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Aussie chef’s Japanese cuisine spawns London success

He’s an Aussie chef trained by a Frenchman, living in London and specialising in Japanese cuisine. Scott Hallsworth might sound like a riddle wrapped in a mystery served with a side of wasabi, but really he’s just an Aussie expat lucky enough to be doing what he loves.

Scott started out in Bunbury, a coastal town in WA, where he undertook his apprenticeship at the Lord Forest Hotel. Scott admits he was kicked around a bit while there by ex-Roux Brothers chef Alain Doisneau. He went on to cook in Perth and Queensland before making his first move abroad to Toronto in Canada, then to Zermatt in Switzerland.

In 2001, Scott opened a Pan Asian restaurant in Chamonix, France, serving dishes such as green curry with rabbit. “People were horrified at first,” says Scott. “They were completely disgusted. But the restaurant was packed from day one.”

Keen for a new challenge after a year in France, Scott moved to London to try his hand in a big city. Within a week he was given a trial at the famous Japanese restaurant Nobu London. He had to prove himself with a 400 plus service on his very first night. “It was a tough trial,” says Scott. “I was definitely given a schooling.”

But the challenge was worth it when Scott successfully secured a job at one of London’s most fashionable restaurants. He stayed at Nobu London for six years, working his way up to Head Chef.

During this time Scott fell in love with Japanese cuisine, a passion which grew and grew. An Australian living in London and cooking Japanese food may sound somewhat unorthodox, but as Scott points out “English chefs cook French food – what’s the difference? If you love something enough you’ll get stuck into it no matter what.”

Ever since his days at Nobu, Scott’s cooking has been heavily influenced by local ingredients that give his Japanese fare a European twist. His dishes often incorporate foie gras, local fish and European cooking techniques. Scott has even written a book called The Japanese Foie Gras Project, taking a look at foie gras from a different point of view – as the perfect marriage of Japanese and European cuisine.

A favourite dish of Scott’s is pan fried dover sole combined with an acidic Japanese sauce. “The richness of the butter and the sharpness of the sauce mingle perfectly and make for a cracking combination,” says Scott.

Scott moved back to Australia briefly to open Nobu Melbourne but quickly started missing London and returned after only a year. “Personally I just love the scene, the ingredients, the vibrancy and the opportunity that London offers. There are ingredients from the European market that you would never see in Australia because it’s just too isolated.”

The weight of competition means everyone works harder, says Scott. Suppliers are willing to go the extra mile and kitchen teams are fiercer. “You’ll usually have some maniac at the head of the kitchen schooled by Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White.” London’s prestigious names create environmental pressure that you have to live up to. “The hours are long and the days are long,” says Scott. “Most people only last a week.”

But once you prove yourself, business opportunities are greater than in Australia, Scott says. Even during the recession the restaurant industry has kept growing, the banks have kept lending and venture capitalists are all very keen to get money into the restaurant sector.

With the high and low end of the market flooded, Scott saw an opening and made plans to nail the mid-market with a casual, inviting venue that offers a bit of everything. Scott’s latest venture aims to take the excitement and flair of a high end Japanese restaurant to the masses in the form of Kurobuta, a contemporised version of the traditional Japanese izakaya.

In Japan, says Scott, you would only eat serious sushi at a sushi restaurant or serious tempura at a tempura restaurant. An izakaya is a relaxed, social setting similar to a pub or a local wateringhole where patrons sit down and linger over a drink with tapas-style food. The layout of Kurobuta is designed to create a relaxed, social atmosphere with a combination of high and low level communal tables, individual tables and booths.

This new venture is a departure from Scott’s usual repertoire of highend restaurants. He says it’s the most exciting opening he’s ever worked on. “Kurobuta is more stripped back, more rock ‘n’ roll, and totally approachable,” says Scott. “With Kurobuta, I can rough it up around the edges. We’ll be playing cool music and taking a less stiff approach to service staff. It will be more Antipodean with Aussies out the front – different to the European approach.”

The restaurant is set to launch in Connaught Village near Marble Arch, an affluent area of London. Diners will be invited to make themselves at home whether they’re after a couple of drinks, a quick bite to eat or a full meal.

The menu will offer the same quality and creativity as a high end venue, with plans to include dishes such as tea smoked lamb chops with smoky nasu and spicy Korean misu; BBQ pork belly with green apple, gochujang and daikon-yuzu pickle; and chilled somen noodles with shiitake dipping broth, fresh wasabi and tempura crunchies – “Dip the noodles into the ice cold shiitake broth, mix in the condiments and slurp like mad!”

In the morning Scott plans to serve the best coffee in town along with Japanese-accented pastries. While bakeries are widely popular in Japan, Scott will be taking a more recognisable approach as he doubts London diners will accept Japanese pastries straight away. Instead Kurobuta will offer European style with a Japanese twist, such as a lemon tart made using yuzu, an East Asian citrus fruit commonly used in Japanese cuisine.

Scott has already started pitching to expand Kurobuta to another site in Shoreditch Village, London. Beyond that, he has his sights set on further expansion to New York, the Middle East and Scandinavia. His plan is to build up a successful business and then sell it off. “I love what I do so it makes for a good ride,” says Scott.

What would Scott’s advice be to young chefs with their eyes set on greener pastures? “You’ve got to jump in the deep end,” he says. “Everyone talks about going overseas but not everyone goes. It might seem daunting but it will open your eyes to a much bigger world.”