David Adamson dives into the world of Spinningfields' new attraction
One irritant of the internet is that words seem to have equal weight to the thing itself. So to even glance at the florid, thesaurus-thick lines on the website for Sexy Fish - laden with the buzzwords of the moment like "opulent" and "glamour" - is to feel like you know the place already, for better or worse. Such are the joys of my job, I had to go and see for myself.
I visited on Thursday evening for an 8.30pm table and found the surrounding Spinningfields and Deansgate in full weekend flow. Inside Sexy Fish, it was Saturday night.
The appeal of the place is very clear; bat away the slings and arrows of working life and dine like a minor duchess of some distant, gold-rich principality for the night, 9am be damned.
Let's be clear, it is a ridiculous place. But then so were Freddie Mercury's birthday parties and I wouldn't have turned down an invite to one of those.
On entering you're certainly made to feel princely, from the doormen in Dorchester Hotel grade long coats to the hosts elegantly decked out in chinoiserie-style cropped suits - it feels like the sort of place Bond would infiltrate before leaving a body in the bathroom. So far, so Far East.
Although not a body, I did find something in the bathroom. I used one of the cubicles and saw in the toilet bowl, glistening under the downlights, a rolled up tenner. It brings new meaning to the idea of flushing your money down the drain but, honestly, it would have been weird if I didn't see a bit of that. This is opulence after all. And some people seem to need some white powder to fully appreciate it.
Once the city's branch of Emporio Armani, a fashion house that seems to pride itself on understatement, it has now seemingly been fitted to the specifications of a coke-crazed dauphin whose dreams are powered solely by stilton. And speaking as a man who doesn't mind a bit of maximalism, I like it.
I took my sister with me, a onetime regular of the kind of nightlife of which Sexy Fish is the latest heir, and now a new mother usually in bed by 9pm. The hour struck, and we were shown to our table, a cosy lamplit one underneath one of the great luminous pillars.
While we looked through the menu I sipped on a Tonic and Mango (£12), a beautifully bone dry take on a gin and tonic with mango, coconut and pandan. Hannah had a glass of Henriot champagne (£16), a drop in the ocean of what is a vast champagne list stretching to the heady heights of a mathusalem of 2009 Dom Perignon for £12,000.
Rather than being pulled in all directions by a well laid out but extensive menu we opted for something that would simply best present what Sexy Fish is all about in its food offering. After all, it's not all about the decor.
Of the three set menus on offer we went for the Hiro (£58), a classic and reasonably cost effective carousel of pan asian dishes. There's that word again, pan asian, but when faced with a menu that does encompass bao buns, gyoza, sushi and seabream that shorthand can be helpful if still a little lazy. A carafe of Viognier (£40) kept nearby on ice and the conveyer could begin.
The salt and pepper squid arrived, and I was very pleased to see a light dusting of batter rather than the kind that could survive a nuclear blast. A squeeze of lime and the scattered chillies was all that was needed to add to the fresh, fragrant notes of the battered quid.
The smoked salmon bao buns, while closer to the size of a canape, were well-proportioned to be included in a set menu without - as they're occasionally known to do - burying your appetite in a cloud of sweet white dough. The smoked salmon was of that slightly sweet, velvety quality and, while delicious, could have been given some extra oomph with a tangy mayonnaise of some sort.
Chicken gyoza is one of those little dishes that deserves to be produced to a standardised level, such are some of the damp squidgy efforts you can come across, and here they were very well executed - a soft thin skin that didn't stick, with a seared bottom and beautifully juicy chicken inside. Just a dash of soy and you've got a dainty addition to the menu without it needing to take centre stage.
Sushi is the hill on which these kind of restaurants live or die, few foods giving you so much rope with which to hang yourself. The spicy yellowtail maki was handsomely presented and a clear combination of fresh, well executed ingredients, if a little uninspiring. Meanwhile the tuna tataki, assembled into a pretty tableau of chilli, ice and light greens, was what you'd hope from the fanfare of a place like Sexy Fish. The tuna was basically shown the grill from the open window of a passing car, and tasted all the better for the restraint.
The fish and meat dishes were something I was particularly interested in, speaking as someone who wouldn't be satisfied by an a la carte mishmash of sushi and steak, something you could certainly fill your table with should you so wish. We did add one dish from the a la carte; the scallops with jalapeno and pickled apple, both of which were vibrant interesting additions to the gorgeous simplicity of a scallop.
First up from the more substantial end of the menu was the steamed sea bream, two plump fillets stacked atop a beautiful broth of ginger, soy and sesame with pickled shallots sprinkled liberally on top. This was a delight to pick apart with chopsticks, and something I could imagine ordering with a bowl of steamed rice and a beer and making into a reasonably inexpensive lunch.
The grilled sweet potatoes were slightly incongruous in amongst the rest of the menu, the starchy texture slightly smothering the subtle flavours of the surrounding dishes. However they were tasty in their own right, the coconut wasabi a characterful accompaniment to the squashy notes.
Glazed pork belly skewers is something I will never not order. I'd happily do a pork belly tour of the city and still be deeply in love with the dish, but it definitely has the capacity to disappoint. This did not. The sumptuous, cuboid slices of pork belly were lathered with a thick, rich glaze and accompanied by slices of pear and a gingery dip, all of which danced well with the dense flavours of the glazed pork.
Then came the baby chicken with yuzu. A wonderfully lemony and tender butterflied fillet, it was well seared without overcooking the meat and the yuzu carried on the citrusy kicks well, all of the dish not overblown and allowed to be simple.
There was now just the small matter of dessert after what was a surprisingly filling succession of dishes. First was the chocolate delice, a dainty but dangerous combination of ganache and bright, strawberry sorbet that was somehow not the sleep-inducing dessert you'd expect it to be, and more a sort of glamorous palette-cleanser.
Which is a good job because it was lining you up for the final, flattening round; cinnamon doughnuts with chocolate sauce and exotic curd. The doughnuts were well made and suitably doused in sugar, although tasting a little light on cinnamon, the chocolate sauce velvety and the curd a much more interesting combination for what is a heavy final piece of the menu.
And with that I was thoroughly stuffed. Not something I have to say I was expecting when I picked up the menu, and those looking to eat at Sexy Fish who are perhaps weary of being stiffed on the portions would be pleasantly surprised I think. Some of the dishes may not look like they're certain to leave you full and satisfied but come the end of a very well arranged fixed menu there's very little you're left wanting for.
Let's be clear, Sexy Fish is a ridiculous place. But then so were Freddie Mercury's birthday parties and I wouldn't have turned down an invite to one of those. It's a bizarre, baroque aquarium of nightlife that might not be entirely necessary but is a lot of fun. If you're wanting to forget about the world outside for a few hours and indulge your more preposterous side, then you could do much worse than the woozy, underwater world of Sexy Fish.
Sexy Fish Manchester, 1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, M3 3AP
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.
If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.
Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?
Scallops 9, squid 8.5, bao bun 8, gyoza 8.5, tuna tataki 8.5, yellowtail 8, sweet potato 8, seabream 9, pork belly 9, baby chicken 8.5, chocolate delice 8.5, doughnuts 8
Exuberant service from a staff that keep the wheels of the mad machine turning
A circus of Saturday night atmosphere with enough to take in the eye for a few hours (including people watching): but honestly this might not be for anyone