Michael Bremner

Michael Bremner

Few chefs cooking today are as exciting as Michael Bremner, who takes flavours from all over the world and distills them into beautiful small plates of deliciousness at his acclaimed restaurant in Brighton.

There’s no doubt that Brighton is home to one of the best food scenes in the UK, despite being within day-tripping distance to London (which tends to suck up all the good eateries within spitting distance). Over the past five years new restaurants, pop-ups, cafés and producers have helped shape the city into a fantastic place to eat out. But when you ask local chefs and owners who’s most responsible for this, most will point to one man in particular – Michael Bremner.

Growing up in a small town called Insch, just outside Aberdeen, Michael got into cooking the same way a lot of chefs do – by washing pots, then moving into the kitchen. ‘This was before the time of Jamie Oliver making cooking glamorous, so it was pretty brutal – especially for the first few years,’ he says. ‘One day a group of Michelin-starred chefs came in for dinner and one of them was Chris Galvin. My head chef Bob Ovington knew I was passionate about pastry at the time and organised a trial shift in London with Chris at The Orrery. I went there but I also wanted to go to Ibiza and work there for a season – when I was offered both jobs I told Bob I was going to take the one abroad, but he convinced me not to so I went down to The Orrery instead.’

London was an eye-opening experience for Michael, who had never been to the capital before. Continuing to focus on pastry, he spent a year at The Orrery before moving onto Seven Restaurant under Richard Turner. After that, he joined the team at Quo Vadis as the sole pastry chef under head chef Curtis Stone and Marco Pierre White. ‘I learnt so much during my time in London, but I felt it was time to leave and go travelling after a while. I spent a year in Australia, a few months in Thailand, then went over to America and Canada.’

Travelling around – and cooking in – different countries opened Michael’s eyes to different styles of cooking, but it wasn’t until he returned to the UK that he really started to discover his own style. After falling in love with Brighton when visiting the city on his days off during his time in London, he decided to go and work at Due South, a pioneering restaurant that focused on local produce. ‘About eighty percent of the ingredients were sourced within a thirty-five-mile radius, which I’d just never heard of before,’ he says. ‘In winter I would ask the suppliers what was growing nearby and they’d say there’s nothing but grass! But it made me think outside the box and start getting really creative, and I got to know the suppliers really well. I still work with a lot of them today.’

It was during his time at Due South that Michael began forming the idea for what would eventually become 64 Degrees. ‘I knew I wanted a bar area where chefs would just create things without any rules or boundaries,’ he explains. ‘At all the places I’d worked there was always some sort of barrier – the food had to be European, or follow the traditions of a certain cuisine. I basically wanted to create the kind of restaurant I would want to work in, so I started to put a business plan together with my fiancé Carla.’

As the concept for 64 Degrees was being put on paper, Michael came across an article in Restaurant Magazine which highlighted the rising cost of meat. It argued that it would be so expensive in the future that chefs needed to embrace vegetarianism, and that most should be ashamed of just doling out boring vegetable risottos and soufflés while focusing on the meat. ‘I was definitely one of those chefs, so I decided to take a job at Food For Friends – a vegetarian restaurant in Brighton – to get better at cooking vegetables,’ says Michael. ‘Coming up with a whole menu based on vegetables was so tough, and I felt like a commis chef when I first joined the team, but we all really pushed hard and eventually won Best Restaurant in Brighton.’

Finally, it was time for Michael to set out on his own and open 64 Degrees. The doors opened in October 2013, but things started off a little slower than Michael would’ve liked. ‘I think in the first week we took something ridiculous like £1,000 and I thought I’d made a massive mistake. We hadn’t really advertised because I didn’t want us to be rammed, especially as the chefs were cooking, serving and talking to customers all at the same time. Business picked up a little bit, but then when Marina O’Loughlin’s review came out in The Guardian it basically changed everything. We went from being busy on Fridays and Saturdays to being rammed every night we were open. We even had to hire people just to answer the phones! When we started there were four of us in the kitchen and one front of house – now there are twenty members of staff. The food has come so far, and the team is so, so good at what they do.’

The dishes at 64 Degrees certainly fit in with Michael’s dream of having no boundaries on what the chefs can and can’t create. There’s a distinctly international feel to the ingredients and flavours, with dishes designed to be shared between people, ‘so no one gets food envy’. On top of this, diners are encouraged to talk to the chefs across the counter, so they can learn more about what they’re eating and see the dishes being prepared right in front of them. Over the years the restaurant – despite its small size – has become nationally renowned, and Michael’s eclectic style results in plates of food that don’t just taste amazing – they’re also fun to eat and offer plenty of variety. Take his Rum Bear, for instance; a dish conceived by Michael and his previous head chef Sam Lambert, which is an ingenious concoction of Haribo sweets melted down with lots of rum, set into jelly moulds and sprinkled with sherbet. ‘I think we started making the Rum Bears so we could eat them before a night out,’ he explains. ‘We would put as much rum into them as we could!’

If the review of 64 Degrees in The Guardian put the restaurant on the map, then it was Michael’s two appearances on the BBC’s Great British Menu that helped secure his status as one of the UK’s best chefs. Getting to the finals in 2016 and then winning in 2017 with his main course ‘The Grass is Greener’ ensured the phone lines stayed busy. ‘I absolutely loved Great British Menu – getting the chance to meet people like Daniel Clifford and Nathan Outlaw was amazing, and I really got on with other contestants like Tommy Banks,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure I’d do it again as it is such a lot of work and requires a lot of commitment, but when you get a score of ten off one of the judges it’s the best feeling in the world.’

After 64 Degrees and Great British Menu, it was time for Michael’s next project: Murmur, a second, more relaxed restaurant on Brighton’s beachfront. ‘I’d always wanted something on the beach so when Carla found a unit with zero premium that overlooks it we had to go for it,’ he says. ‘It was all her idea and she really spearheaded everything. We saw that Brighton was going through a real moment and there were loads of high-end, fine dining places to go to, but there weren’t many restaurants where you could take your kids and have something a bit more relaxed that wasn’t just burgers or fish and chips. I’m extremely proud of what everyone’s done down there, especially my head chef Josh who is doing a fantastic job.’

While Michael’s always got his eyes open for potential new opportunities, he’s certainly got enough on his plate for now. As Brighton continues its meteoric rise as a foodie destination, it’s clear 64 Degrees is one of the restaurants still leading the charge.