It’s a numbers game

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The address of Sixtyone Restaurant – 61 Upper Berkeley Street in Marylebone – is easy to remember. In addition to the name itself, the restaurant has made a quirky feature of its door number on several levels. Open the wine list and the first thing you see is a premium collection of 1961 wines (apparently a great vintage, which was fortunate). Move on to the tasting menu and the £61 pricing provides a further reminder – ensuring customers remain aware of their precise location, even if they have got a bit carried away with the wine list.

Sixtyone opened a year ago, with the aim of creating a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant just a short wander from Park Lane and Oxford Street. On a grey winter day the restaurant makes a welcoming first impression with a warm copper glow and earthy colour scheme. Sixtyone has gone from strength to strength, winning three AA rosettes in September, but it still feels like a place known more to locals and residents of the linked five-star Montcalm Hotel than to Londoners at large. Perhaps the hotel connection accounts for this sense of seclusion – it certainly accounts for the late-night lounge feel of the Champagne bar, where some serious cocktail science is taking place courtesy of new Head Bartender Jerémy Pascal. Home-made purées, spiced syrups and a smoking gun (in a literal sense) are produced from behind the bar to complement a collection of premium spirits.

This all adds a touch of theatre to ordering a pre-dinner drink, but fortunately just a touch – the resulting cocktails are a treat for the taste buds without inducing sensory overload. Stand-out creations include Cold Peanut Buttered Rum – a frosted mug of indulgence topped with a cloud of pumpkin purée – and Smoked Blood & Sand – a sophisticated whisky-based martini with smoky, fruity undertones and a chutney-loaded poppadom balancing on the rim. Who doesn’t love a drink accompanied by a real snack instead of bits of fruit that you have to determinedly fish out of the glass? (Well, perhaps the last bit is just me).

This emphasis on unfussy presentation, quality ingredients and strong taste carries through to the restaurant. Chef Patron Arnaud Stevens honed his craft working with some of the biggest names in modern British cuisine, including Gordon Ramsey, Jason Atherton and Richard Corrigan – and combines these influences with the traditional Southern French cooking of his earliest training. Seasonality is another key element, so an autumn visit involves ingredients such as venison, partridge, blackberries, mushrooms and hazelnuts. The signature dishes of the season are showcased by two tasting menus – meat and vegetarian –so my friend and I order one of each. Vegetarian food can feel like an afterthought in many restaurants, so it’s gratifying that my vegetarian dishes seem to encompass just as much depth and character as my friend’s omnivorous choices.

Cashel Blue cheese paired with vibrant slivers of yellow and red beetroot makes a simple but delicious starter and a main course of Jerusalem artichokes with hazelnut purée is one of the most flavoursome dishes I’ve had in some time. In fact, it’s difficult to fault any of the accomplished dishes – although one course we did find to be somewhat of a letdown was the sea bream. A more simplistic dish than some of the others, if you’re keen on fish then this is for you. Unfortunately, my friend would have liked more sauce to balance out the fish taste. Luckily her courses of partridge and venison get a thumbs up.

Overall, Sixtyone has succeeded in creating a down-to-earth vibe that belies its Marylebone hotel location. It has other set menus that won’t set you back as much, including a £40 option for large groups in a private dining room and a £29.50 three-course festive meal. It has comfortable seating and rustic touches such as a bread box garnished with wheat and a dashi broth strained at the table as an amuse bouche. And it has friendly service – surprisingly for a restaurant with predominantly French staff and a vintage showcase on the first page of the wine list, we are steered in the direction of a good-value and lesser-known Austrian red that turns out to be delicious. Surely the Christmas shoppers will cotton on soon.

by Thea Macaulay

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