Six by Nico

23/04/22

Hanover Street, Edinburgh

This one’s been a long time coming. When Six by Nico first opened in Edinburgh, way back in 2018, our lovely friends mooted it as an option for an evening out. But it was so popular, we couldn’t get a booking. We kept trying to find a suitable date, but to no avail. Then the pandemic happened and everything was put on hold. We ate a couple of Nico’s ‘at home’ meals, which were very nice, but the authentic Six experience still eluded us. Even tonight – when, finally, both we and our pals are free, and the restaurant is open – we’ve had to settle for a 9.15pm booking, which is definitely too late for us, but we can’t let this opportunity slide. This rendezvous carries a weight of expectation…

Six by Nico‘s concept is well known by now: it’s become a mini-chain, firmly established in eight cities around the UK and Ireland. It’s a fresh, simple idea: a themed tasting menu of six courses, which changes every six weeks. The presentation is very much ‘fine dining’, but the prices really are not. It’s £32 all in, and £27 for five matched wines. There’s no denying this is cheap.

Sadly, however, it appears that sometimes the old adage is true: you do get what you pay for. The current menu is called Ancient Rome, and it sounds promising on paper. But, although there are glimmers of excellence, it doesn’t cohere to make a pleasant meal.

Philip and both of our friends opt for the standard menu, which includes meat and fish. I go veggie for the evening, because I want to. The first course is the same for everyone: it’s ‘Cacio e Pepe, which is crispy pasta , black pepper and parmesan royale. (Mine’s supposed to be goat’s cheese, apparently, but it tastes of parmesan, so I don’t think it is. I’m not actually vegetarian though, so I’m not too worried, and I like the flavour anyway.) This is a tasty little morsel, if a little too creamy for my liking, and it bodes well for the meal.

Next up is ‘From Eggs to Nuts’ for all of us. This comprises a crispy egg, some white asparagus, hazelnuts and brown butter. The eggs, nuts and asparagus are good, but the ‘brown butter’ takes the form of a creamy sauce again, which proves a tad rich.

Cream seems to be a bit of a recurring thing. Did the ancient Romans really eat so much of it? The third (veggie for all) course is ‘Cavolo Hispi Arrostito’ and, honestly, I’m starting to feel a bit queasy now. The dish consists of pasta (again), roasted hispi cabbage, pickled girolle mushrooms, truffle foam and pecorino sardo. I’m expecting the mushrooms to have a vinegary tang, so that they cut through the dairy fat, but they don’t really. The acidic wine (this one’s Duas Margens) helps, but our friends have soft drinks, so there’s no such respite for them.

Course four (‘The Bay of Naples’) brings my favourite of the savoury dishes: a risotto of parsley, garlic and porcini mushrooms. It’s a bit repetitive with the fungi, but the risotto is delicious, with bold flavours and nicely firm rice – and there’s no cream, which is definitely a bonus. The others aren’t so lucky. They have sole, smoked mussels, lovage, white turnip and mussel… cream. This looks great, and there’s a theatrical flourish, as it arrives wreathed in smoke and covered by a glass cloche. Once the smoke has cleared, the fish turns out to be well-cooked and the smoked mussels are a hit, but none of them likes the pairing of sole with turnip, especially as the neeps are deemed ‘uncooked’ and ‘rock hard.’ “Unpleasant” isn’t a word you want to associate with your dinner.

The fifth course is called ‘The Great Feast of AD14’. For the meat-eaters, this means a small plate of pork (belly, rib and fillet), with fennel, bean ragu and a date and apple sauce. The pork fillet is very pink, which makes one of our friends uncomfortable, and the meat in general is declared ‘underwhelming.’ The date sauce gives it a boost, but the bean ragu has something creamy mixed in, so no one’s much in the mood for that. It’s a mean-looking dish, which doesn’t conjure up images of a great feast of any kind. Not that we want more. We’ve kind of had enough.

Again, I fare better. The veggie option is baked globe artichoke, with leak, curd, toasted hazelnut and walnut foam. There’s bean ragu on my plate too, but the creamy stuff is next to it rather than mixed in, so I can just leave it – and the ragu is delicious without, all tomatoey-smoky loveliness.

We’re disappointed and we’re flagging, but there’s still a course to go. Our young waitress is lovely – she’s trying really hard, and is all gauche charm and friendliness – so we rally, give her a smile as she rattles through her memorised lines about the wine, and wait to see what pudding brings.

It brings a ray of sunshine. At last! The finale is excellent. The simple title (‘Honey and Cheese’) is deceptive. This is a honey parfait, served with ricotta cheese, preserved quince, fizzy grapes, pear and citrus. It’s bursting with fresh, zingy flavours – all complementing each other, each mouthful a delight. It shows us what this meal could have been.

But it’s not enough to save it. All in all, the menu just doesn’t work for us. There is no logical progression between the courses, no awareness that the dishes need to be more distinct (two courses with mushrooms, two with pasta, two with hazelnuts, five with cream). The next menu is ‘Hollywood’ and it reads well, but I don’t think we’ll be back. There are too many good restaurants in this city for us to bother with this again.

2.9 stars

Susan Singfield

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