The Gannet, being a gluttonous old seabird, has applied many epithets to fish over the years: flavoursome, scaly, shimmering, slippery… feisty, even. But not sexy.
However, if you fill your restaurant with a 4m-long glossy black silicone crocodile designed by Frank Gehry, and 19 lustrous “fish” lamps by the same artist to hang from a towering ceiling over a glazed red lava-stone bar, then maybe you have earned the right to call the place Sexy Fish.
Which, at Sexy Fish on Berkeley Square, is what Richard Caring of Caprice Holdings has done, as well as installing two giant tanks in the basement filled with 15,000 litres of water and 100 species of exotic fish. In interior-design terms, he has thrown everything at Sexy Fish – it puts the kitsch into kitchen sink.
The bar also features cast-bronze mermaids by Damien Hirst, patinated in sea blue, at either end. Another mermaid cavorts with one of Hirst’s trademark sharks in a bronze relief panel that weighs in at 600kg.
Modern art in restaurants is not new – Hirst has previous form, at the now defunct Pharmacy in Notting Hill Gate, and Mark Hix’s restaurants all feature works by (now not so) Young British Artists – but it is rare to see quite so much arty bling in one place.
At dinner, the ambience at Sexy Fish is of a party about to kick off. A steady bass beat thumps from the speakers, the lights are low (maybe too low, but that – as several nearby diners discovered – is what the torch on an iPhone is for) and the open, corner-sited kitchen gleams like a newly landed spaceship.
The food has much to commend it. Tempura of Brussels sprouts with dashi broth may not be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in batter, but it was probably the best way I’ve ever ingested a sprout, while barbecue-glazed eel with frozen foie gras was smokily seductive, almost – dare I say – sexy.
The menu is an amiable trawl through the fishy world, many of the dishes with an Asian accent: tartare of tuna belly with soy-cured egg yolk and lotus-root chips, for instance, or carpaccio of octopus with ginger, lime and pickled shallots. Committed carnivores have several upmarket steaks to keep them happy, as well as excellent skewers of duck hearts and maple-glazed pork belly.
In Victorian times, the hallmark of true artists was that they starved in garrets: the poet Thomas Chatterton, for instance, winsomely painted by the pre-Raphaelite Henry Wallis expiring gauntly in a London attic; by contrast, Messrs Hirst and Gehry, one suspects, do not lack for nourishment. If only poor old Chatterton had been able to book a table at Sexy Fish.