Restaurant Review: 63 Degrees
There are times when I like to tell myself that I could’ve been a chef. If I’m in a nice restaurant and I’m drunk enough, I’ll probably tell you too.
I believe I’ve got the passion it takes. I’m almost certain I’ve got the work ethic. My tastebuds aren’t too shabby either and I’m not devoid of cooking skill.
My excuse is that I came to food too late, when I was too comfortable. I think I could’ve got into it aged 18 with nothing to lose, but I didn’t love food back then. These days, the enthusiasm’s there, but I’m much too happy with where I am and what I have.
There’s not a chance in hell I’d give up my ordinary life for the crazy one of being a chef.
As I sat in Manchester city centre’s newest French restaurant 63 Degrees, I counted my blessings that I’m not in the restaurant business. From 12pm-1pm on a Tuesday lunchtime, I was the only customer in a place that seats 37. By the time I left at 1.30pm, only four other people had walked through the door. One appeared to be selling something; another was looking for a job.
The waiter assured me that the place is starting to take off. It has been open for less than two weeks, he stressed, and they’re fully booked this Saturday. Other nights of the week haven’t been too bad either – they’ve been getting about 25 customers per evening, around two-thirds capacity.
Still, while it takes time and you can’t expect instant success, it has got to suck being so quiet at lunch. When I first set up this blog and I was getting three hits a day, it was depressing. And it’s not like this is my livelihood.
So I spent my entire time at 63 Degrees rooting for the place. I wanted it to deliver a really great meal so I could sing its praises and encourage people to go.
It certainly got off to a good start. A first course of baked egg with salmon was just what the doctor ordered for a brisk autumn afternoon. The rich, unctuous yolk chased the chill away like a big cosy jumper; tiny pillows of Scottish salmon provided the perfect foil with texture and salt.
I’ve not had an egg dish as good as this for about three years,* and I do love these poultry periods.
Unfortunately, the meal slid downhill from there. My main of 63° chicken breast, morel mushroom sauce and gratin dauphinois had the potential to be outstanding, but fell a long way short. There was nothing wrong with the cooking of it – the sauce was wonderful, the chicken was lovely and moist with a nice crispy skin, and I couldn’t fault the gratin.
But there were three big problems:
1) The chicken wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter how carefully you cook it, chicken is the dullest meat in the world unless you’ve got one of real quality. And this was far from a top notch chook.
2) There was way too much dairy. I took one glance at the entirely beige plate of food and thought: “I don’t know what that’s going to look like once it’s passed through my digestive system, but I bet Gillian McKeith won’t like it.” The morel sauce was enough; why cheesy creamed potatoes were needed as well, I have no idea.
3) The plate was cold. That wonderful morel sauce died an icky death in just a few minutes as it quickly cooled.
It was a real shame**, but not as big a shame as dessert. I’d had a very decent crème brûlée at The Lime Tree a few days earlier and was interested to see how this one compared. It definitely won on appearances. Set tight in the middle of a wide-rimmed dish, it was very pretty to look at, and it was a little bit thrilling when the maitre d’ set the sugar on fire to create the hard caramel layer on top.
Just a pity it didn’t really work. Only the middle section turned into a crisp; the sugar around the edges remained untouched by the flames. And I should stress I’m using ‘crisp’ in the loosest of terms – when I plunged my spoon through it, it bent more than broke.
But it was beneath the surface where the main issues lay. The cream was too warm and had a gelatinous texture, almost like a panna cotta. It also seemed to have contracted jaundice – not the most appealing look for a pudding, it must be said. There was some passion fruit at the bottom, but it was overwhelmed by the rest of the flavours. I could barely taste it.
Without an ounce of exaggeration, I’ve honestly had better burnt cream from the supermarket.
Overall, I enjoyed my lunch at 63 Degrees. I found the staff to be friendly and charming, the 2009 bottle*** of pinot noir from Bourgogne went down nicely and it was all reasonably priced. The menu is definitely an interesting one and a welcome addition to the Manchester dining scene.
However, while there is clearly some skill in the kitchen and the chef seems to have a few good ideas, I can’t in good conscience recommend the place based on this meal. There were just too many faults.
63 Degrees has the potential to be a real winner, but it’s got a long way to go yet.
Dining Room: 3/5
Overall score: 44/100 (OK)
*Since Grado’s baked duck egg with morcilla and truffle cream, which benefitted from my love of black pudding, and the fact it was thrown in as an extra course, compliments of the house.
**Honestly, I’d go back and pay £10 more for this dish if it was made with a high-end piece of chicken, featured a few more morels and had something simple like green beans instead of the gratin. It could be sublime.
***Yes, I had a whole bottle to myself. It was my birthday. I’m allowed.