Six by Nico, Edinburgh restaurant review
“Pudding arrived in the form of an intensely vanilla-rich, orange-blossom scented, beautifully smooth crème Catalan, adorned in a perfect caramel topcoat. This was surrounded by a quenelle of bitter orange-infused crème fraiche, a crisp, subtly spiced almond Arlette biscuit, a smear of toasted Italian meringue, and globes of citrus sorbet that danced on the plate with drips of orange jus. If JML and I could have requested seconds, we would most definitely have done so!”
Folklore proffers that whilst three is a magic number, the numeral six exhibits far more sinister connotations, it being “the number of the beast” and all. So, might dining in a restaurant with “six” in its title, that offers a set tasting menu of six dishes, which changes every six weeks prove to be a diabolical experience? Or devilish, as in a seriously good sort of way?
The concept behind Six by Nico is so uncomplicatedly brilliant, I’m surprised no chef-patron has thought of it before. Maybe they have, but as far as I am aware the idea hasn’t previously materialised outside Glasgow, Edinburgh (where we dined), and Belfast, which is where Italian-Glaswegian Nico Simeone’s restaurants are currently located. It goes like this. First choose your culinary theme – this might be experiential, such as “childhood”, or geographic; “Vietnamese street food” for instance. Run your chosen theme through a menu of six diminutive dishes, starting with an amuse bouche and concluding with dessert. Ensure that not only does each course look and taste delicious, but the whole ensemble is very reasonably priced, even when opting for the additional, accompanying wines. And finally, after a few weeks, completely change the menu to match a new theme, thereby ensuring the punters keep coming back for more.
So, late one bright, chilly Edinburgh springtime Sunday afternoon JML and I eagerly shuffled into Six by Nico‘s intimately bustling bistro on Edinburgh’s Hanover Street to hopefully sample six of the finest that the cuisine of Catalonia had to offer – or at least Nico’s interpretation therein. Eager not least because as regular consumers of Scrumptious Scran will note, I have a bit of thing when it comes to Spanish food and have had the pleasure of consuming many mouth-watering meals in Catalonia. So could Nico really do culinary justice to the nation that brought us El Bulli, or would his take on ‘cuina catalana’ be as authentic as a ramble round a tourist gift shop on Las Ramblas?
Once our cheery young servers had seated us, and established variously if we had any allergies, were vegetarian, and/or wished to partake of the paired wine course, dish number one of six was swiftly delivered to our table. A gobstopper of an amuse bouche – a bomba (spherical potato croquet) held a crisply crumbed exterior that, when crunched, yielded an unctuous, jamon-laden soft centre. Floating on a micro-puddle of smoky chilli compote and adorned with a dollop of satisfyingly garlicky aioli it more than succeeded in its mission of seriously peeking our appetites.
Course two – simply described as “heirloom tomato” – had the potential to be somewhat uninspiring on paper. The reality could not have been more different. A generous slice of the freshest, sweetest, most properly tomatoey-tasting tomato was crowned with a further, perpendicular slither of desiccated love apple, all circled by a tandem adornment of fruity-savoury blobs of olive tapenade and creamily-sharp goats curd. And as if whispering “this still isn’t sufficiently flavoursome”, the dish was completed with a generous sprinkling of nutty toasted grains and slathered in a jug-poured adornment of gazpacho, just to add a further layer of garlic-infused, acidic fruitiness. Heaven in six ingredients.
Third to grace our table was the Valencian signature dish of paella. Now before any Iberian geographers pipe up that Valencia isn’t in Catalonia, they speak a language very close to Catalan there. And those credentials are good enough for me given the tastiness of this version the city’s most famed culinary product. The rice was perfectly cooked and bathed with subtle spice and citrus zestiness provided by a saffron and orange emulsion, on top of which reclined a chargrilled crevette twinned with a crisply-coated, deep fried chunk of moist mussel meat. However, I didn’t really get the aniseed vibe from the promised pickled fennel, which maybe meant this course just missed igniting the taste buds to quite the same level as those that preceded and followed.
Seafood was also at the centre of the fourth instalment in the meal, fish to be specific. Coley – or saithe – is a member of the cod family that whilst sustainable in the UK rarely appears on menus here. So kudos to our chef for choosing to cook this tasty gadoid superbly a la barbacoa – via a sort of Latin barbecue. Lightly charred on the surface, the superbly succulent disk of white fish reclined on a stage of grassy charred calcot onions (a Catalan speciality), augmented by sharply-sweet pickled grapes, all surrounded by saucy dollops of a nutty-rich, almond-based ajo blanco, and spicy-peppery, rocket-infused mojo verde. A superbly balanced plate.
We were still basking in the flavour fiesta of the fish course, when the penultimate dish in the tasting menu arrived. And this mirrored in terms of meaty delights what the preceding dish had offered in seafood flavours. A superbly braised pork cheek that was meltingly delicious was matched with a rich chunk of morcilla – Spanish black pudding – and sat atop a mound of silken white beans infused with sobrasada – an air dried Balearic pork and paprika sausage. This was then complemented by a flavoursome portion of smoked aubergine and a grilled padron pepper to add some grassy capsicum kick. A carnivorous cavalcade of flavours.
Now I claim not to have a particularly voracious sweet tooth, but even I must admit that the best of this particular meal had been saved until last. Pudding arrived in the form of an intensely vanilla-rich, orange-blossom scented, beautifully smooth crème Catalan, adorned in a perfect caramel topcoat. This was surrounded by a quenelle of bitter orange-infused crème fraiche, a crisp, subtly spiced almond Arlette biscuit, a smear of toasted Italian meringue, and globes of citrus sorbet that danced on the plate with drips of orange jus. If JML and I could have requested seconds, we would most definitely have done so!
What we experienced in this particular “six of the best” tasting menu was really accomplished brasserie cooking, some of which would not be out of place in a Michelin-starred establishment. Yet when consideration is given to the fact this comes with merely a £28 price tag for some truly superb food, and an, optional, additional £25 for expertly paired wines (and in the case of the heirloom tomato dish, a fantastic beer crafted by Ferran Adrià, of El Bulli fame) it demands the suspension of disbelief that dining as good as that found at Six by Nico can be offered at this price point. For there can be little doubt that this six-themed restaurant is so devilishly good that it is almost deserving of ten out of ten.
Food – 9/10
Service – 8.5/10
Value – 10/10
Ambience – expect a bustling bistro with a changing, themed tasting menu.
97 Hanover St
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