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Sixtyone, and the vexed question of a front door

Imagine that you were an ambitious chef and that the devil took you up to a high place … to cut a long story down to size the Prince of darkness will happily make any chef who’s interested a deal, the cook gets a favourable rent and a very well equipped, often brand new, kitchen, but he also has to put up with setting up his restaurant within the bowels of a hotel. Before the chef has written his first menu the feel, standards and style of the host hotel will have leached into the atmosphere. That’s when having a separate entrance becomes so very important. Sixtyone restaurant at the Montcalm is part of the Searcy’s group and yes, it does have its own front door.
The chef-patron of Sixtyone is Arnaud Stevens and his battle honours include time spent at the top of the Gherkin, also Maze and La Tante Claire. The dining room seats 60 and is crisply styled in a vaguely Scandinavian way – plenty of wood including chandeliers, comfortable chairs with leather seats, bright pictures. The standard of cooking exceeds any expectations. Dishes are done well from a technical point of view and feature the occasional surprise – not walloping, Heston, moody sort of surprises but small twists and turns that make you smile inside. The bread basket comes to table with slices of a rich dark Marmite loaf – this is inspired (when asked about the technique a simple reply, “add Marmite to the dough” straight home to try this out!)
A starter “Mussels, bread soup suckling pork belly” comes with an un-advertised quenelle of white chocolate ice cream. The mussels are plump, the soup is rich and salty-iodiney the belly pork is crispy and the sweet chocolate gently melts into the savoury soup offering
a great contrast. Another starter is “Rabbit Bolognese, salsify and almond” and whatever the dish title conjures up in you mind the finished article is more ambitious and more interesting. The rabbit ragu comes as a small disk centre plate; the element that looks like tagliatelle is actually a roll of shaved salsify; that bowl of “parmesan” is actually almonds chopped small. You can forgive these flights of fancy because the dish works. The salsify/bunny goes together well. The almonds add a great texture. The mains are also very rewarding – the “squab pigeon, snails, cauliflower and parsley risotto” is very enjoyable with the viridian green parsley risotto stealing the show. The “braised beef cheek, black pudding, pancetta and Swiss chard gratin” is also a good bet. Or how about the “slow cooked sea bream, carrots, walnuts and grapefruit? Desserts keep pace “baba Black Sheep” includes a soaked baba, a small sack of candy floss wool, and a glass of Black Sheep ale on the side. A pleasant conceit.
Service glides along. The sommelier knows what’s what and for cooking of this calibre Sixtyone is not excessively expensive (starters £6 to £10; mains £14 to £22; desserts £6 to £9; six course tasting menu £45). As for the sometimes off-putting fact that the restaurant is within a hotel… ignore that, or better still have a snifter in the Montcalm’s rather elegant cocktail bar.

Sixtyone, 61 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1H 7PP (020 8947 4474)

Charles Campion - Wednesday 19th February 2014

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