neighbourhood by Ballymore, called Goodluck Hope. I’m pretty lucky to be able to come to London and put up a pop-up right on the side of the Thames here. It’s also really close to the King George V dock where my dad left England after the Second World War to go to Australia. I picked him up once from City airport and he saw it and said; ‘Oh my god, that’s where I left England as a teenage boy. We were called the Ten Pound Poms because we could pay £10 to move to Australia’. There’s that personal tie in because it’s where he left the country for the first time and he was the guy who backed us to get Freak scene up and running.
You’ve worked all over the world, what draws you back to London?
I was drawn to London after being here for six years. Then I went back to Melborne to open up a Nobu there. Melbourne’s a great city but is was just too relaxed. I need to back where that buzz is, there is a certain buzz about London and also my heritage, my dad being from Manchester, so I had that personal attachment. The opportunity here is fantastic, it feels right to be here.
After six years at the helm at Nobu, how have your travels, heritage and professional background influenced the menu at Gastronomy?
The dishes are going to be largely based around my Japanese experience in the kitchen at Nobu. There’s my experiences from Australia, which is really multicultural, particularly with all the influence from South East Asia. You just pick things up along the way. The first place I worked abroad was in Singapore when I was 19. I just fell in love with the Singaporean flavours, there was so something so magical about the flavours. I thought they were so in depth but also so vibrant on top of that. This is a collection of stuff from travels, my home experience.
What do you think makes a good pop-up?
It’s got to be playful and fun. You can’t replicate being in a restaurant. A restaurant is a thing that takes sometimes years to get it buzzing, and with a pop-up it should be what it is. It’s probably going to have a few rough edges and there might be the odd mistake because you’re working with people you’ve never worked with before. It has to be something special that doesn’t give the impression that it’s going to be there for a long time. In the beginning, Korobuta was an accidental pop-up, we couldn’t find our investor for our permanent site and we couldn’t open so we decided to do a pop-up and we found a little joint on the King’s Road and I thought: ‘This is gonna be a disaster, the King’s Road don’t want us, we wanna be rock’n’roll.’ Our furniture was terrible, it didn’t really belong in Chelsea, it was rubbish actually. But that is one of the hallmarks of a pop-up, you have to try it now or miss out. That’s where Freak Scene comes from. It comes from a song by Dinosaur Jr, who I’m a big fan of, but it’s also a freak occurrence, it’s only going to be around for a short time, this is your only chance.
What is your process when creating a new menu?
It’s changed over the years, I used to scribble down crazy thoughts, try them out in the kitchen and most of them would work – there would be a few rubbish ones. But these days it’s more formulaic, I suppose. I write myself a brief and have a set of rules with elements of this and elements of that, and I’ll write down some key words and I just sort of draw from each rule and from this wealth of ideas. I like to use notepads and they are full of scribblings and drawings and I’ve got piles of them. I go through those and they get filtered into a dish. I found my old notebook that I was using as a 16-year-old apprentice chef and I worked out that this month I started working as an apprentice chef 30 years ago!
Do you have a favourite dish from the Gastronomy tasting menu?
The cabbage, it’s the most unassuming dish on the menu but it gets full marks every time. I gave up eating meat a couple of years ago so I look at putting a lot of umami into vegetables. Meat is full of umami, of course, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, if you cook meat properly it’s going to be tasty. But vegetables need a little bit of thought and using dried miso is the amino acids that pump up the umami and truffle and butter. We nicknamed it the magical cabbage because people say, ‘Oh I don’t like cabbage, I had it for school dinners’ and then they taste this and say, ‘Wow, what the hell have you done to this cabbage?!’ I love getting that reaction because it’s so unassuming but it’s also a winner. So that’s my fave.
Do any of your creations have a personal story or do they conjure any particular memories for you?
The crab wonton bombs at the beginning of the tasting menu. When I first went to Singapore when I was 19, I remember eating chili crab. They cut up a whole crab and fry it briefly then put it in a wok with this sticky, little bit sweet, quite spicy sauce – it’s really messy and it is crazy. You have big massive beers with it. I used to think that was unbelievable. Then later on I worked with a Singaporean chef on Hayman Island in Australia on the Barrier Reef, who taught me all about that dish, how to make it. When I did Freak Scene, I remembered it and I love it so much but I wanted to do something a bit more refined so I put a bit of that dish into a wonton cup so it’s a little bit less messy.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why?
Nobu used to say to everyone: ‘Be humble’ It’s a pretty good one because you can run away with things so easily and get a bit giddy. If you can be humble then you can be true to yourself and come back to what you’re there for and that’s creating. If you run away with the ball you can confuse your main purpose. My purpose is to cook and run a successful business.
Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work?
I really look up to Danny Meyer from Union Square Hospitality Group in New York, I think he’s a bit of a business guru. I like his discipline. Chefs have a lot of discipline but it is something you have to remind yourself of as you get a little bit older.
What ingredient can you not live without and why?
Kombu – I could probably live without it but I wouldn’t want to. It’s the giant kelp that grows off the north of Japan, and they dry it out and it’s packed with natural umami. It’s almost like a cheat ingredient and you can use it to pump up umami in almost everything. For example, the humble celeriac, I sometimes treat it like a meat, I’ll put a stick of kombu in the water to boil it and that pumps it up amazingly. You can put it in soups, salads, sauces; it’s great. In fact, the original sashimi in Tokyo was made by sandwiching the fish in the kombu to give it a lot of flavour and firm it up and that is the tastiest sashimi you will ever have. You use less salt with kombu because it’s so packed full of flavour, it’s probably healthier.
What item, apart from your passport, can you not travel without?
My headphones. I’m a huge music fan. My brothers are in rock’n’roll and I wanted to be a rock star but my mother edged me into the kitchen. You’re going to work for free on a Saturday instead of rehearsing with your band. Our friends had a hotel with a Chinese restaurant and my mum wanted me to build a work ethic. She said you’re not going to go out and tour like your brothers. Cooking became my main passion after that.
Where is your favourite place to eat in London?
There are so many good places. Lately, I’ve got a bit of a thing for oysters so I go to Darby’s. Robin [Gill] is a mate. I met him at a food festival in Iceland a couple of years ago. Just when he was starting The Dairy and we ended up drinking in the Blue Lagoon together and have been friends ever since.
What do you like to do on a day off?
Probably go for a run or a long swim, I like to get out. I was working in France last year and I went down to Pampelonne Beach and swam a kilometre up and down the coast. That would be my ideal day off. I’ve got the Tooting Lido nearby too, at 91m it’s the longest pool in Britain. I’ll jump in and swim a kilometre. That’s a good feeling to do that on a day off.
What are your biggest passions?
Music and running. I used to run to a high level and sometimes I was state champion on certain track events. I used to race cross-country on a national level. I haven’t been to the track for ages, and I’ve been thinking about getting back up to the speeds I used to reach but now I’m really enjoying just going out and doing a 15-20k run, which I never used to have the patience for but now I can just go out a cruise.
If you could choose anyone from today or history, who would be your ideal dinner party guest and why?
Now that my eating habits have changed – and I am reading about breath work at the moment – I think it would have to be the Dalai Lama. Just because the food that would be at that meal would be more influenced by him and that’s really interesting that sort of approach to food. The way he would eat, not hurrying things taking it at a slow pace, would be so interesting to be around, and the conversation!
Join Scott Hallsworth from Wednesday 14- Saturday 17 July 2021 for Gastronomy at Goodluck Hope; Riverside Pavilion, Goodluck Hope, 79 Orchard Place, London E14 0JU. Final few lunch time tickets remaining here.