Restaurant Review: This six theme should prove a big hit with Belfast diners
Six by Nico, Waring Street, Belfast: For those looking for a different dining experience the innovative and daring venture by Scottish restaurateur Nico Simeone will fit the bill
After months of relentless and merciless bombardment of the social media with a series of short, moody films featuring bearded men in deep concentration using tweezers to compose tiny dishes, a young parkour expert wearing a six-by-nico sweat-top leaping and cartwheeling in slo-mo from Giant's Causeway to Cathedral Quarter, and tantalising glimpses of chef Nico Simeone himself boarding a plane to Aldergrove, anyone paying attention to their Instagram and twitter feeds could not have failed to notice that the great man was preparing to transfer the magic of his Glasgow and Edinburgh restaurants to Belfast.
The impressive little film clips, beautifully shot and edited, were further boosted with stories of Nico's favourite 70 customers being flown from Glasgow to Belfast to give them first dibs on his new venture. This kind of anticipation is gold dust for bloggers and digital influencers and fair play to them for getting the memo out: Nico's is opening in Belfast.
Once you look past the initial slick marketing campaign what's even more impressive is the long term strategic approach to the business. The name Six by Nico amplifies the restaurant's theme of six-course lunches and dinners at £28 (add £25 for wine pairings) which then run for a period of six weeks. (I got in on the last week of the 'Chippie' theme).
The Belfast restaurant has a mildly Edwardian formality with just enough steam punk references (rivets in the steel doors, smoking cloches and so on) to keep it youthful. It's more French provincial town bistro than fancy pants luxe, it's well lit, warm and spacious.
Staff all seem to have been airlifted from Scotland and although I thought I detected a couple of local accents there is a distinctly scripted and mildly regimented feel to the service. It is not what you'd call charming but nor is it disinterested. It is just a notch up from perfunctory and this may be an attraction to diners who think floor staff should know their place.
The food comes quickly, one dish after another, perfectly timed, unrushed. I can't get that image of the hipster with the tweezers out of my head, beavering away over his mise en place.
My navigator today, Alan McCulla OBE from Kilkeel, is keen, as you'd imagine for a man who leads Northern Ireland's most prominent fishing co-operative, Sea Source, to see how the fish and seafood are dealt with.
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First off it's "chips and cheese" (an impressive parmesan foam beneath which lie crispy golden crumbs of potato, just like the ones at the bottom of your chip bag from the chip shop). Its delicious, savoury saltiness is unexpected and ignites wonderment at the long lasting flavour.
Scampi (made with monkfish cheeks) with pea emulsion and a well textured gribiche (a kind of mayonnaise made with cooked eggs and studded with capers, gherkins and the like) is another hit.
The deconstructed steak pie which follows is as good a piece of braised shin as you will find anywhere (not unlike Barking Dog's famed shin burger) and is packed with beefy flavours. Dish five is the smoked sausage where you will find black pudding, remoulade of celeriac and caramelised apple.
The final fireworks go with a deep-fried Mars bar bang. It's a little ball of Mars wrapped in brittle batter and accompanied by an orange sorbet to help cut it through.
All of these dishes are delicately composed and would not be out of place in a finer diner. Chef Nico has trained his staff well and the dishes are reproduced with an eye on quality and not just presentation.
The six-week themes are clever. The Chippie has given way this week to 'Childhood', so expect to see mac'n'cheese, fish fingers, eggs and soldiers.
Six by Nico is a very interesting piece of restaurant innovation. Yes, the innovation is down to the marketing and packaging but the food concept borrows from the best (it's a winner in the looks and tastes categories for an ever vigilant and broadening audience of eater-outers) and it is a value-for-money proposition.
As an exercise in business and brand development it is quite the cheeky, nouveau, dashing but ultimately populist project soon to become a world-dominating chain. Possibly.
Two menus: £56
Coffee x 2: £4.10
Sparkling water: £3.50
Viognier 250ml x 2: £15
Viognier 125ml x 1: £4.50
Six by Nico
Tel: 028 90329 467