Why come to Manchester?
I used to visit Manchester regularly with my wife, and I’ve always loved the city and its vibe. So when we sat down to decide where to expand the Six by Nico concept outside of Scotland, I had a list of four cities that were potential locations and Manchester was top.
What other cities were on the list?
Part of me wanted to go to London. However, Manchester was always going to be my first choice in terms of openings in England, and I feel very fortunate I’ve been able to do just that.
How do you view Manchester’s restaurant scene?
The restaurant scene across the UK has grown, but Manchester’s is up there as one of the strongest. The standard of dining is incredible; it’s truly a city that has it all. And it’s great to see how it’s evolving too. There are a lot of chef-run restaurants in Manchester and a lot of young chefs coming on the scene, which is exciting.
Manchester will be the fourth iteration of the Six by Nico concept. How do you cope managing multiple restaurants simultaneously?
I’ve gradually put together a small team who have risen through the ranks as chefs and managers in the years since I opened my first restaurant. Now, having worked across the different Nico sites, all those individuals have come out of the restaurants and aren’t on the rotas any more. So I have three general managers and four executive chefs who form my key team, and I work directly with them every day to maintain a consistently high level of quality across all my restaurants.
Where did the idea for an ever-changing concept come from?
It was really an evolution. I had been offered a site in Glasgow and was struggling to think of a concept or cuisine that would suit the area – it already had very good fine-dining and casual options. Then a friend of mine suggested that rather than focusing on a specific concept, why not adapt it so the menu is ever-changing; why not have French food one month, and Italian food the next? The whole thing grew from there. Having settled on changing the menu every six weeks, we established the name and the rest just fell into place. It’s a concept that’s really proved itself, too. We have plenty of regulars, and with a competitive price point (the six-course tasting menu is £29) it really encourages people to come back so they can try all the different menus and compare notes on their favourites.
Is it important to you to keep prices as low as possible?
Absolutely; making sure the food is accessible is the most important thing for me. Tasting menus are often viewed as a more formal and expensive dining option, and I wanted to turn that notion on its head. Six by Nico is designed to offer an experience that’s original and approachable, which customers would feel comfortable revisiting maybe five or six times a year.
What’s your method for putting together a menu?
It’s a unique process, as you’re effectively scrapping the menu every six weeks no matter how successful it is and starting again. And the challenge is to keep it fresh and exciting every time you reinvent it. The usual procedure involves sitting down with my team and discussing different ideas. Then, once we settle on a concept, we start creating dishes and testing them out before deciding on the layout of the final menu.
How long does it normally take to put together a menu?
It varies. I’ve seen some that have come together in a couple of weeks, and others that can take three months. It isn’t a process that follows a set structure, the creative flow is more organic.
What was the first menu you ever created?
It was called The Chippie, and it’s one we’re coming back to for the launch of the Manchester restaurant. We’ve revisited it several times in the past, and continued to evolve it depending on the location. I always like to launch with a variation of that menu. The Manchester menu starts with cheesy chips made with salt and vinegar croquettes and parmesan espuma; then monkfish cheek ‘scampi’ served with a pea emulsion; steak pie with beef shin; cod with confit fennel and beer-pickled mussels; smoked sausage of pork belly with salt-baked celeriac, caramelised apple and black pudding; and finally a ‘deep-fried Mars bar’ consisting of caramelia chocolate mousse, orange sorbet and cocoa nib.
Would you consider The Chippie your favourite menu?
I don’t think so. The ones I usually love are the destinations. We’ve recently done one focused on Catalonia featuring my own take on paella and crème Catalan. I love going to research different locations; immersing myself in the culture, tasting the food, and then recreating the dishes in my own style.
What are you future plans?
Going forward I want to double down and further expand the Six by Nico concept. That’s my passion, and I have an incredible team supporting me so I am very keen to see how far I can take it.
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the August issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.