WE trusted Glaswegian-Italian chef Nico Simeone knew his way around a deep-frier when he launched his first six course tasting menu in Manchester, ‘A Chippie Tea’. And as expected, his fine dining credentials shone through in his artful tweaks on chip shop staples. Yet we found it all hard to love.
Six weeks have passed and, following the winning template in Six By Nico in Scotland and Belfast, we are treated to the next theme, ‘Mexico’. Cue the tumbleweed. This time we have to wonder – has Señor Simeone ever sampled the benchmark guacamole of Guadalajara, sought out the choicest tacos of Tijuana?
Well, you can be too purist. Diana Kennedy, 96-year-old doyenne of Mexican food writing, has a haughty hatred of guacamole, tacos and all that commercial Tex-Mex stodge that’s as trumped up as Trump (no fan of the Mexicans, you might have spotted).
“What is Mexican cuisine?” she fulminates? “There are 31 states, and each of those states has different ingredients, different ways of treating them. You can’t just call it Mexican cuisine—it’s from Veracruz, from Hidalgo, places where the difference in the way you cook the beans will change the dish completely.”
The good news from Six By Nico is that, unlikely as you are to brush against the specialities of Veracruz or Hidalgo, ‘Mexico’ might have you dancing around your hat. Proverbially.
It is a delicate procession of dishes that are fresh, sharp and balanced until you reach No 6, the pud where chef Nico again displays his love of the chocolate cremeux, but I thought a combo of banana ice cream, vanilla and agave gel, candied hazelnuts, banana crisp and chocolate taco more yukky sticky than Yucatán (enough Mexican regions: ed)
The other five courses used Mexican influences and flavours subtly, starting off with a smooth gazpacho made from lettuce, lime leaf and avocado given further citric kick by a pico de gallo salsa. Next came a pretty dish of blow torched mackerel with cubes of watermelon and edible flowers on a coriander taco with a blob of creme fraiche.
Equally fresh and green was No.3 – herb-topped burrata, a piquant green chilli salsa verde, a green tomato tostada and cucumber ketchup. The tasting menu is a bargain again at £28 for six courses with an optional matching wine flight at £25. We stuck to an unusual Tempranillo Blanco, which was a fine, limey, pineappley match for the surprisingly big flavours of crisply-skinned sea bass with white bean hash, chorizo, pumpkin, squid ink and lemon emulsion.
It also handled my favourite ‘movement’ of the sextet, pork belly, which of all the dishes gave off the most Mexican vibe. I loved the sweetness of the pork, barbecue charred elote corn, mashed sweetcorn roasted quince, cut through with crisp, fried cornichon pickle (main image). Almost as corny as an atmospheric musical soundtrack that veered from La Bamba to ¡Ay, caramba! With food this good they are forgiven.
Six By Nico (A Story Every Six Weeks), 60 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ. Diners can book a table now for 'Mexico', which runs until Sunday September 29. Open from midday, Tuesday through to Sunday, each six-course menu is available from noon to night. £28 a head with an optional wine pairing for an additional £25.