Sexy Fish is an Asian fusion barn in Berkeley Square, near the car dealerships and the nightingales, if they are still alive. It used to be a bank — NatWest! — and it still feels like it cares for nothing but money, even as it deals in sticky chicken, which means a good deal more than money to chickens. I wonder whether the blazing vulgarity of such restaurants — it has a large mirrored crocodile crawling up the wall, and that is the subtle part — will survive the terror of Covid-19, or whether it will go the way of the Russian Tea Room in New York City, which is empty apart from a glass dancing bear.
We are initially refused entry due to my companion’s flip-flops. This is ever the way with what I will euphemistically call our style: we do not look sex-ready in pin-heeled shoes and structured dresses, because we are not sex-ready. We are sticky chicken-ready and prose-ready. I don’t usually read restaurant websites — there are Vladimir Nabokov novels I haven’t read, so why would I? — so this designation of flip-flops as morally repulsive comes as a surprise. I explain we are here to wonder whether Sexy Fish’s particular brand of pointlessness will survive Covid-19, and it is essential he admit us, flip-flops or no, so the small graduations in the decline of western civilisation can be noted by surviving people willing to pay for words. I wondered if bare feet would be permitted; but I didn’t need to ask. Instead he collapses and we are inside the kind of restaurant I can enjoy — as you enjoy watching people on cocaine chomping their own lips — without being willing to spend my own money in it. A few days later the singer Jess Glynne announced she was refused entrance to Sexy Fish. She accused them of ‘discrimination’ and posted a selfie in which she looked like a sad school sock poised to shoplift at J.D. Sports.
It is spiritually the twin of the Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, where I once stared at an immense glass sculpture of snakes, although it might have been spaghetti. (The Palm also has a water park — but not, sadly, in the restaurant.) Sexy Fish looks like someone blew up a stained-glass window and put some tables in the wreckage, and put sticky chicken on them. It is not busy — perhaps the clients remain in their vaults? — but it does contain people — I mean men — dressed very casually. I glare at them and consider photographing them for a meaningless Instagram scuffle.
The food in Sexy Fish is very good. It has to be: if it wasn’t, this restaurant would be Stringfellows with fish instead of women. The sexy fish are below us in the private room, swimming artfully. They are very beautiful, these fish, and they were not neglected during lockdown. Someone came to feed them every day. I do not know what happened to the dancers at Stringfellows.
The sticky chicken is not available; perhaps it has died? Instead we have beef with asparagus and chilli, bright and acerbic; a gorgeous duck and sweetcorn fried rice, in which the sweetcorn is bracing, like a nut; a superb mushroom tempura. This at least remains.
Even so, it feels arid and joyless. Only maniacs celebrate in pandemic; and these are careful people. They are too careful. Soon, a protest roils past outside. It is in defence of the people of Yemen. I watch it from the window with a fellow customer, a pale blonde woman with a handbag — and a face — to match the crocodile. ‘It’s not a good time to be a white person,’ she mutters as her meal lies on the table, and I cannot think of what to say.
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Sexy Fish, Berkeley Square, London W1J 6BR, tel: 020 3764 2000.
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