So it has come to this… My first foray into reviewing ‘lifestyle.’ Now, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure what ‘lifestyle’ means for everyone else but I’ve always assumed it’s some kind of catch-all for, you know, lifestyle. Like, restaurants, places, things, and so on. Is that right? Who knows. But I’m going to kick off my clinically insightful observations in this new area with a review of one of London’s coolest new restaurants*, Sexy Fish.
In fact Sexy Fish is so on point that I hadn’t heard of it because, and let’s clarify this for future reference, I’m about as cool as an oven. Despite living in this city for the best part of two decades, I have to rely on my best mates to point me in the best direction for ‘lifestyle’ things.
Turns out Sexy Fish is the latest restaurant foray from the group behind The Ivy and Soho House so, yeah, this is a place that is desperate to be cool. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when my mate picked this place for her birthday (she has a gameface on when it comes to trying out new restaurants) and she attempted to win me over with the killer hook, “Oh you’ll love it Vics. It’s got art in it from Damien Hirst.”
Now, there’s about a dozen things wrong with that sentence but, setting that aside for a moment, this is where we come to the second challenge in my new venture (following on from my inability to actually have heard about said venue) – unfortunately I got a bit drunk and I can’t remember vast sections of the evening.
Look, I didn’t do this deliberately – this wasn’t a form of self-sabotage. It’s just that I don’t actually drink. (Insert oft-repeated spiel about why this is so here.) But given that this was one of my best friend’s birthdays it was like,’ of course I’m going to drink! Bring over the Bellini!’ And of course, when a non-drinker drinks…
But anyway, let’s gloss over this and move on…
Let’s start with what I know for certain: the place has a ridiculously pretentious name that is somehow meant to invoke an underwater world where only sexy people wine and dine. And my god – MY GOD – is it desperate to be noticed for it has piled money into its interior design.
The tones from the marble and lava stone are all honey and warm pinks, evoking a warm coral reef. And the low lighting creates a shimmering, glistening water effect. Ooh, you might think. And to be fair, it is well-themed. But then so is Disneyland. And more, all this underwater themery is supposedly accentuated with some big art pieces: big in terms of size and huge in probable commission fees.
Frank Gehry is first up with a giant bronze crocodile dominating the back wall. And Damien Hirst must have been paid a pretty penny for his bronze mermaids, as well as the whopping relief (complete with obligatory shark) hanging over the long bar. They are big ticket items (and they have been duly instagrammed to death) but, look, setting aside the technicalities of how a crocodile, shark and a mermaid could peacefully co-exist, I found these artworks just depressing.
I remember when Damien Hirst was a radical artist. I remember when he stuck two fingers up at the establishment. And now the man is counting the (mega) bucks by getting someone in his factory to churn out a couple of bronze mermaids, which, frankly, are so lacking in any kind of interesting detail that it would have been WAY cooler to commission an up and coming name who not only actually needs the money, but would have brought something new to the table (literally).
But that’s the problem with places such as this – it’s the name that they want, not the art. A genuinely cool place would actually have done the latter; it’s only the establishment that commissions the establishment. GIVE ME SOMETHING NEW!
And breathe, Victoria….
Anyway, that’s my arts writer rant over. Back to the food…
As you’d expect from a restaurant with an underwater theme that wants to fleece as much money as it can from its diners without any of them enduring the horror of actually eating any food or putting on any weight, the menu is sushi. Very, very expensive sushi.
As with all sushi, you pick a selection and you all have a bit of everything. But when each plate is going to be at least £15 (and more likely £25), that’s going to be pricey. And it was.
Was it worth it? No idea, can’t remember much of any of it. I do remember a salmon fillet which was beautifully delicate, but then you would expect that when you’re being charged £25 for a piece of salmon (no sides, no sauce). I certainly don’t remember any of the food being anything other than perfectly cooked but it wasn’t daring food so, really, no restaurant should get have made any mistakes with this menu.
It’s a safe menu at eye-watering prices. You won’t be unhappy with the food but you may well be unhappy with the bill. For three of us, we cleared £300 (including a couple of bottles of sauvignon blanc and a bellini each). That’s expensive sushi.
But there are two things that a restaurant always has to get right – always – if it wants to get a gold star: service and atmosphere. You can almost live with even average food provided you are treated well and you like being there.
When we arrived, the place was deluged with waiters. There seemed to be four waiters for each table (and each was in garish Hawaiian shirt-mode to really capture that exotic feel *rolls eyes*).
But after the ‘what?’ factor of the fashion choice, our second thought was YAY! GOOD SERVICE! Many waiters = cracking service. Ah, how easily these fragile hopes can be dashed… For our experience managed to both start and end badly.
It was only 7pm when we arrived so nowhere near full capacity, yet still it took three attempts and thirty minutes to order bellinis. But it was our treatment at the end of the meal that really riled us.
Yes, of course we were asked to ‘move to the bar’ after a couple of hours – that turnover of diners can never be slowed – but the waiters whisked away our half-empty wine glasses, never to return them.
Now you’d think, no problem , right? I mean, it’s an expensive swish restaurant. All we had to do was get the Floor Manager over and whisper, ‘look the waiter took our glasses but there was still some wine left in them. We’re happy to move to the bar but can you give us a couple of glasses of wine to make up for the fact that you took away the glasses?’
Simple, right? Ho, ho HO!!
Instead of a polite, ‘oh my goodness, of course. Apologies for that, they must have been over keen’ and a quick winging of a couple of wine glasses to the bar, we got attitude. Serious. Attitude.
The nose was looked down, the hair was slicked back on to his head and we got an “I don’t think so.” WHAT?? The Floor Manager sniffed, “I said, those wine glasses were empty.”
Now, I may have been a bit light-headed but my mates are used to their alcohol (respect) and we they were practically sober. We weren’t playing him, no way. Incredible.
So of course, this ballooned.
The birthday girl pursued said Floor Manager across the bar. “Excuse me, that is completely inappropriate. We have just finished an expensive meal and you took half-filled empty wine glasses from us. Basic service would prompt you to replace those glasses.”
He looked down his nose at the birthday girl. “We’ve run out of the sauvignon blanc.” IT WAS SAUVIGNON BLANC! HOW THE HELL DO YOU RUN OUT??
Of course you don’t, of course you don’t. But that goes to show the eye-watering arrogance of the Floor Manager. We asked to take his name; he refused to give it. “You’re going to complain aren’t you?” Yeah too fucking right mate.
But really? REALLY? I mean, it would have cost nothing to give us three glasses of wine – nothing. But no. And boy, did THAT take the edge off the experience.
So was there anything in that other nugget – atmosphere – that could save Sexy Fish (still a stupid name)?
Many are drawn to Sexy Fish for the name-dropping. Were there famous people there? I can’t be sure. My mate told me that Ewan Macgregor was sitting on the table next to us but I didn’t have my glasses and my vision ain’t great at the best of times, let alone wine-addled, so there’s no way that I can vouch for that. But none of us were there for celeb spotting. We were there to have a nice evening for the three of us. And this is where it gets a bit tricky.
You see, Sexy Fish feels like a place out of time. Its grotesque riches, both on its walls and in its diners, are completely out of step with where we are in London right now (and this was even before Brexit). It seems to be a hangover from pre-2008 when gaudy excess was, in some circles at least, still seen as desirable.
Now it just feels like it’s out of date. Passé. Not relevant. Not cool.
Sexy Fish has no spirit that would make you want to hang out here. It’s a bit of a misstep, for me as, there’s a tension and risk in deliberately targeting your restaurant to the mega-rich – the rich want what they haven’t got and mega rich people aren’t cool. It’s the non-rich that make and break a hotspot. And when we’re already priced out, and the place has a desperateness to it, well, you just shrug and think, yeah we’ll go somewhere else next time.
And we will.
*Instagram’s description, not mine.