POP-UP restaurants, by their very nature, are supposed to be blink-and-you’ll-miss-them.
A bright idea, a couple of frenzied weeks operating out of a makeshift kitchen to serve the (hopefully) growing queues as word gets out, and then they are gone again, leaving nothing but a hashtag and a couple of confused-looking would-be diners that were a bit late to the party.
Scott Hallsworth knows all this, and yet Freak Scene, his summer pop-up tucked away behind Farringdon Station, is still pumping out his red-hot repertoire of Japanese dishes, despite winter well and truly settling in.
Fans of the ex-Nobu chef might be experiencing a strong sense of deja vu; this is, after all, how things started for Kurobuta, Hallsworth’s star-studded Chelsea pop-up that mushroomed into a second permanent restaurant in Marble Arch and a residency at Harvey Nichols.
Alas, though, Scott confirms Freak Scene, his first venture after departing Kurobuta earlier this year, is “definitely, definitely” off the scene for good next month, which is a shame because it dishes up one of the best meals in the EC postcode.
The short menu of 10 share plates has all the class of Nobu, the creativity and cool factor of Kurobuta, but for a lot less cash. Go in a group of four, or start fasting now, because you will want to try everything.
Here it’s a slightly more pan-Asian approach that includes a beef rendang curry and hoisin pork, but Japanese flavours still dominate; this was the man that introduced izakaya (casual) dining to London’s trendsetters, after all.
Crab and chilli wonton bombs kick things off with a proper punch; succulent soft crab with avocado encased in a crispy wonton wrapper, while the miso grilled aubergine (right) is a standout – tender, fleshy pieces that taste as though they have been marinating for weeks, scattered with caramelised walnuts for an unexpected sweet crunch.
It’s unusual to devote this many lines to a grilled vegetable, but Scott, who is beavering away behind the open counter, grins knowingly – “it usually converts people”.
Miso makes a second wonderful appearance in the form of moreish black cod tacos with sushi rice and a spicy tomato salsa, while the only issue with the chicken-fried chicken was the absence of anything other than chopsticks to scoop up the sticky peanut sauce.
The special, a Thai pork sausage bun, has just the right amount of kick if you can get your hands on it and the lettuce cup packed with honey hoisin grilled pork belly with mussels and chili jam was well worth the eyes too big for the stomach’ regrets creeping in.
Wash it all down with a couple of crisp, punchy cocktails like the East Side (gin, mint, cucumber and lime) and Freaky Smash Gin (St Germain, apple, mint and muddled grapes), or dip into the short but sweet sake menu with the likes of smooth Signature Brew Futsushu or the fruity Konishi Gold Daiginjo.
It will make the news that Freak Scene is unlikely to be around long enough for a return visit a little easier to bear, as will the confirmation that Scott has another pop-up already in the works.