Every food writer needs a bad review. People love seeing somebody’s dream torn apart in a whimsical way, their entire life’s purpose reduced to rubble by a cutting quip from somebody who writes about human fuel for a living, their self-worth completely vanquished because they had the audacity to grill their turbot for thirty seconds too long. People absolutely love that. It racks up the page views much quicker than somebody praising a great restaurant. If I want to be a true food writer, I have to find somewhere to hate, and today I think I have just the place.
Sexy Fish is a place of incredible opulence, an Instagram-friendly indulgence of gilded surfaces, glass dragons and eye-popping prices. It’s a place to be seen, a celebrity-haven that once hosted the Conservatives’ Christmas Party, which gives you some kind of idea of the typical clientele. I’ve always imagined it as somewhere that people looking to flash their cash come to spend extortionate sums on average food. Today however, it would be host to a different kind of a clientele, as I ventured there with everybody’s favourite writer on the means of production, Karl Marx. Marx famously wrote The Communist Manifesto back in 1848, a critique of the wealthy and their exploitation of the working-class for their own ends, making him the ideal candidate for my spectacular demolition of this bastion of the bourgeois.
I meet Marx outside the restaurant, at my suggestion. I can’t wait to see the explosion of fury as he walks in and sees potentially the grandest display of capitalism he’ll ever see. We walk through the door and…
“Wow, look at this place!” Says Marx. “This is amazing!”
We’re shown to our table and handed our menus. “Oh my god! They’ve got black cod! I love black cod!” Continues Marx.
“What is happening?”
“What do you mean?”
“This! The decadence, the prices! Don’t you think it’s a bit… bourgeois?”
“Oh… I guess so, yeah.”
“You guess so? Does it not make you angry?”
“Because you’re Karl bloody Marx! Is this not everything you’re against?!”
“Oh, well we can’t all be angry all the time, can we? Sometimes you just have to let your hair down and have a good time! Hey, why don’t we get some wagyu?”
“We’re not getting wagyu!” I say, as I see it priced at £89 for 150 grams. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, we’re here to write a bad review.”
“Because writing about something you hate is much more popular than writing about something you like. You think The Communist Manifesto would have been as popular if you’d written about how much you enjoy exploiting the poor?” Marx shrugs his shoulders. “Please just try and have a terrible time for me, ok?”
“Ok, I’ll try.” Says Marx.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Says a waiter, interrupting.
“Yes, of course, I’ll have the…” I say, as I scan the menu, looking for something of more style than substance that I can criticise. Alas, it’s one of the nicest and most interesting cocktail menus I’ve seen, including one particularly delicious sounding drink that catches my eye. The Rocky Road Old Fashioned is a twist on a regular Old Fashioned, but using buttered whisky, with a toffee twist and a digestive biscuit crumb. It sounds like my dream cocktail, but then really you could sell me anything by adding the word ‘buttered’. I’d probably have been sold on invading Iraq too if you’d told me they had buttered WMDs. I’m basically only ever one well-placed adjective away from an aircraft carrier and a ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.
I order the Rocky Road Old Fashioned, the criticism can wait. Marx settles on a Japanese whisky. Sexy Fish professes to have the second largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Who the number one is I have no idea, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say Japan.
It’s easy to come to Sexy Fish and rack up the bill like you’re playing a pinball machine, but I’ve planned this well in advance and know exactly what to order to keep it within budget. We go for the chicken wings, beef skewers, the black cod, lamb chops, the Iberico pork ribs, and the duck breast. Factoring in our two cocktails and tip, that keeps us within £200. It’s a pricey meal, but it’s hard to get out of here spending less.
As mentioned, Sexy Fish is something of a celebrity haven, you come here expecting to see somebody famous. Even coming in with this knowledge, we’re surprised to see who enters the front door next.
“Oh my god, is that-” I say, aghast.
“Che Guevara.” Says Che Guevara. “I’m here for the event.”
“Of course. Right this way, sir.” Says the Maitre d’. He leads him through the restaurant, missing myself and Marx as he does, and they exit into a back room.
“That was strange.” Says Marx. “What’s he doing here?”
“I have no idea… It’s fine though, forget about him.”
Our first dishes arrive, the chicken wings and the beef skewers. ‘Here we go!’ I think to myself, as the starter’s pistol is fired on the review that’s going to propel me to fame and fortune. Before I know it I’ll be sitting down with Graham Norton, telling a hilarious anecdote about the beef being closer to well-done than medium rare, as Will Smith pats me on the shoulder and tells me I’m the freshest of all princes.
I take a bite of the beef skewer and my blood runs cold. To my surprise, the beef is juicy and works very well with the asparagus and smoked chilli sauce it comes with. I fumble for a chicken wing, hoping for something to salvage the criticism, but alas they too are crisp and flavoursome. It’s almost like they don’t want me to write them a poor review.
“What do you think?” I ask Marx, as the black cod, the pork ribs and the duck breast arrive at our table too.
“I don’t know, maybe he’s here for a job interview or something.”
“I mean the food! I told you to forget about him!”
“He’s a communist! Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical?” Says Marx, as he tucks into the black cod.
“Look at you!” I said, as Marx wipes the black cod from his face and takes another sip of his Japanese whisky.
“Oh, well this is different isn’t it?”
“You know… I’m… German.” Says Marx, clutching wildly at straws. I take a bite of the black cod. My heart sinks as I realise it’s unironically tasty. Rich and creamy unlike regular cod, it’s surely only a matter of time until some London restaurant makes a ‘fish finger’ sandwich using black cod, at which point London will have finally completed its journey to becoming the Capitol from The Hunger Games.
“This is actually quite good, isn’t it?” I say with a sigh, as I see my Will Smith friendship dream dying in front of me.
“It’s awful.” Says Marx.
“Really?” I say, excitedly.
“Yes. If he were coming here he should have let me know.”
“Oh for goodness sake, this again?”
“I’m going to go and say something.” Says Marx, folding his napkin as he gets to his feet.
“And what will he say if he sees you here?”
“Oh, I guess you’re right.” Says Marx, sitting back down again. “Ok, I need you to go and say something.”
“Why the hell would I go and say something?”
“Because I’ve taken your family hostage, Andy.”
“You’ve what?” I say, stunned.
“All it takes is one call, Andy…” Says Marx, as he slowly withdraws a calculator from his pocket and hovers his finger over the ‘CE’ button.
“You know that’s a calculator, right?”
“The guy told me this was an iPhone!”
“He said he was the CEO of Telephones.”
“Where did you see him?”
“He was by the bins.”
“Did you see his ID?”
“He said he’d left it in his office.”
“Where was his office?”
“So he’d popped over from L.A. for the day to just hang around by some bins and sell phones?”
“I can see why you’re sceptical, I was too at first-“
“You should be bloody sceptical! You’ve been trying to text people on a calculator!”
“Ok, I don’t have your family, but can you please just find him and have a word? Just ask him what he’s doing here?”
“Fine.” I sigh. I take one final bite of the pork ribs (sadly tremendous), and head for the Coral Reef room, Sexy Fish’s private dining room, so named due to the huge coral reef fish tank along the back wall. Perhaps here, in the scene of maximum opulence I will find something to criticise. I swing the door open and-
“Oh my god!” I say, stunned. I see Che Guevara seated at a table, flanked by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They’re all laughing together, pouring champagne and feasting like kings. The whole scene is like something out of The Great Gatsby, were Gatsby to host exclusive parties for autocrats responsible for the deaths of millions of their own people, a film I’m not sure even Leonardo di Caprio could have saved.
“I just think the cod could benefit from more miso glaze.” Says Stalin, in a thick Russian accent.
“What is this?!” I say, and then I see… her. Valerie Rhombus, author of significantly more popular blog, Meals With Departed Historical Figures. Valerie is an Instagram ‘influencer’, the kind that has pictures of herself staring wistfully into the sea or brushing her hair out of her face alongside some faux-intellectual caption like ‘sometimes to get where you’re going you need to go back to where you started’, a quote which only really works if you’re on a roundabout. She completely stole my idea for my blog and passed it off as her own by changing small details, such as the name, the font, and making her blog interesting rather than a self-indulgent shambles. I despise her.
“Andy! Good to see you!” Says Valerie, with a smug smile.
“I should have known it was you! What are you doing here?!”
“I thought it would be fascinating to have the clash between the world’s foremost socialist thinkers and the extravagance of Sexy Fish. It works particularly well in the Coral Reef Room, don’t you think?”
“That was MY idea! You knew I was doing my review here!”
“Your review? Which D-lister have you got this time? Joseph Aspdin?”
Everybody laughs loudly at me.
“Oh shut up, Stalin! I bet you don’t even know who Joseph Aspdin is!”
“He invented Portland cement.” Says Stalin. I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth or not. None of us really know who Joseph Aspdin is.
“So come on, who did you invite?” Says Valerie.
“What the hell is going on here?!” Says Marx, walking through door. All the Communists look stunned and get to their feet immediately.
“Urgh! This place makes me sick!” Says Lenin, as he dramatically throws his napkin on the floor and stamps on it.
“Yes! I am glad we have come here to… to… experience it first-hand so now we can better understand how to seize the means of production!” Says Trotsky, wiping bone marrow from his moustache. “Bloody… capitalism!” He says, shaking his fist at a passing clown fish.
“Oh, knock it off!” Says Marx, angrily. “You’re all hypocrites! You claim to stand for the redistribution of wealth, yet here you all are indulging yourselves with champagne and seabass! What would the proletariat say if they could see you all now? You’ve brought shame upon the Communist movement!”
The Communists stand hanging their heads in shame. There is a moment’s silence before Che Guevara pipes up.
“Hold on, what are you doing here?” Says Che.
“Me? Well I… you know… I was here as a… you know, as an ironic observer, right Andy?”
A waiter enters behind us.
“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but how did you want your wagyu cooked?” Says the waiter to Marx.
“Oh for goodness sake, you’re just as bad as them! You should all hate this place! It’s everything you claimed to stand against but look at you, you’re literally champagne socialists! What do you have to say for yourselves?”
“Sorry.” Mumble the Communists as one, as they stare at the floor. “We’re very sorry.”
“Ok, good, thankyou. And you, don’t you ever steal my ideas again!” I say to Valerie. “Come on Marx, let’s go finish our review.”
I go to leave, but Marx remains still. “Marx, come on!” I say.
“But… they have a fish tank.” Says Marx. “Can I stay here?”
“Of course you can stay here.” Says Valerie, smiling wickedly in my direction. “Do you like sea bass?”
“I love sea bass!” Says Marx.
“Well we’ve got plenty, get yourself a seat!” Says Valerie, as Marx excitedly runs around to sit next to Fidel Castro.
“You bloody bastard! I need him for my review!”
“Sorry Andy, at least somebody’s seized the means of production this evening.” Says Valerie, as she closes the door in my face. I’m left alone with the laughter of 6 dead Communists echoing through the corridor. I make my way back to my table and glumly nurse my Old Fashioned (wonderfully buttery), when I’m interrupted by the waiter.
“Excuse me, sir. There’s somebody here to see you.”
The waiter moves to reveal a man I’ve never seen before stood looming over the table.
“Hello, are you Andy?” Says the man.
“Yes… who are you?”
“I’m Joseph Aspdin, inventor of Portland cement.”
I sigh heavily. My evening of misery is, for want of a better word, cemented. “You know what, fine. Sit yourself down and tell me everything you know about cement.” I say, as I down my Old Fashioned. I came here to criticise the place in the hope it might make us all feel better about ourselves, but overall I have to say…
9/10 – Tremendous black cod.