Monaco must be one of the few places in the world where it is possible to feel like a hopeless underachiever for owning neither a superyacht nor even a Ferrari. For more down-to-earth Monaco residents, solace is at hand in the knowledge that money is not a prerequisite for taste.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than on a recent visit to Monaco’s alter ego, London’s Mayfair. I dined out at Sexy Fish: the latest creation from the serial restaurant entrepreneur Richard Caring. My dining companion was well connected enough to secure a table booking at the last minute. Togged up in the unwritten designer dress code, I still feel shabby when I see that everyone from the waitress to the barman looks as if they have stepped out of a Vogue fashion shoot.
I wonder whether the I-can-be-as-rude-as-I-like-as-you’re-lucky-to-have-a-booking demeanourof the receptionist is a deliberate ploy to intimidate diners. During the ten-minute wait for our table, I gaze at the décor. From the gigantic crocodile wall mural to the coral-inspired ceiling, it’s like a themed café for overindulged, overgrown kids: London’s Rainforest Café meets Vegas’ Bellagio. There’s even a busty blue mermaid by the reception area that wouldn’t look out of place amongst the garden gnomes at my local garden centre. All this comes with a price tag of £20 million or so. If I were Richard Caring, I would have sacked the interior designer. On the plus side, it provides plentiful fuel for conversation.
Once I sit down, things start to improve. The resident DJ amps up the ambience with some well-chosen tracks that make the perfect backdrop for trying to impress a big-fish corporate client or a potential date. I relax over a glass of Billecart-Salmon rosé champagne as I watch the chefs at work in the gleaming open-plan kitchen. This restaurant-nightclub fusion sets the scene for the Asian fusion cuisine. I gorge on delicacies from crispy soft-shell crab to spicy pork ribs and various Maki rolls. Over a cup of jasmine tea, I look at the human theatre around me and giggle. I’m having fun. Yet the most memorable moment for all the wrong reasons is a Brussels-sprout tempura. This dish proves the point that some revolutionary food combinations are best left untried. When the final bill of £260 (approx. 330 euros) arrives, I realize that Richard Caring is having the last laugh all the way to the bank.
Whether critics love or hate his restaurant matters little. Good and bad reviews alike mean more column inches drawing thousands of people to see what all the fuss is about. Meanwhile, Caring has been astute enough to guarantee some positive press coverage by recruiting Vanity Fair fashion and style director Michael Roberts to dream up the flashy ceiling.
Even the ridiculous name Sexy Fish garners attention. For Caring has realized that the international fashion crowd are less interested in his fine dining than in the sexed-up ambience. These world-weary Adonises seek to be shocked and entertained in the same way that their 19th-century predecessors sought out freak shows. The more ridiculous and over-the-top is the creation, the better. When revenues dip, Caring can always drum up more customers by hiring girls to snorkel inside the enormous onsite aquarium undressed as topless mermaids.
Sexy Fish has been created out of the same frothy hype as the art of Damian Hirst (aptly three of his sculptures adorn the restaurant) or the Twitter feed of Rita Ora (who posed as a mermaid in an underwater fashion shoot for the restaurant launch). The uncomfortable truth is that we are drawn to bold, brash and talentless phoneys. I don’t blame Caring. I blame us. We should look carefully into the mirror that Caring holds up to us all and consider our naked image.
Next time I want to dine out on Asian fusion cuisine in Mayfair, I’ll nip around the corner to Alan Yau’s Hakkasan instead.
Sexy Fish, Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, London W1, tel: +44 203 764 2000.