In a nutshell
Six offers panoramic views from this city-centre hotel, located in the attractive and busy area of Quayside. Recently converted from bedrooms to a spacious indoor dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows, Six has the same great vista onto the river, colleges and streets below as the hotel’s open-air roof terrace, so you can enjoy a Dark and Stormy, or a dramatic skyline, in comfortable, clement surrounds.
Its decor is smart-modern with touches of the retro, while the food is informal and eclectic. Separate cocktail, wine and gin menus are offered alongside a lunch/dinner menu of small plates with a Mediterranean bias: wood-fired pizzas with some novel toppings, rotisserie chicken with a choice of rubs and separate sides, and a dessert menu of elaborate ice-cream concoctions. There’s also a weekend brunch menu.
Six is one of three eateries that are privately owned within the Varsity Hotel, all with menus developed by executive head chef Angus Martin. He’s also run the kitchen at the hotel’s River Bar Steak House and Grill.
Our waiter explained the Six concept as all about sharing, so you’re encouraged to order an assortment of dishes as opposed to a structured three-course meal. Small plates are the size of generous starters such as toasted chickpea, butternut squash and feta and veal meatballs, gorgonzola and lemon.
Pizzas come dressed with contemporary toppings, from sugar-cured salmon and capers to roasted broccoli and almonds and kimchee, blue cheese and chives. The chicken is free-range, and sides include mustard mash, peas and gravy, and sweetcorn fritters. Vegetarians have several options.
The ice-cream menu screams with crowd-pleasers such as the chocolate peanut butter sundae with chopped Snickers. There’s a Cambridge novelty, the Varsity punt sundae, sporting meringues, strawberry and vanilla ice creams, mint syrup and marshmallows. You can also design your own from single scoop options.
What’s the room like?
Mustard-yellow leather banquettes are comfortable and stylish with polished wooden tables and parquet flooring. Working chefs are on view in the middle of the restaurant, and a marble-top bar area with leather stools and handsome floor-tiles provides another theatre for people-watching.
Our best dishes were the seared tuna with olives, and aubergine with preserved lemon. Both were well-cooked and fresh-tasting, with an imaginative and harmonious combination of good ingredients. The addition of salty olives and preserved lemon gave them the balanced seasoning that some of our other dishes lacked.
Our spit-roast lamb pizza was well-cooked but a little confused – not quite Italian, not quite Middle Eastern, with a touch of Sunday lunch from sweet mint. The burrata and fig bruschetta was under-toasted, so somewhat soggy. We found some dishes were under-seasoned, though ingredients were good. The Pimms and strawberry ice-cream float would be less bitter with lemonade instead of soda water, and the crushed ice made the lovely ice cream difficult to eat.
Cocktails from the well-stocked bar are generous and imaginative, with plenty of choice under a tenner. Dark and Stormy, made with Bermuda Goslings rum, was one to come back for. Negroni, with pink pepper gin (one of more than 30 gins on offer), Campari and sweet vermouth, went down smoothly, too.
When it comes to the wine, our Heritique Sauvignon Blanc and Primitivo Terre di Montelusa were enjoyable, each served at the right temperature. There’s a separate menu for beer, cider and spirits.
What else we liked
Tables were nicely spaced for privacy, and the view was accessible to those facing inwards as well, thanks to well-placed mirrors. Service was attentive and friendly; staff were helpful in navigating the menu and receptive to feedback.
It’s worth a visit to Six for the views over Cambridge; its comfortable elegance makes it an especially inviting place to enjoy an excellent cocktail at sunset. The menu didn’t deliver on all fronts for us, but if novelty and informal eclecticism on the food-front are your priorities, it will be worth the trip.
The Varsity Hotel and Spa
Written by Laura Donohue (crumbsonthetable.co.uk), June 2016
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