Sexy Fish Revisited
Sexy Fish was launched with a celebrity fanfare that instantly assured its status as London’s glitterati hotspot. Sat Bal took his, um, plaice at this £20ish million, 200ish-cover restaurant to see why.
Richard Caring’s Caprice Holdings, owner of Sexy Fish, didn’t hold back on the launch razzmatazz back then. In came Rita Ora to sing the numbers while Kate Moss, Immy Waterhouse and the modelling elite supplied mermaid appeal. The launch message happily pushed an ethos of exclusivity and wealth attraction or, as the PR communiqué put it, “mid-century glamour and opulence.” And the message has stuck.
High-octane launches do their thing before the restless media eye roves elsewhere to scan other horizons and that’s when the work really starts in the restaurant world’s competitive ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ culture.
Of course, it helps to have Caprice Holdings’ lineage and Sexy Fish is thriving today, tomorrow and, quite likely, the day after too. Just witness the Vulcanic live-long-and-prosper spirit of its thoroughbred stablemates which include The Ivy, Annabel’s and Le Caprice. The Ivy makes this point with its 100th birthday, a birthday so big that it’ll be marked by celebrations throughout this year.
Hirst's mermaid with water wall
Back at Sexy Fish it has to be said that its barn-like, diner-style exterior isn’t all that sexy – but its locale is. Well, this is Berkeley Square, a quarter of Mayfair that might as well be dubbed Caprice Corner; Annabel’s is opposite Sexy Fish with Mark’s Club and Harry’s Bar a stone’s throw.
The taxi deposits our threesome on a bleak, puddly London pavement that’s incongruent with the exotic glow that resides inside the restaurant. The entrance deserves something more dramatic, less pedestrian. You know, something like the Skyfall scene of Mr Bond gliding by water taxi into the high-def colour of the Floating Casino. Because inside Sexy Fish the tone is more filmic Macau than winter London, thanks to the design vision of Martin Brudnizki Design Studio.
Frank Gehry's crocodile runs loose
They appear to have taken an abstract expressionist approach to restaurant décor: throw enough bling at it and watch the glam pattern emerge. Skyfall had the man-eating komodo dragons but we get a 13-ft twinkling black silicone mosaic wall-mounted crocodile, courtesy of Frank Gehry. Damien Hirst is also in the house with his blue-bronze sheened mermaids on sea patrol, with the mise-en-scène of a cascading water wall providing a natural habitat. The bar shines in crackled, glazed cherry-red Pyrolave lava stone while the dappled Esmerelda onyx flooring opulently welcomes the trotting of the well-heeled. Suddenly, you start to see how that multi-million design bill was racked up.
All of this is still exciting two winters after opening, say my habitué hosts, as we settle down to an effusively warm welcome from senior maître d' Giorgio Lucarelli. Giorgio manages to convey the air of a man with all the time in the world, despite tonight’s very full house. Our chit-chat makes inevitable comparisons with Nobu and the Chiltern Firehouse which is positively spartan compared to this place - and to think how we enjoyed the wood-brick chef’s tables by the Firehouse kitchen, championed by the likes of U2’s Bono. Different themes and moods, of course, as exemplified by the Sexy Fish menu which invokes the seas of Asia and the taste of Japan: sashimi, tiradito, tempura and robata.
The nature of the food encourages sharing and our chopsticks lie ready on a shiny pebble. The Sexy Fish sushi roll of salmon and sashimi yellowtail arrives in a tasty blitz of colour, a cut above Nobu’s equivalent wonderful offering. Prawn tempura was a substantial must-choose and the miso glazed sea bass rose up to render its Nobu master something of a pastiche. Prices are as expected and food alone is easily £100 per head. The excellent wagyu beef fillet is just shy of £100 but then the Beluga caviar comes in at £300 for 50g. Aside from the freshness and taste of the beautifully cooked food, there’s the service which operates on a swishly telepathic level whereby staff simply appear when required.
Only the design of the place can momentarily shift attention from our chopsticks. We take a wide-angled gaze at Damien Hirst’s 15ft bronze relief panel. A mermaid flirts with a shark. Perhaps a metaphor for the smattering of suspect ‘uncles and nieces’ in here. Still, heedless anthropological analysis is part and parcel of fine restaurant dining. Who among us doesn’t concoct imaginary worlds around the status of fellow diners? Like the young mavericks over at the bar enjoying a magnum shower of Dom Pérignon under Gehry’s shimmering Fish Lamps. Probably FTSE futurists who have figured out how to make algorithms work on their behalf but we Sexify them as Butch Cassidy flash crash traders who got rich off the automatic trades that ravaged securities and commodities prices last year. A large Suntory with that, gentlemen?
Bootsy Collins at Sexy Fish. Probably.
Then there’s the grande dame sat stoically in the lower level private Coral Reef Room where two huge fish tanks display a magical seascape of live coral and tropical fish. She has the patina of someone who owns reassuringly large swathes of Herefordshire but could equally be facing an Imelda Marcos-type last supper, before imminent sentencing at the Old Bailey. We optimistically hope that her Sexy dish of Tataki yellowfin tuna with pickled cucumber and shallot dressing would provide at least some form of commuted relief.
But no, this isn’t our better selves speaking; it’s probably the Mizuwari whisky talking from its chilled crystal rock glass, one of a range of 242 bottles of Japanese whisky on offer. This reportedly makes Sexy Fish’s whisky stash the largest in Europe, second largest in the world.
Two talking points break down the boundaries between strangers here: the outlandish opulence – and the dark. Mutual merriment erupts when the two charming ladies adjacent to us strain to see the menus under their phone lights. But even under this dim light it’s obvious that they possess their own natural faces, dispelling any nasty notions that this is a ‘work done’ crowd. It’s actually a Friday Sexy crowd tonight. The lighting isn’t functional but it is atmospheric and maintains the restaurant’s otherworldliness. You almost expect to see Pharrell Williams and Bootsy Collins duetting to Happy and dancing atop the raspberry leather banquettes and chairs.
‘Happy’ is elevated while poring over the dessert menu of soy and caramel ice cream and smoked passion fruit mousse as more Rice Rice Baby cocktails and Macallan whisky shots arrive to break the spell of the magic Mizuwari. Then, reminding ourselves that reality exists beyond these heady confines, our Fish-whipped trio heads to Soho House - for a dose of normality.