If plastic surgery was a religion, Sexy Fish Manchester would be the blissful ecstasy of afterlife. Plump up your lips, augment your breasts, tuck your tummies and all this will be yours: a vast paradise of glowing pink onyx, glass, mosaics and fish.
The music pumps, the place heaves and there are mermaids everywhere, both sculptural and real; the latter jettisoning their tails for the evening, presumably, as they waft about as entertainment, doing the occasional performance in short skirts and some wild headgear.
This place, a sister restaurant of the establishment in London’s Berkeley Square, was branded in the Manchester press, even before it opened in October 2023, as a ‘celeb haunt’.
I spy no celebs on my visit but spot groups of well-honed men in tight, black T-shirts and others of rather un-honed men with large beards and baggy black T-shirts.
There’s a man in one corner dressed in a suit with peak Neil Diamond hair, who spends the evening dishing out generous greetings. Other tables are filled with women who take selfies, interrogate their phones and don’t appear to talk to one another.
And at the far end there is a large, raised dais with a roped-off entrance, and the entirety of the back wall is a huge fish tank. This is one of those private VIP areas where you sit when you want everyone to know you’re in the private VIP area.
I watch the action, dining solo. Well, more accurately, it’s me and my Spectator magazine, the perfect dining companion because, while being very un-Sexy Fish, it enables me to dip in and out of articles between watching the mermaids et al, without upsetting a guest. There’s a middle-aged man on the table next to me who is trying his darnedest not to look at anything that’s not his beloved.
I order a plethora of dishes; food to pick at, to skewer and dip, nibble and taste. It’s food to fill the gaps between looking at your phone, shouting something inane and cool to your neighbour, and sipping your drink. It’s food that enables you to say, ‘Wow, look at that food,’ without the need to be actively interested in it.
It’s disco food, as adjunct to the place as the music, fish art and fishy customers. So I judge it as such. Context is everything, darling. Which is the sort of cool thing I could shout to a dining companion, if I had a human one.
The food, from a vast menu of sushi, sashimi, snacks, salads, skewers, tempura, gyoza and much more, is indeed decorative. A plate of crisp pink shrimp is served on the paper-covered belly of a small silver mermaid. The fish is soft, the batter fresh and crisp, the mayo gooey and rich. Three pieces of decent sashimi come on green shiso leaves on ice in a vast silver ice bucket, held, it seems, by the silver tentacles of a squid.
There are skewers of beef, which are tender and sticky, and a plate of well-cooked broccoli with the ubiquitous mess across it – this time quinoa in a spicy miso. A dish of crisp duck and watermelon is a rather pale relation of restaurateur Will Ricker’s original E&O version with cashew nuts. This is food to share: canapés and finger grub.
I finish with a dessert of chocolate, whose top melts as a waiter pours hot caramel on to it. It’s a dish that needs eight spoons. Only a nutcase would order a whole one for themselves (and their magazine). This pud knows its true audience, as does Sexy Fish. It knows what it wants, needs and cares for, and in this business that’s all that counts.