If I’m truly honest, I wanted to dislike 64 Degrees from the moment I walked in. The menu is experimental and molecular in influence. There are a lot of far too handsome boys doing things with tweezers, chopsticks and those tiny offset painter’s spatulas that chefs favour to show how fantastically arty they are going to be with your dinner. Instead the place seduced me totally.
Normally those are all symptoms of a poker-up-the-arse seriousness that just sucks the fun out of a meal. I wonder if it’s a Brighton thing, but miraculously, there’s none of that at 64 Degrees. It may be that chef Michael Bremner chose to model his environment on the Zen/ascetic work/performance space of the Japanese sushi counter, but if he did, he loused up, because 64 Degrees shows all the riotous, sexy joy of a tapas joint in backstreet Barcelona.
The dining room is tiny, no more than 30 covers. Against the back wall there are water baths (64 degrees is the temperature at which the chefs sous-vide their “signature egg”), small fryers and an armoury of squeezy bottles and foam whippers.
The soundtrack is such a part of the experience that it would be an omission not to mention it (my date could identify Temples and Beastie Boys). Ordinarily I abominate music in restaurants as a prop where atmosphere is lacking – here, it fitted perfectly with the performance. There was no cheery yelling between the brigade, just focus – gently bobbing heads in time with the music while tweezering ingredients. The last time I saw such intensity I was at a gig trying to impress a girl with a woeful enthusiasm for experimental jazz.
We kicked off with a lavender-infused sparkling rosé. I would say this was at the suggestion of our waitress, but that’s not quite how they work here. They kind of sidle up behind you and whisper in your ear – a beguiling effect that was certainly borne out by the cocktail.
After this the courses arrive hugger-mugger. First up was a scorched hispi cabbage with smoked butter and knödel. The torching could have been less thorough, but dipping thick fried sausages of mashed potato into a smoky butter emulsion might be one of those narcotic experiences for which Brighton has a certain reputation. Next, pickled watermelon with smoked-hay crème fraîche was the holy grail for all young chefs; “a really interesting combination of flavours and textures”.
When you enter into the pact with the chef that is molecular dining, you accept one of his jeux d’esprit is going to hit you like a bum note. Salmon with watermelon and wasabi did that for me. Even the best salmon can occasionally have a muddy flavour, but the wasabi emulsion was too underpowered to dig it out of that hole, and the watermelon, at room temperature and lacking sweetness, sadly perished in the rescue attempt.
Immediately came another challenge. I’ve bemoaned staccato menu descriptions that fail to do justice to the dishes before. Sadly “Seaweed, tomato, yolk, black cabbage” was entirely accurate. Those things were on the plate but, like the description, lacked structure, poetry, sense or reason.
Two down in 10 courses and I had the faint hope 64 Degrees might still snatch failure from the jaws of victory … but no. “Chicken wings, kimchi, blue cheese” was made with a kimchi marinade that was cool, smooth, emollient and stinky. They’d avoided the temptation to napalm everything with chilli. It gave a truffle-like honk that hummed complex harmonies with a creamy blue-cheese dressing. Food to weaken the resolve, to inveigle, to seduce.
As we reeled from the wings, “Pancetta, ricotta, melon” arrived. The locally made pancetta perfectly tickled up a kind of frozen shrapnel of ripe cantaloupe and what I can only describe as God’s ricotta – homemade, peppery and with a citrus poke. “Scallops, pea, ham, tomato” rounded off the mains (why were the peas singular and the scallops plural?), accompanied by the 2011 Grésy Chardonnay with a limpid charm.
I won’t describe my “rum bear” dessert because I don’t want to spoil the punchline, but I can’t remember the last time a dessert made me laugh with total, happy abandon.
There are crimes taking place all over the country in the name of modernist cuisine: dreadful, overwrought presentations on handmade crockery in provincial “foam and smear” joints. 64 Degrees is emphatically not guilty.
53 Meeting House Lane, Brighton BN1 1HB, +01273 770115, (open Monday-Saturday for lunch and dinner); 64degrees.co.uk