Restaurant Review from Elaine Lemm samples a new and popular arrival in Leeds, Six by Nico, which promises a fair, affordable Tasting Menu – and finds that it is serving up a success story.
Published in the Yorkshire Post, September 2023
Photo © The Yorkshire Post
I can’t believe that the debate over the place of the Tasting Menu on British food rages on. Once considered a fad and labelled the 21st century’s new ‘fine dining’ – though I never bought into that one – decades later, it is still around, though thankfully without quite so many anymore as there once were.
Those who thought it was easy to knock out six, eight, or even 12 courses of small plates of food without even involving the customer in any decision-making whilst rubbing their hands at the thought of the high margins were wrong; it doesn’t work like that, as they soon discovered. A good Tasting Menu needs, above all else, a talented chef.
For that, I look to those who have stood the test of time and are the supremos of this style. I have massive respect from knowing, appreciating and valuing their work; think Adam Jackson (Old Deanery, Ripon), Michael Wignall (Angel at Hetton), Paul Jackson (The Hare at Scawton), Josh Overington (Myse, Hovingham) and Tom Heywood with his new approach at Pignut. There are others, but these are some of my favourites.
So, when Leeds started to get all excited about the arrival of Six by Nico and the, to be fair, affordable Tasting Menu into the city earlier this year, I did wonder where this might go. After all, this is a small chain (13 to date) and growing, but Leeds has seen its fair share of chains with big names attached opening and closing in recent years. But Six seemingly is creating a buzz, I realised when I tried to book a few months after they opened. There was barely a table to be had, and to bring this review to you before next year, I had to go at 12.15 lunchtime as it was booked solid.
What did I think?
The restaurant is on East Parade, so beautifully central without being in the busyness of it. From the outside, it looks small and unassuming. Still, inside it is deep and long and has that which only a city centre restaurant can have, the space to fill with an untold number of tables – I counted at least 100 covers – a rather impressive bar and a very long open kitchen with a substantial number of chefs and commis’ working away in.
The word six, which pops up all over the place, refers to the thematic six courses which change, you guessed it, every six weeks. This round is Once Upon a Time, featuring dishes from nursery rhymes and children’s books. The first one to open in Leeds was The Chippie, which had 6,000 pre-bookings before the doors opened, which is remarkable. At £39 for the six courses, meat and veggie options and £30 for matching wines (optional), this is easily one of the most affordable Tasting Menus around, and I am now eager to see whether it is worth it; £39 is hardly a bargain if it isn’t.
We started with the add-on snack of good sourdough with salted butter and an Ugly Dumpling – their name is not mine, though I must say it isn’t the prettiest around and nothing to get excited about as they were very overcooked.
Things improved after this with Bird Pie (The Twits). The meat, a rather good piece of duck confit and little chicken pieces in promised pickled celeriac – there was no pickle flavour, and the caramelised puff pastry was a hefty sprinkling of rather tasty crumbs on top. The veggie had the meat replaced with a white bean ragu and jackfruit, which I thought was excellent.
I loved the Just Right Porridge (Goldilocks) of an exceptional Spaetzle topped with barbecued Maitake mushrooms, a sliver of white turnip, and thick, shiny dollops of black garlic dressing. It was quickly my favourite dish and very well executed.
Meat and veg parted with a smoked ham Hough an ‘inside-out ‘sandwich’ (the ham replaced the bread, the bread was the filling) with a pea pesto and egg yolk jam and was loved by the meat eater. Mine was less well received as a large dollop of goat’s cheese parfait dressed up as a shiny peach, which I liked, but the texture was not of a parfait. Alongside was toasted sourdough and some sticky sweet and sour peach jam, unexciting.
‘Dip Face Have a Carrot’ (Matilda) worked well. The dishes came with sole and an intense lobster jus; both had a Tandoori carrot and carrot-top pesto, and the veggie had Gnocchi a la Parisienne and fresh curd.
Before we knew it, course five came and a pork roulade from “I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff” (Three Little Pigs), sweet and sour choucroute, smoked ash emulsion, and Bourguignon jus were fighting for top place with the sandwich. My “you shall go to the ball” with pumpkin, baked onion, and tarragon was underwhelming. I had expected this dish as the last savoury to peak; it didn’t.
Dessert did. “Brucey Brucey’ from Matilda was exceptional with a 54 per cent chocolate cremeux, delicious miso caramel, mango and passion ice cream and intense lemon blobs. We were fair licking the plates on this one.
I will admit to not wanting to like Nico by Six, but I feel the owner and creator of the brand, Scottish chef Nico Simeone, is onto something. The staff are delightful, professional and well-trained; they speak happily and with knowledge about the menu, the brand and Nico. The chefs have their heads down, cooking for all to see. The place is rocking, even on a Friday lunchtime, which many restaurants would envy. And the food, in fairness, is creative, the majority of it good, and there are some points of brilliance.
There’s nothing too flashy in the menu to push the prices, and with 13 restaurants, Nico must have excellent buying power. Good on him and his team for introducing his clever menus to Leeds at an affordable price and simultaneously packing out the restaurant. Brilliant stuff. I wish them well.
Fact Box – Six By Nico , Leeds
Six By Nico Leeds, 9 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 2AJ. Tel: 0113 340 6666
Mon: 4:30 pm – 11:45 pm, Tues: closed Wed–Thurs: 4:30 pm – 11:45 pm, Fri-Sun: 12 pm – 11:45 pm