Lucy Tomlinson enjoys theatrical silliness and intense flavours at the themed Scottish import
Before I visited Six by Nico I was debating the concept with myself. For those of you not following the Instagram buzz, the idea behind Six by Nico is that is serves six courses on the chosen theme (no variations, except that you can opt for a vegetarian version) and it swaps out every six weeks. The Manchester opening theme is a ‘the chippie’, which also appeared at the Glasgow and Edinburgh branches. Since then themes have included the Orient Express, Middle East, Sicily, the 70s, Mexico and New York; so while the next theme is a secret, I expect we will see variations of the above on Manchester menus, all for £29 a go.
Already Six by Nico had me guessing and I hadn’t even ordered anything yet
I’m in two minds about the opening theme. I love a chippie tea so naturally it appeals, but when the original is such a wonderful pillar of British cuisine (when done right of course) I feel it shouldn’t be messed with. Is it all just a bit gimmicky? I decide, in optimistic mood, that theming is just a way for a creative mind to restrict itself a little bit. I haven’t met Nico Simeone, the chef behind Six by Nico, but I’m willing to bet he is the kind of chap who gets about 600 ideas a day.
The fit-out at Six by Nico (in the old Roc and Rye in Spring Gardens) is industrial Edwardian chic, which complements the row of very busy chefs that crack out the dishes with the kind of efficiency Henry Ford would admire. I liked it and it certainly provides a snug respite from the rain, though the celebrity-based artwork was a bit random. Perhaps it’s an ironic comment on the nature of art found in restaurants? Already Six by Nico had me guessing and I hadn’t even ordered anything yet.
For an extra £26 you can get matched wines for five of the courses, which again seems very reasonable. My partner went for the wine while I decided to stay true to theme and order some posh dandelion and burdock (£2.75). Nico’s theming is infectious and I decide a nice detail would be a matching flight of fizzy drinks. D&B of course, a fine shandy, maybe a dash of R Whites? Nico, if you need a pop sommelier, call me.
The first course is ‘chips and cheese’, a hangover classic reimagined as a puddle of parmesan and curry oil with a perfectly crisp salt and vinegar potato croquette. Next, the ‘scampi’ is in fact monkfish cheeks with pea emulsion (the beloved mushy peas) a herby butter and my favourite, a gribiche, which is just fancy for tartare sauce with some extra egg. As I love all of the above, I was very happy at this point.
The ‘steak pie’ was an intense layering of Christmas flavours – a heap of flaky beef shin complemented by mushroom duxelles and a burnt onion ketchup that was so brash it threatened to overwhelm, but will thrill anyone with taste for richer, deeper flavours. I’d love to eat this again in winter, which could be next week for all we know.
For me the ‘fish supper’ was the least successful of all the courses. My fish was a tiny fraction undercooked and for some reason I took against the confit fennel, normally something I like. This is a shame as it is one of the only times I could clearly identify a vegetable on my plate but I suppose this dearth is on-theme. It looked very pretty though.
I enjoyed the theatrical silliness of the ‘smoked sausage’, which came in its own glass cloche pumped full of applewood smoke. It felt like a bit of sly jab at Heston et al, but maybe, like the celebrity artwork, I’m reading too much into it. Anyway, the ‘sausage’ was actually crisp pork belly with caramelised apple and black pud, paired with thin shards of apple and salt-baked celeriac. It was robust rather than elegant but packed with fabulous autumnal flavours.
We finish with the ‘deep fried Mars Bar,' which of course is no such thing but instead a jigsaw puzzle of elements; many of which have nothing to do with Mars Bars, such as nougat, orange and honeycomb as well as the obvious chocolate and caramel. I can’t say anything bad about it but perhaps I was a bit jaded by this point as I don’t remember it with tonnes of excitement either.
There is something about the mixing of these elements – the cheeky haute presentation, the impressively efficient automation of the kitchen, the buzzy nature of the restaurant itself and then finally the quite unbelievably good value price point - that makes for a modern, energetic take on the tasting menu format. And that’s what makes Six by Nico a bit of a difficult prospect to judge. Tast, Moor Hall and the like inevitably spring to mind as a comparison but it is really only like them in that they both serve tasting menus and have a predilection for swirly, intricate presentation. It’s true that when you shed the pretension and several pounds off the bill, you do also lose a little something in refinement but it’s worth it for the sense of fun.
When it comes to theming, I’ve decided it’s on the side of the good. The ups and downs, the intense flavours, it all gave me the weirdest sense of being in a theme park. Or maybe a funfair. Perhaps that could be Nico’s next theme! Think about it: riffs on toffee apples, deconstructed hot dogs, candy floss, goldfish served suffocating in their own plastic bags… once you start coming up with themes, it gets addictive.
The ‘chippie’ inspiration may be low-brow (and I mean that as a compliment, when it comes to food, my brow is practically at my chin, metaphorically speaking at least) but the format and presentation is definitely swanky. You could call it accessible fine dining if you were desperate to categorise, but really Six by Nico is uncategorisable. It’s in a league of its own.
Six By Nico Manchester, 60 Spring Gardens, Manchester, M2 2BQ
Follow Lucy on Twitter @hotcupoftea
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
(chips and cheese 8, scampi 9, steak pie 8, fish supper 7, smoked sausage 9, mars bar 6)
Very buzzy and happening
Friendly but inevitably rushed