‘WABI’ bravely replaces ‘brawlers’ pub, the ‘Horse and Groom’, according to the new venue’s head chef, Scott Hallsworth. Specialising in Japanese cuisine, the nimble, knowledgable Australian is best-known for having spent six-years at Nobu Matsuhisa’s Japanese/South American restaurant in London - the first Asian eatery to be starred by Michelin, and amongst the last to serve scarce bluefin tuna. There he rose from Chef de Partie to Head Chef, since launching another outpost of the 28-restaurant strong brand in Melbourne.
As opening day of Hallsworth’s latest, less glamorously sited, but ambitiously appointed venture nears, its promoters indicated to me that prospective patrons are raising their eyebrows at its offering. Perhaps exacerbated by the title - in Japanese, Wabi refers to remoteness from society - this begs the questions, is Horsham home to enough gastronomes, and will they be eager enough to expend extravagant sums for elegantly fussed fusion food?
Aside from the cheap freehold, Hallsworth sees his high quality, multi-dish dining experience as a means to halting the market town’s existing pilgrimage of well-heeled residents to London’s palaces of posh plates (including two Nobu’s). Investor, André Cachia believes there is little competition ‘within 25 miles’, including neighbouring chains, Côte, Strada, Pizza Express and Presto, a sentiment echoed by Hallsworth who adds, ‘there’s no good bars’. Also underpinning its raison d’être, Wabi represents the dream of the now deceased wife of another investor to open a sushi bar.
Hallsworth’s dishes will include slow-cooked enoki mushroom risotto with fresh edamame from, intriguingly, a Sussex-based Japanese farm, and tea smoked duck breast tataki with foie gras kabayaki and ginger amazu sauce. Foie gras is clearly one of Hallsworth’s favoured ingredients, hence his niche cookbook, frustratingly but understandly out of print, detailing no fewer than 57 foie gras-themed recipes. He says: ‘As with the concept of tempura, which originally came from Portugal, the Japanese love to borrow from other cultures, and then improve on them. In fact the French introduced foie gras there as late as the 1960’s. But it works so well - spices and aromatics are perfect partners in drawing out its creaminess.’
When asked why an Australian would choose to cook Japanese, he responds: ‘Why not? I think it’s just as weird that an English Chef does French!’
To achieve absolute precision, Hallsworth will make use of a Thermomix blender, circulating water baths (or , I fancy, water baths with wave machines) one of which is portable, and even an electromagnetic cooker ‘which can interrupt a pacemaker if the person gets too close.’
Notably, the split-level venue features a 2000 litre aquarium. When salt levels are stabilised in a fortnight, it will be stocked with a school of jellyfish. Hallsworth comments: ‘After the tank’s expense, it was funny to find out that the jellyfish only cost £2 each.’ He is yet to work out an appropriate recipe for them.
The wavy bar spans the ground floor, where signature cocktails will include the ‘Bonzai Kitten’ (sake, vodka, calpis and lime juice) and ‘Silver Fox’ (gin, fresh shiso, ginger, cucumber and ginger beer).
Incidentally, when asked about the recent San Pellegrino sponsored restaurant awards celebrating the World’s 50 Best, Hallsworth was ‘delighted’ to see noma's René Redzepi recognised as number one. However, on Nobu’s absence from the list, he says: ‘it’s been the big bully of Asian restaurants for too long...’
Hallsworth has no plans to serve bluefin.
WABI - 38 East Street, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 1HL