Once a matter of necessity within cramped city quarters, the open kitchen has evolved into so much more than a utilisation of space. It extinguishes our fears of hidden rodents and plates drizzled with bin juice and revenge. It satisfies our ever-growing curiosity about the process behind the plate, no doubt fueled by the rise and rise of primetime cookery shows. It adds another dimension to the dining experience, wooing us with blowtorch theatrics and sizzling pans. If you look around, you’ll see even McDonald’s are at it. Eager to dispel rumours about conveyor-belt discs disguised as eggs, they salt their fries in plain view and produce twee ads starring Farmer Terry, a supplier who “sure knows his Russet Burbanks from his Pentland Dells.” Gone are the days of closed doors and happy ignorance.

‘The problem with supermarkets is that they’ll often put an organic product up against something; ingredients that are a lesser product in the first place’

    Amidst this long-burgeoning trend, 64 degrees are managing to elevate the concept of transparency to a whole new level. Named in tribute of the optimum
temperature at which to poach an egg (so they tell us), Michael Bremner’s award-winning kitchen isn’t just bright and open, it’s placed in the middle of the seating area. Diners perch on stools to oversee every slice and dice, chefs work as waiters, and there are only twenty–seven covers in the building, leaving just enough room for elbows on the table.

    Tagliatelle, truffles, yolk. Pancetta, ricotta, melon. Miso, butterscotch, banana. Here, there are only sixteen plates to choose from — four meat, four fish, four veg, four sweets — and they change before hungry eyes with dazzling frequency, adapting to whim and weather. Expectations are often vastly exceeded by the plated result, and therein lies the magic. Despite the simple interior and relaxed atmosphere, there is theatre to be found in surprises. When we arrive, head chef* Sam Lambert is staging an intervention, convincing two squeamish older ladies to sample their first plate of ox tongue. They take the plunge, and they’re elated.

How did you get into food, and what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt along the way?

I always loved food, and I always had jobs in it, but I did a marketing degree. Before I went to uni I worked in event catering — washing pots, setting tables and feeding formula one crew from a van in a car park. It was a world away from a Michelin restaurant, but the chefs were incredibly passionate. Then, I teamed up with Michael Bremner and took on the odd, menial jobs the chefs didn’t want to do. I’d spend eight hours a day filleting expensive fish — up to five or six hundred pounds per shift. You can’t accumulate life skills like that in any other job, really. You become very disciplined very quickly, and if you don’t have a passion, you get found out early on.

Everything you plate up is seasonal. How do you determine what to use?

We use local suppliers, who we can count on to tell us exactly what we can and can’t have (just as we left, their forager had turned up with the day’s haul). We used to use a small fruit and veg company who grew their own near Guildford, but they’ve stopped delivering. I think it's a direct fall out of people going to generic suppliers — grabbing whatever they can from all around the world. That one small farm dominated our choices. We’d ask what they had, and base entire menus around it. It wasn’t just local, it was the best. It’s all about not having a middle man.

Do you think being certified organic is beneficial?

So many suppliers are pressured by the big supermarkets, who often threaten to stop using them unless they become certified organic, which can be outrageously expensive. It’s a tricky one. Do you buy local organic produce if local non-organic produce tastes much better? The problem with supermarkets is that they’ll often put an organic product up against something; ingredients that are a lesser product in the first place, so they’re not comparable. Or if you put an organic product made in the same area, using the same milk, is it really any better in quality or taste? We just stick to local, and the fact that we’re face-to-face with customers means we can tell them exactly what’s in the food. There’s no risk of it getting lost in translation with front-of-house, which does happen.

The plating process looks very collaborative. Can you tell us a little about the team?

All the chefs here come from different backgrounds and different parts of the globe, and there’s not one person who is dictating. We listen to one another’s ideas, which means that we always have a rotation of interesting dishes to trial. We’re influenced by one another, and we will always work together to tweak dishes. If we allowed ourselves to get bored, the quality would plummet.

Our concept is based around British produce and flavours, but there’s an Asian influence, which lends itself brilliantly to those with dietary requirements. We’re working on producing a vegan,  using tofu and nut milk instead of cream. We always experiment as much as time allows us too.

Your choice of ingredients

My favourite ingredient to work with is offal, my guiltiest and filthiest food pleasures are chicken dippers and Nando’s hot sauce, and if I was stranded on a desert island and could only take three ingredients they would be mackerel, passion fruit and a scotch bonnet. I would create a dish of raw mackerel, with passion fruit and chilli dressing.

What would your death row meal be?

My death row meal would be a prime rib from Saddlescombe farm cooked on a big green egg.


64 Degrees

*Samuel has now left 64 Degrees and cooking up Asian BBQ style

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