Six By Nico
We went so you don't have to
What’s the story?
Once upon a time Six by Nico was probably an exciting concept. One chef (Nico Simone), six dishes, six weeks of a themed menu, then it's all change for the next round. We'd heard positive reports from the Belfast one (before knowing it was rapidly morphing into a chain), and were pretty excited to hear we were getting one of our own, but then the Instagram posts started.
We stroked our chins and wondered where we'd seen this type of thing before - maybe their neighbour around the corner with the Instagrammable bathrooms, over-reliance on influencers, and questionable reputation on staff tips. We could smell the #invite tagged posts long before they appeared, and appear they did, in their multiples.
There were so many gushing #invite and #guest posts to Six by Nico in the first few weeks (see a small selection here, hereand here) that we wondered whether it was actually possible to pay for food there, and you guys were hounding us for an honest, hand in pocket review of whether it was worth the Insta hype, so off we went to perform our eating duties, on the stormiest day of the year so far.
Where should we sit?
For the love of God, do not let them sit you near the front door. We had the misfortune of visiting on a very wet and windy day, and whenever someone went in or out, Storm Barra himself would whip into the restaurant, sending shivers down our arms and coats off the back of our chairs - no one thought to hang them up and save us bending down every six minutes.
The sheer unpleasantness of being thrust into an icy draft at least once during each course was definitely one of our more original dining experiences this year, and when we asked staff why they didn't have a curtain to protect diners from the icy wind of death, they told us that one had been ordered. Yet they didn't think to sit us as far as away from it as possible, or offer us a hot drink. Or a fleece.
A dining out in 2021 highlight came when a group of six arrived, opened the door, then stood half in, half out waiting to be seated. They had hats and scarves on so were okay, we did not so weren't, and frostbite may have induced us to jump up and wail desperately "close the door!?" Fine dining at its most relaxing.
What's the food like?
It's a set, six-course menu for €45, currently "The Chipper", which runs until the 9th of January, and there's a vegetarian version too. There's an optional snack and bread for €7.50, and the wine pairing is €39 (more on those later). As tasting menu prices go this is definitely on the lower side, which probably goes some way to explaining how they're booked pretty much solidly until the end of the year. Grace Dent in The Guardian last week called it "fine dining for the Pizza Express generation", which feels apt.
We plumped for one snack, in case it didn't deliver - a smoked cod croquette with gherkin ketchup, rapeseed emulsion, pickled onion and malt vinegar powder. It was pleasant enough, like a slightly posher fish finger, but hasn't been cemented in the memory bank.
This also comes with bread - good (we're guessing not homemade) sourdough, and shellfish butter, which didn't taste remotely of shellfish. If we didn't know better we would have said they just squirted a bit of food colouring in there.
Course one was "chips and cheese". We love a curry chip as much as the next Irish person so were looking forward to this one, but the way it arrived felt disjointed. A cube of potato terrine with curry emulsion came on a plate, then you lift that to find a bowl with a parmesan espuma and curry oil underneath. Neither element wowed alone, but together did work, and we thought it was quite clever.
Course two was "Scampi" - crispy monkfish cheek, with dill emulsion, gribiche, peas and beurre blanc. We've never had to saw through monkfish with a butter knife before, and if it was more than two bites we would have sent it back, but one bite into the rubbery, overcooked fish and it felt pointless in asking for more. The accompaniments were pleasant enough, but had a whack of childhood dinners off them.
Onto course three! The "steak pie", with 24-hour beef shin, burnt onion ketchup, mushroom duxelle, and ‘meaty salsa’, which was marginally better than a tin of Fray Bentos. Mushy, mouth-puckeringly salty and one-dimensional, with raw mushroom shavings to really seal the deal.
Then an upset. Course four. The only dish which really worked, and actually encompassed what they've set out to do - bring a taste of the chipper to a tasting menu. Shetland cod came on top of tangy confit fennel, samphire, pickled mussels and beer emulsion, and had crispy salt and vinegar batter bits on top. It was so good it was a shock after what had come before, and had all the flavours from that salt and vinegar doused box of fish and chips in a different form. Presumably it was dishes like this which started the hype train rolling, it's just a pity there weren't more of them.
Then course five. The dish that shouldn't exist. The dish that needs to be banished to culinary hell and never show it's smoke covered face in this town again. "Smoked sausage". Throughout your meal, you'll find your sight, conversations and breathing interrupted by pungent plumes of smoke from the unfortunates at nearby tables. It's like having the dud seat at a barbecue, where you're annoyed because you've just washed your hair and know you're going to stink when you leave. Then it was our turn to have our heads submerged in the stuff.
Underneath this madcap dome of exhaust fumes was nothing to assuage the situation. Three unidentifiable parts of a pig, black pudding so dry it was almost sand, and various sickly sauces, jus and the worst choucroute we've ever tasted. The faces at the table while trying to choke down the meat said more than words ever could, and at times we felt like we were on an episode of I'm A Celeb, where getting through the gnarly, chewy animal parts would result in meals for camp. It was offensive on several levels, and most of it went back uneaten. Staff didn't ask why.
The final course, and an end to the madness is "deep-fried Mars bar". A chocolate opera, Irn Bru sorbet, chocolate soil, and a little slice of actual deep-fried Mars bar. Unfortunately the plate must have waited on the pass for too long as by the time we got it the Mars bar was solid again and the sorbet was melting fast. Despite this it was actually a very nice dessert, the opera in particular, and a definite nostalgia trip back to our fizzy drink and E number-filled childhoods.
What about the drinks?
If the food is the Pizza Express of fine dining, the drinks list is the Wetherspoons. Wines start at €4.50 for a 125ml, spirits around €5. If cheap booze is top of your agenda you'll love it. The wine list has nothing of note on there, and reads like it was written by the interior designer. Sometimes the wine name has the producer in there, sometimes the grape, sometimes the region, often "Domaine" is casually thrown at the end, like "Chablis Premier Cru 'Montmains' Domaine", which makes less sense than the curtain-less door.
There's a suggested aperitif to start, which for the chipper menu is the "Sea Side Spritz", with gin, falernum, orange, lemon, thyme syrup and soda. It was pleasant and a nice light opener. We also tried the cheapest and the most expensive white wines by the glass - we didn't dare risk it on a bottle. A Sauvignon Blanc/Verdejo (€4.50) blend tasted like water with a hint of citric acid. An Albarino (€7) had marginally more discernible flavours - water with a hint of actual citrus. Both were wasted alcohol units, and we high-tailed it to The Sidecar afterwards to cleanse ourselves.
While we're on the subject of liquids, be warned that there is a single cubicle for each sex (plus a disabled one which wasn't open), so you might want to keep them to a minimum. Ladies, expect to queue each time you need to tinkle, and return to your next course going cold on the table. Maybe this is all part of the plan to get you out faster.
And the service?
There's been a lot of comments online about how nice the staff are, and they are nice, in a totally detached, "I'm only here on a secondment" kind of way. Almost everyone we encountered was Northern Irish or Scottish, and we're not sure whether that's a result of the staffing crisis or whether they just wanted to send tried and tested team members to get things off the ground. They were there, but didn't really seem to care. When we asked one waitress what the incessant beeping was that went off every few minutes and didn't seem to be coming from the kitchen, (wondering if anyone else could hear it or if the smoke had made ours ears go funny), she said "good question! I don't know", and toddled off.
We were rattled through courses at speeds not seen since Elaine Thompson-Herah won gold in Tokyo, and they managed to get us through an impressive (if uncomfortable) five courses in 50 minutes, until we pleaded for it to stop.
And the damage?
Around €65 a head before tip, with one snack between two, one cocktail and one glass of wine each. Not crazy money, but not an insignificant amount either.
There are people who will like Six by Nico, people for whom settings are more important than snacks, gimmicks are more important than the goods on the plate, and for whom the total on the bill is more important than how things taste. They're not the people setting alarms to get a Chapter One booking three months in advance, hanging on for a cancellation in Uno Mas on a Friday night, and dragging a bunch of friends to Slane to experience Allta's summer incarnation, and that's okay, we can all co-exist together. As far as the food goes (and we're all about the food), Six by Nico didn't deliver. We'd rather put our dining dollars into genuinely exciting eating experiences, from Library Street to Locks, Big Fan to Mr Fox, than somewhere churning out formulaic dishes with little love involved in the process. It might be "only" €45 for dinner, but for our money, there are so many better places to spend €45.
Six by Nico
1 Molesworth Place, Dublin 2 sixbynico.ie