Freak Scene, review: Messy, unpredictable but ultimately satisfying
It's an eclectic menu, and the benefit of a bento is that you get a little bit of everything. But make no mistake: this is unashamedly bolshie for fusion cuisine, says Ibrahim Sahla
Remember Takeshi’s Castle? If you don’t, then let me remind you. It was a Japanese game show that ran for four years in the late Eighties and featured contestants undertaking challenges in order to defeat the boss, Count Takeshi.
Most of these challenges took the form of obstacle courses, and would often result in the contestants falling into questionable-looking water or an expanse of conveniently-placed mud. Hilarious.
I had forgotten all about Takeshi’s Castle until I visited Freak Scene. Occupying the space where Barrafina – the Spanish tapas chain – spent several wonderful years on Soho’s Frith Street, this restaurant is part izakaya (informal Japanese pub) and part performance space; the countertop dining set-up allows you to watch the chefs in action, while old episodes of the game show play on TVs above them.
Messy, unpredictable but ultimately satisfying, the food here is a lot like what you see on screen.
Make no mistake: this is unashamedly bolshie for fusion cuisine.
It wears the ‘junk food’ tag as a badge of honour. It’s not your traditional brunch menu, but as we’ve previously discovered in Brunch On Saturday, there isn’t any cuisine out there that can’t be given the brunch treatment.
Brunches here are served in bento boxes and the only choice you have to make is between non-vegetarian and vegetarian, both priced at £26, which includes a glass of prosecco. It proves to be a decent deal in what is quickly becoming one of the most competitive spaces in London – both in terms of the type of meal and the area it’s in. You also get live entertainment thrown in, in the form of the Freak Street skiffle-punk band playing away in the corner of the restaurant.
It’s hard to know where to start with a bento, so I tend to begin with whatever I think looks like my least favourite and work my way up. In this case it’s the mochi flat bread, which is presented in strips that looks deceptively similar to grilled halloumi but which have the sponginess of pounded rice.
It also has the blandness of plain mochi, so liberally using the mentaiko (spicy cod roe) dip is no bad thing. Better yet is the yuzu sauce which comes with the spring roll cigars, which is so good I wouldn’t think less of anyone who drank it on its own. It’s surely no coincidence it comes in a shot glass?
There’s also the black cod taco, which takes a high-end Japanese staple and democratises it, putting it all into a crunchy shell. The combination of the miso on the fish, the sushi rice and the salsa works incredibly well together, particularly when you get a bite with all three, but that’s more of an if question – the proportions can be a bit off, leaving you with a slightly dull mouthful of rice and fried wonton taco shell.
The lamb chop, however, proves to be the star of the show. The nominal meat course at the end of the bento, it’s tea-smoked and marinaded in a sort of gochujang (spicy miso paste) – two things which immediately have me swooning.
It’s superb: salty and rich enough that you know it’s drinking food, but refined enough that there is no doubt it’s been thought up by a chef whose ideas and execution shine through the extensive menu.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the drinks, as this is essentially a bar with food as much as it’s a restaurant. You can stick to the glass or prosecco that comes with brunch or you can explore the cocktail menu.
The Stairway to Hibiscus Heaven is probably the pick of the bunch and is one of the easiest to drink, though the Bonzai Kitten is also worth a look – particularly due to the addition of Calpis, which turns it into a quasi White Russian.
The benefit of bento is you get a little bit of everything, and this proves to be a great introduction to Freak Scene’s eclectic menu. Not all of the food on offer reaches the levels of the lamb chop, but as I explained before, Freak Scene’s brunch is fun, messy and ultimately satisfying.
Freak Scene, 54 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SL; 020 7734 6370; freakscene.london; open Tues-Sun