If you like your seafood seductive and your cocktails risqué, it’s time to make a reservation at Sexy Fish. The A-list favourite occupies a corner of Mayfair’s chic Berkeley Square and its low-lit tables and lavish bar have been frequented by London’s beautiful people since it opened a few years ago. Grace Dent called it her ‘perfect plaice’ and with Annabel’s just across the square, it’s ours too for a swishy dinner and late-night drink. Their Japanese-inspired cuisine and aquatic brunches (currently hosted by Nick Grimshaw) are the stuff of glitterati legend but it’s the recently-launched cocktail menu that’s the draw today. The brainchild of the bar’s director Xavier Landais, here you can whet your whistle with tantalising libations named ‘Scantily Clad Martini’ and reimagined classics like the ‘Rocky Road Old Fashioned’. Head-bartender Georgia Billing talked us through the menu’s liquid delights and much like the bar she tends was full of surprises. She applies the same experimental approach to drinks making as she did to her PHD in nutrition from Cambridge, and the results are as heady as they are expertly executed. While we propped up the unrepentantly opulent bar, Billing shook and stirred her way through the menu, which doubles up as a recipe book so you can slake your thirst at home. Here’s one we made earlier.
Tell us about the new menu
The idea was to eliminate the mystery behind cocktail making by exposing what’s behind a lot of the techniques that bartenders use daily. The menu takes you through the ingredients for each cocktail and exactly how to make them at home. It levels the playing field and makes it more personal, so our guests can have fun making the drinks at home. Xavier (Landais) also wanted the menu to be sustainable so there is little or no citrus in the drinks, we don’t use any lemon or lime. We get citrus into the drinks in other ways – we balance sweetness with bitterness using other ingredients like Verjuice.
What are the inspirations for your cocktails?
It’s about the story. If I’m given a brief to make a cocktail for or about something I’ll look for the story and find something interesting that makes me think of a certain flavour. Sometimes it’s related to memory as well. A lot of your memories are related to taste, there’s a link between the feeling and the flavour. I went on a foraging trip once and the forager told us that what grows together goes together which is something that I try to keep in mind. Seasonality also comes into it. You want the freshest ingredients, the highest quality and the fullest flavours.
What makes the perfect summer cocktail?
Something that isn't too boozy, like an Aperol Spritz which is sparkling and has a bit of soda in it. It’s low in alcohol, bubbly, you can drink a lot of it because it’s not spirit-forward and it’s an aperitif. The aperitif is something that’s an old tradition in Europe that’s becoming a bit more widespread now. They make great summer drinks because they’re long, light and they’re not too alcoholic. They open up your stomach so if you’re drinking at a garden party or at a barbeque they go well with food, which is ideal when you’re drinking in the heat. When I think of summer, I think of heat and warmth and sun and a tall, cold drink with bubbles.
A masterclass in cocktail making
- Try your ingredients before you put them in the drink. Sometimes pineapples can be sweet, other times sour, sometimes they’re not quite ripe. Change the quantities that you’re making the drinks with if you need to. If your pineapples are sweeter than usual, change the amount that you put in, test your lemon and lime because they can have variable acidity. When you’re working with fresh ingredients there can be a lot of variation.
- Think about the balance, there are certain formulas that work. If you’re doing a rum punch for a party, there is a formula: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak, and it’s a good formula that will balance itself out.
- Consider your ice. The quality of your ice is important, it’s one of the main ingredients and goes in to every single drink you make. Whether it’s melting or crushed or in nice big cubes, think about how it will dilute the drink.
- If you can’t taste the ingredient, ask yourself why it’s there. On the other hand, if you’ve got an ingredient that’s overpowering everything else, maybe take some away instead of adding to it.
- Keep trying, and have fun! It goes without saying. And please drink responsibly.