Photo by Ruta Smith Executive Chef James London and Yoanna Tang host private dinners each week at chubby fish

Silver Lining

Chubby Fish closed its doors to the public on March 17, but private diners have continued to frequent the Coming Street restaurant where executive chef James London is serving multi-course meals to small crowds craving his boundary pushing, hyper-local cuisine.

According to the chef, who’s hosting the dinners with his girlfriend of nine years, Yoanna “YoYo” Tang, parties of 8-18 people can book Chubby Fish for an entire evening.

“It allows us to feel like we have a restaurant again, and it allows them to feel like they have a safe place to eat,” London said. “In my little dining room, I don’t feel like we would be able to do (indoor dining) safely right now. The private dining gives people a safe place to come in, and it keeps us afloat.”

Chubby Fish attempted to survive on takeout at the onset of the pandemic, but London and his team quickly realized that it would not be enough to sustain the business. Nowadays, the restaurant has just two employees, London and Tang, who have been running restaurants together for 13 years.

The couple will head to locals’ homes or apartments for some private dinners, but 80% take place at Chubby Fish, London said.
What’s on the menu, you ask? That’s partially up to attendees, but London has a structure in place after doing 4-5 private dinners each week for the last nine months.

“It’s definitely an extension of (the restaurant),” London said. “We pull in weird and crazy stuff all the time, and we get to continue to support our purveyors. We generally start with some form of a caviar course.”
From there, London dives into six or seven more courses, combining Chubby Fish favorites with new creations utilizing seasonal produce and the fresh catch — the restaurant is called Chubby Fish, after all.
There’s always a “crudo course, and that’s whatever killer fish we’re getting in that day,” London said, along with “some form of tempura like blowfish tail or scorpionfish.”

After that, anything goes. Recently, London has served plates like octopus salad with charred beets, beef tartare with ranch and black truffles on house-made roti bread and poached barrel fish curry, among others. And just like at the restaurant prior to the pandemic, Chubby Fish’s private dinners conclude with the latest creative dessert from Life Raft Treats’ owner Cynthia Wong.

Chubby Fish suggests booking your dinner two weeks in advance, but it can sometimes cater to last minute reservations. The private dinners are making the restaurant’s eventual reopening viable, and once it does, Chubby Fish will likely add a catering arm after the success its had serving folks during the pandemic, London said.

“The silver lining for us is that we found a new revenue stream, so that when things get back to normal, we’ll still be doing these.”

To book a private dinner at Chubby Fish, send an email to info@chubbyfishcharleston.com.