We chat to one of London's most in-demand chefs, Scott Hallsworth

He's worked at some of the world's most glamorous restaurants, now he's got his own mini-collection of Japanese eateries, Kurobuta..
We chat to one of London's most in-demand chefs, Scott Hallsworth picture

From running the kitchen at one of the world's most glamorous restaurants to opening his own mini-collection of Japanese eateries, Scott Hallsworth is among London's most in-demand chefs.

Taking inspiration from the izakaya of Japan, Scott launched Kurobuta as a pop-up on the King's Road in 2013. The concept went down so well that there are now three permanent sites. But before this he had a lengthy career at Nobu London, and was tasked with opening the glitzy chain's outpost in Melbourne. After a stint in Dubai he moved back to the UK to open Wabi in Sussex, another flashy restaurant which counts Katie Price as a fan.

With Kurobuta he's really found his stride. The menu has dishes you won't find anywhere else - he tells us the biggest seller is the tuna sashimi pizza, which uses a fried tortilla as a base instead of traditional dough. Although they're located in swanky areas (Chelsea, Marble Arch and on the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols) they have a laidback, welcoming vibe in common, helped by chirpy staff and Scott's discerning playlists of grunge and punk rock. Here Scott tells us the secrets to Kurobuta's success and shares his recipe for beef fillet tataki, another top-selling dish.

Which is your most popular dish?
It's the Tuna Sashimi Pizza with Truffle Ponzu and Wasabi Tobiko. Over all three sites, this is the clear winner! Oddly though, it used to be our Nasu Dengaku: miso baked aubergine. What's odd about that is that it's a vegetarian dish. Wherever I have worked throughout my career it's always a protein-based dish, so when the Nasu was the biggest seller overall we were pretty surprised.

All the staff really know their stuff. How do you hire them?
I'm looking for cheerful, energetic and fun people who are naturally hospitable. Some haven’t had much experience in hospitality, let alone in a Japanese joint, but that’s not my concern at all. Their personalities are what really counts when they are out front. We teach them the rest. If they enjoy the dishes and the drinks then they go out there and express themselves, they don’t need to do the hard sell. They all get stuck into the sake trainings, our sake supplier, Ollie from Tengu Sake is the Willy Wonka of the sake world. If he can’t get you buzzing about it then you're only half alive!

The menu is incredibly creative, how do you put it together?
The menu at Kurobuta is a combination of things I used to experiment with years ago, my take on classic dishes and a bunch of new ideas. It's not something that I find easy to formulate in a formal way. If I were working for a 5 star hotel they would have fired me long ago. I can’t deliver it on a certain date, I can’t tell you when I'll have the next idea and I hate structure when it comes to creativity. It obviously doesn’t work for hotel chefs either, when was the last time you rushed out to the Hilton for a feed (on purpose)?

You curate the music too, do you often get comments from customers?
Yes, we hear comments fairly often. When somebody says they are into the playlists then they are often huge music fans, in general. It's a total buzz for me when I chat to guests who are getting into the music. For me I was sick of sitting in generic, cut copy versions of Nobu or Hakkasan that pretty much have the same monotone, limp, background tones the world over. Honestly, try this out: the next time you're in a dimly lit, modern Asian (or other modern non-descript restaurant), close your eyes and listen – it's the same shit you’ve heard in London, that you heard in New York, that you heard in Dubai and all the rest in between. Sometimes we hear from guests that the music is too loud, which is fair enough, so we turn it down a bit for them. But close your eyes at Kurobuta and you know exactly where you are!

How did you learn to cook Japanese cuisine?
I'd dabbled with it before but it really kicked in when I was working at Nobu. I remember not so long after starting there that I thought to myself, ‘this is the one for me’. I wanted to stick with this type of food and these ingredients and I’ve never looked back. I'd been cooking for more than 10 years before I started to sink my teeth into Japanese so I had a pretty good understanding of my basics and how busy kitchens work. I had to constantly bug Japanese chefs for their opinions on my creations, read books and Japanese food magazines (for the photos only), travel to Japan, experiment, but most of all it was sticking to it and having focus.

How can someone who is a novice attempt a good Japanese dish?
Don’t aim too high first time around and expect a few shots at it before you perfect it. Saying that, I think it sometimes sounds far more of a challenge than it actually is. If you work up a ‘version’ of something that floats your boat then keep rocking it out, it doesn’t need to be just like the picture, or so to speak. Enjoying the preparation is half the fun.

Do you have a recipe you can share with us?
Beef Fillet Tataki with Onion Ponzu and Garlic Crisps

Tataki is a Japanese preparation whereby key ingredients such as salmon, tuna, beef or even tofu are seasoned, seared at a scorching temperature, then cooled down swiftly in order to leave the centre as rare or untouched as possible. Choose a moderately aged piece of top quality beef fillet for a brilliant result.

100g trimmed beef fillet
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely sliced and washed spring onion rounds
Generous sprinkling of garlic crisps (recipe below)
15ml ponzu sauce (recipe below)
20g onion ponzu salsa (recipe below)

For the ponzu sauce:
50ml Japanese soy sauce
100ml rice vinegar
20ml fresh lemon juice

Mix together and refrigerate, keeps for months.

For the onion ponzu salsa:
1 small white onion, finely diced
40ml grape seed oil
35ml ponzu sauce
¼ tsp garlic puree

Combine ponzu, garlic and onions and mix well. Slowly whisk in the grape seed oil. Keep refrigerated, keeps for around 5 days.

For the garlic crisps:
Take some nice plump cloves of garlic and slice them thinly, lengthways, on a Japanese mandolin. When you have a nice big pile of them, place in a pan, cover with cold milk then place onto the hob and bring up to the boil.

Remove from the heat immediately, strain away the milk then gently rinse the garlic slices in cold running water until all of the milk is washed away. Allow the slices to dry off on some kitchen towel.

Pre-heat a pan of oil to 140 C. Once the garlic slices are dried well, fry them in small batches until golden. Drain well and keep in a dry warm place to keep them crunchy.

Pre-heat a heavy based, preferably cast iron pan until its almost smoking.

Generously season the beef fillet all over with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle a very small amount of grapeseed or other neutral oil over the seasoned fillet.

Place in the pan and allow to colour well on all surfaces. Quickly remove whilst still very rare and plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Chill for 1 minute, remove and allow the fillet to rest upon a sheet of paper towel.

Just before serving, thinly slice the fillet and lay out on a slightly deep plate that will allow for a fairly runny, wet sauce.

Top with a row of the spring onion and a row of the onion ponzu salsa. Drizzle the ponzu sauce over the top of the fillet and all around the sides so that it fills the plate, lightly flooding it to the edges. Top it all off with the crunchy garlic crisps. Eat it right away!

This article is connected to Kurobuta
Published Apr 13, 2016
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