Restaurant Review of SixtyOne
In 1712, just outside the town of Nîmes, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, Louis- Joseph de Montcalm was born. A Marquis, Montcalm commanded French forces against the British in North America during the Seven Years’ War, over the struggle for possession of Born to a noble family, Montcalm entered military service early in life. And in 1756 King Louis XV sent him to New France to lead its defence against the British, where he enjoyed some notable successes. But British mobilisation of troops against France led to military setbacks.
And in a decision, largely considered to be his greatest mistake whilst Lieutenant General, Moncalm decided to attack the British in 1759, with what forces he had rather than wait for the forces garrisoned along the shore to come and bolster his numbers. The French forces were defeated, but nonetheless managed to repel the enemy at the gates of Quebec.
While riding back towards the city, General Montcalm was hit in the back by musket shot. Assisted by three soldiers, he was taken before a surgeon, who announced he would not live through the night. The Marquis then drew on his last reserves of strength and signed his last official act as commander of the French army in Canada. He died and was buried in a lowly shell hole, under the choir of the Ursuline church.
In the early 1970’s Piccadilly Estate Hotels put forward a plan to build a 112 bedroom hotel on the site of 34-40 Great Cumberland Place, next to London’s Marble Arch and home to seven regency houses. Each house, when originally built in the mid-18th and came with stabling in Quebec Mews, directly behind, accessed from New Quebec Street. A new hotel duly opened in 1973 and was named The Montcalm, after the Marquis de Montcalm – the link being the date of his final battle and finalisation of the original buildings, plus the Canadian province of Quebec, which leant its name to the original mews to the rear.
So it is with no irony, that like the Marquis himself, Arnaud Stevens, Chef Patron of SixtyOne – the new temple to gastronomy within The Montcalm, is also French. Stevens gathered his gastronomic inspiration from his mother and uncle, growing up within the Southern French culture of old world cooking, of flavoursome, honest food. Having worked alongside Gordon Ramsey, Jason Atherton and Richard Corrigan, his new venture in partnership with Searcys, uses the very best English ingredients prepared the French way, with a modern, creative twist. Stevens sources these ingredients from UK artisan suppliers of flesh, fish, fowl and foraged herbs.
Walking through the restaurant’s 61 Upper Berkeley Street entrance, I was greeted with welcoming, hushed tones, and lead to the adjoining champagne bar, to wait for my companion to arrive. Perfect for discreet meetings or tête-à-têtes, the bar radiates a warm air of indulgence, with Jeroboams grandly gloating in mammoth ice buckets and rare spirits positioned aloft, behind a high-top bar.
With friend finally in tow, we then settled for lunch at a window table in the restaurant, shrouded in light and enthusiastic expectation. The room’s high ceiling lends an air of grace, and provides the much-needed height, to play host to the room’s main feature – an intricate bronzed hanging sculpture.
To begin, a memorable marmite bread was our preference from a selection, reminding us both of a savoury version of malt loaf – a firm favourite from our childhoods. Starters chosen, we sipped a Quincy Sauvignon from 2013, waiting for first courses to arrive. My companion opted for ‘Pig on Toast’ with pear and pecan – tenderised pork on a long crouton with parmesan, whilst I chose cauliflower velouté, with duck egg and truffle. Both were excellent – the pork richly seasoned and complimented by a Pâté de Foie Gras, and the soup light enough to be paired with a rich truffle cream and diced mushrooms that sat Robust mains followed. My companion exclaimed his Herdwick lamb shoulder, served with carrot, onion and pickled garlic, was a complex work of art, with a most intense, meat essence.
My yellowfin tuna with shitake, smoked paprika and spring onion, was a Jackson Pollock of a plate – orange, bronze, pink and green components, topped with a tempura asparagus spear. A blast on the senses, hitting both palate and pupil, in one clean swoop.
Feeling sated, yet tempted still by the possibilities of the pudding menu, we opted for the sublime tiramisu – a deconstructed mélange of the traditional, expected flavours and a chocolat fondant, served with gold marshmallows, no less. After coffee, we finished our relaxed affair right back where it had begun – in the champagne bar, persuaded by the maître d’ to round off our meal with an after-dinner cocktail. The frothy marshmallow foam that topped my cocktail, the house speciality Salted Jimador, flattered its base spirit of Olmeca Reposado Tequila, chocolate chips and Jerry Thomas bitters, offering a distinctive sweet kick. And my companion’s rum punch was pure Caribbean, served in a charming silver chalice, with pineapple flower and star anise.
Almost fit to burst, in the very best way, we happily agreed it was the best lunch we’d had in a long time. And in a complete reversal of the Marquis de Montcalm’s fortunes, we English both surrounded to the French gastronomy of SixtyOne – a winning recipe of a restaurant.
Starters from £8, Mains from £17, Cocktails from £13.50.
SixtyOne, 61 Upper Berkeley Street, London, W1H 7PP.
Reservations: 020 7958 3222
by Leila Stocker