Sushi is now ubiquitous. Its tsunami of shoal-based fare simply cannot be escaped. Sorry, average sushi simply cannot be escaped. If, like me, Japanese, fresh fish-based fodder is possibly your favourite option in general, then it becomes fairly easy to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. High-end izakya is still a relatively niche enterprise in which almost all are household names to the committed Londoner who enjoys eating out.
However, once again, the level of choice aspect coupled with the resulting high price tags can easily burn the discerning consumer’s wallet. Like many, I have learnt this through bitter experience. Nobu, for example, is a drab, viciously expensive IKEA showroom where you may end up spotting a z-list celebrity but will undoubtedly end up being served with an a-list bill at the end of your meal; all the while you’ll wonder why the interior designer is yet to commit seppuku. SushiSamba and Sticks ‘N Sushi fail to really inspire any words of personal praise.
Let’s talk about Mayfair. When it comes to W1, shaking your maki-maker is easily best achieved by a visit to Sumo San, or even better, the unpretentious, hidden gem that is Chisou. There really isn’t much competition. Enter Sexy Fish. The big kahuna of Caprice Holdings to set its anchor down as the premier dining establishment of Berkeley Square. Initial impressions from the restaurant criterati were, on the whole, tearing scales off the place. When the Ivy Chelsea Garden popped up to try and take a slice of the Bluebird’s turf in its King’s Road back yard, the feedback was similar during the infant phase. Therefore I thought I’d wait a while, allow them to iron out the creases and scrub the dirt off the launchpad before taking the dive myself.
It’s impossible not to be more than impressed by initial impressions. The dining room is enormous, in the grand cafe style and adorned with beautifully impressive bespoke artwork. Vibrant colours, waterfalls dripping down behind the bottles lining the bar and an open kitchen to boot. It’s certainly a nice place to sit. The menu is largely divided into hot or cold, as opposed to dishes following on from each other. No cocktail or aperitif menu is available upon arrival – only a succinct wine list, which alas, is enormously expensive. Yes, the initial page offering various wines by the carafe is acceptable, however this is Mayfair – the punters with the company credit cards aren’t going to be too impressed with £60 plus for a three bottle Gavi lunch as the starter-level option. If your wine list is a book, then find a sommelier worth their salt and make it worth reading for the benefit of every budget.
Some of the dishes were truly noteworthy. The beef short ribs on a stick were succinctly beautiful offerings that could justify the trip alone – and at a very reasonable seven quid. The scallops, in-shell, were seasoned and textured wonderfully. The tuna tartare with black truffle raised an intrigued eyebrow but thankfully delivered remarkably well on flavour. The texture on the other hand was a bit slimy and not cut into delicious, little dice which I believe all raw flesh offerings of the sort should be.
A good start indeed. Now, what does all the competition stick on the menu card – and can be made or broken by? The miso-glazed fish. Go to Zuma and land the black cod and it’s game over; you never need to eat anything else again. At Sexy Fish, I was recommended wild bass under the same arrangement. The reason why black cod works so well is that it’s perfect when served very much under-cooked. Those gelatinous, shining flaky chunks melt in the mouth and it’s genuinely a bite of heaven. Here, not only did bass not work, it was almost unforgivable. A Madagascan prawn that could give most lobsters a run for their money in size, unfortunately, was a similar affair. These dishes, at this level of competition and reputation, have to be perfectly executed every time, as this is what will become the benchmark of your gastronomy. The lesson with the cod idea in particular: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just get it right.
Sexy Fish seems to be a classic case of all the gear and unfortunately, not much idea. Even the front of house looked like an disorganised confusion. An overwhelming number of restaurant managers, not enough waiters on the ground, but certainly enough chefs not to spoil the broth in the back. Despite the ornate, beautiful dining room, the grand cafe, all day theme attempt simply doesn’t fit with this kind of cuisine. Sexy Fish needs to take a step back and and have a re-analysis in order to fulfil its true potential and identity. I want it to work. Maybe it should have a look at its forebears, be less capricious and a bit more Le Caprice.