On a recent trip to Brighton, we were determined to try out as much interesting grub as the city had to offer.
Street food, pre-industrial fodder and neo-tapas were all on their hit list. At the time of our visit, Brighton’s 64° was tipped to get a Michelin star (edit: alas not this time but it surely can’t be long. However, Michelin saw fit to award its new Bib Gourmand rating in 2014). Because of its hot reputation we made every effort to get our feet in the door of this newish venue. Clearly exceedingly popular, we leapt at the chance to take the last remaining booking of the weekend – a six-thirty slot that presumably The Beautiful People thought unfashionably early. Lucky for us then.
64° had garnered some impressive column inches in the nationals and, when undertaking our research, we sat open-mouthed at the prospect of “mash that elevates the potato to hero status“, “the most exciting thing to hit Brighton for years“, and “astonishingly good tongue as you’ve never had it before“. The food and the venue seemed determinedly unconventional – so was it to be playful and delicious fun, or a pile of tripe?
Determined not to abandon our booking due to either hell or high water, we ran through the streets coatless during a violent thunderstorm arriving at the restaurant wet and hungry. Apart from the downpour, Lady Luck was smiling on us as we were seated in the prime spot – perched on stools at a slim counter facing the kitchen. We’d definitely recommend going as a couple and not a group so you get a chance to perch up there and get the full 64° experience. OK, the bar was a bit small for the succession of dishes, but the view of the hot chef action was unparalleled. The venue was frantic, with loud, pounding music and lighting that wouldn’t be out of place in a nightclub. Diners were squeezed into a space that might pass for a living room in area and the small, dark, kitchen space was totally exposed. It was all radically different from any sit-down venue that we had ever been to; feeling if anything like street-food or a busy oriental restaurant in atmosphere – and yet the food itself was clearly something quite apart from those.
As is the modern way, the menu was pretty sparse: a mere twelve dishes in total – four meat, four fish and four veg. It was also presented entirely without adjectives – essentially a list of ingredients. Luckily there was help at hand; the waitress explained that it was a bit tapasy in delivery. The unusual and chef-centric layout extended to the way the food was delivered – dishes came when they were ready, not in any particular order. The restaurant had several timed sittings so we were very aware that we had to be out within an hour and a quarter or else. So placing our order they sat back and watched the action.
If the performance at 64° is anything to go by then these chefs are the new superstar DJs. The small brigade could be seen swooping around in an impressively organised manner. Shaving, scorching, squirting and smearing all to a grungy soundtrack. It was a pleasure to watch the production line, seemingly staffed by enthusiastic dancers wielding sharp knives and blow torches. Compelling viewing.
An amuse bouche of wonton cracker, misu cream and hazelnut popped over the divide. It was a revelation of textures in a single mouthful – creamy, smooth and crunchy. We suddenly realised that this wasn’t just a show. We were going to be joining in the dance ourselves.
Kimchi chicken wings were a dirty extravaganza. Described by Tom Parker-Bowles in the Daily Mail as “deconstructed dude food”, the powerful kimchi sauce was slathered over a substantial portion of searingly-hot wings. Matt gingerly ate them with his fingers, as God intended, and enjoyed the startlingly smooth clarity of the blue cheese fondant that went alongside. Cat’s next plate had a lobster dumpling, a crispy wonton-style knot in a rich bisque sauce, served with a few earthy leaves of sea aster – a plant we hadn’t even realised was edible. And was it edible? Very much so.
The next delivery was a plate of what Cat breathlessly described as the best cabbage she had ever eaten. This was a cabbage hunk, scorched, possibly gently pickled, and served alongside smoked butter and potato knödel (what a dinner-lady might call croquettes). Matt’s vegetable option was a reimagined onion bhaji, dressed with shaved cauliflower and presented on a light caper chutney. Every mouthful of these dishes conveyed something new and interesting.
Chicken wings £6.50
Lobster gyoza £4.00
Potato dumplings £6.00
Ox tongue £7.00
Chocolate truffles £2.00
Rum bear £3.00
Coffee 2 @ £2.50
Dessert time and Matt was full. Seriously, there’s plenty to eat at 64°. But amazingly, Cat had left a little room in her pudding stomach and got the extraordinary rum bear jelly. The benign-looking gummy bear was made of a pokey tot of rum. The fact that they didn’t call it rummy bear can only be a tribute to the menu’s puritanical avoidance of the adjective. The punchy rum flavour was thrown into contrast by the extraordinarily powerful sherbet. Whatever was it? Well, as the chef himself was standing within chatting distance, we requested and received a full explanation – this superbly zingy stuff was actually vitamin C and grated lime peel. Cat loved it.
So, 64° was one of the most entertaining meals we have had for a long time. Everything about the occasion was intended to challenge and amuse the diner – and to a great extent it succeeded. If the food had been anything but excellent the entire thing would have sunk under the weight of pretentiousness. But when this crazy set-up so clearly works, it would take a real prude not to play along and enjoy it. Chef owner Michael Bremner has done something good here. The whole thing is witty, putting us in mind of the Hambrough‘s Darren Beevers at his ironic best with smoked beetroot ketchup or marmite fudge. This is the kind of cleverness that just knowing a lot about cooking can’t impart.
We finished our Brighton evening with classic truffles, washed down with really strong coffee as we watched the kitchen being cleaned down. Then we were courteously ejected back into the rain bang on time, as the 7.45pm sitting turned up, and 64° was ready to start the dance all over again.