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Review: Six at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead

Reviewing Six at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead is a labour of love for Robert Gibson

*****
The interior of Six at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
The interior of Six at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

Let's say – hypothetically speaking – after another lonely Valentine’s Day, spent cradling a bottle of Buckfast in your bleak one-bedroom flat, you were considering getting an online dating profile together. If I were you, I’d start with the Baltic.

What I mean is that if it’s creative types you’re after, my, um, research suggests you’ve got to sell yourself these days as the kind of chap whose weekends are spent in a haze of gallery gallivanting, left-wing activism and adding the symbols to the third draft of that existentialist novella you’re writing.

In reality you’re watching Jeremy Kyle and eating Wotsits. In a one-sie.

Anyway, my own relationship with the Baltic has been long, sweet and mutually beneficial (I gave them a quid once). But dates have been few and far between. Part of the problem is that modern art either blows me away or leaves me so cold I could be mistaken for an ice sculpture. It’s a game of chance. An adrenaline ride. The brain needs time to recover after such experiences.

In saying that, there’s an installation on the sixth floor that’s always evoked euphoria in me. The work is called Six and the artist has chosen the medium of a restaurant to convey a sense of deliciousness at odds with a tasteless society.

Run by hospitality company Fresh Element, the focus is British modern, the sourcing local, the style elegant but unpretentious.

Oh, and did I mention Six recently turned six? Happy Birthday and many happy returns.

I celebrated with dinner there.

I took an ex. She’s creative. We met online.

Smoked mackerel pâté, pickles and warm toast
Smoked mackerel pâté, pickles and warm toast

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: You don’t need to be an arty type to get a kick out of entering the Baltic at night and giving the security guard that little nod that says: “Yes, I’m a man of distinction and this is indeed a beautiful woman who once found me appealing.”

The ego, though, is soon silenced as you marvel at the views over the Tyne, ascending, as you are by this point, in a glass lift to the highest heights of the art world.

Reach the summit and the environment is warm and conducive to civilised life – lights dimmed, non-intrusive jazz.

When we arrived it was fairly quiet, but, then again, we’d made a point of catching the early evening specials menu. (Later on, the place packed out, creating an energetic atmosphere.)

We were shown to our seats immediately and all credit to the waitress who kept her cool as she waited for me to give her my coat.

I had loads of important things in there to transfer to my bag. Poundland receipts, Burger King vouchers, lighters, jotted down notes... Idea for existentialist novella: lonely man takes long, hard look at life.

Smoked chicken and pancetta salad, with wholegrain mustard dressing
Smoked chicken and pancetta salad, with wholegrain mustard dressing

STYLE, DESIGN AND FURNISHINGS: It’s classy, but even the most inverted of inverted snobs wouldn’t call it stuffy. It’s modern, but it’s far from cold.

And that’s the thing about Six. There’s a balance and a logic to the whole package.

Yes, there’s the stunning panoramic views – a feature that’s replicated in the toilets, by the way – but there’s also a feeling of intimacy and a sumptuousness you wouldn’t normally associate with this kind of design.

It’s simple, but it’s high-spec, from the impeccably arranged cutlery to the wood of the furnishings and the well-presented menus.

Six could easily have gone down the style-over-content road, but it’s stuck to its guns with a refined, understated and welcoming approach.

The table spacing is also spot-on, giving you enough privacy to carry out those intimate conversations, even as things get bustly.

We whispered sour nothings to each other all night.

Confit duck leg, braised lentils and Bourguignon red wine jus
Confit duck leg, braised lentils and Bourguignon red wine jus

FOOD AND DRINK: Between courses anyway. Otherwise, the food had our full attention.

I started with a smoked chicken and pancetta salad with wholegrain mustard dressing and it was magnificent – from its colourful and rustic appearance to its carefully considered mix of flavours, hitting the taste-buds from all directions while leaving the soul feeling clean.

The Ex, meanwhile, was delighted with her smoked mackerel pâté, pickles and warm toast.

I suggested the pâté portion size looked insanely large, but she was having none of it.

“That’s not a bad thing,” she said – seemingly with pointed venom.

Anyway, we saw eye to eye on the main course at least, both of us choosing the confit duck leg with braised lentils in a Bourguignon red wine jus.

Apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream
Apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream

Now I know my duck legs and I can you these were big ones (The Ex was over the moon). They were also perfectly cooked, the meat falling off the bone like it couldn’t wait a moment longer to be scoffed.

It was deeply satisfying. I enjoyed how the lentils brought a substantial mouth feel to the combo, bringing the flavours together and letting them work their magic.

There was plenty of it – from the sensory explosion of the crispy duck skin on the tongue to a deep, smoky earthiness.

For dessert, the Muse drove me to the crème brûlée and shortbread, for which I was thankful. Both the light texture and subtlety of the flavours impressed me.

The Ex likewise seemed more than taken with the apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she kept saying, but it was less Meg Ryan and more Cookie Monster, if you understand.

Crème brûlée with shortbread
Crème brûlée with shortbread

VALUE: The early bird catches the worm – and the bargain. Three courses set us back £18.50 per person (two would have been £16), which represents excellent value for money.

Step into main menu territory and starters range from £5.95 to £12.95, mains from £12.95 to £24.95, and puddings from £6.95 to £11.50.

So it’s not cheap, but you’ll know where your money’s going.

Wine-wise, although prices seem a little more restrained than they used to be, you could still blow a small fortune on the higher end bottles. I just had beer – Golden Plover (£4.95) and Wolf Bitter (£4.45) – both of which I find drinkable but unimpressive and certainly not pedigree examples of their breeds.

Given the price tag, that could do with rectifying. But it’s hardly the stuff of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

ARE YOU BEING SERVED?: I can remember one of my first visits to Six, when staff reacted to every twitch of the eyebrow and propped up your napkin when you went to the toilet.

That kind of thing seems to be gone now, but the service was still attentive, polite and friendly.

Admittedly, we had to wait, drinkless, for a while longer than we would have liked for the bill.

But I’m sure The Ex would agree: better too late than too soon.

OPENING TIMES: Between Monday and Saturday, lunch is served from noon until 2pm, afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 3.30pm and dinner from 5.30pm to 9.30pm. The restaurant is open for drinks between noon and 10pm.

On Sunday, lunch is served between noon and 2pm, and afternoon tea from 2.30pm to 3.30pm.

Find it on the sixth floor of Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, South Shore Road, Gateshead, NE8 3BA. Tel 0191 440 4948, visit www.sixbaltic.com or email EAT@SIXBATLIC.COM

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