Thursday, 2 February 2012

63 Degrees - Manchester

The first cuisine I feel in love with was French. At the age of 11 I stayed away from home for the first time, alone in Kent, at the house of my great aunt Peggy (very bohemian; she’s now 90 and has a 60 year old boyfriend) who took me to London and to a little back street restaurant with a menu written in nothing but French and a stereo that played nothing but Piaf.

The next year we took the chunnel for lunch high above Calais in a restaurant all alone on a hill, the white table clothes blowing in the breeze coming through the open veranda, nothing in our gaze but the tops of trees glinting like emeralds. We ate fois gras on toast and drank the local white, then stopped off to fill up with claret before having dinner in Kent that evening.

Manchester’s dining scene has been lacking a dedicated, affordable French eatery since Brasserie Blanc closed down. In a city awash with Italians, the opening of 63 Degrees is a breath of Gallic fresh air (an oxymoron? Mai oui!)

63 Degrees - with thanks to themselves

Run by the Moreau family, Dad’s in the kitchen and Mum and son are out front. There’s a history of good food and cooking here – Dad has worked for a two-Michelin starred place in ol’ Paris and in various catering companies across the channel; his gastronomic background shines through the  menu – there’s snails, egg cocotte, black risotto and the restaurant’s trademark poultry cooked at  (yep you guessed it) 63 degrees. According to the blurb, this is the optimum temperature to serve it, keeping it soft and moist and unlocking 'unforgettable flavours.'

First a canape of boudin noir and caramelised onions on toast – porcine, salty and sweet; a well thought out, simple pairing that let the produce do that talking.

Don't use your flash on black pudding, it doesn't work!

The snails that followed were de-shelled; a way I’ve never had them before. These were soft, sweet and NOT covered with butter, garlic and parsley; a great idea - you could actually taste what a snail tastes like. The accompanying ratte potatoes were salty, hot slivers of crispy starch; simple idea, wonderfully done.

Snails eating their greens

It would be rude to dine somewhere that was named after a way of cooking and not try out a dish cooked that way. The 63 degree duckling with chicory was another simple concoction that packed a tasty punch. A soft, pink fillet arrived in a puddle of ruby red sauce contrasting elegantly with the simple white plate and linen of the table. Bitter, caramelised chicory cut through the sweet, silky duck and the char on both the duck and vegetable added a savoury note that tied the dish together nicely.

Flashes don't work on puddles of fruity sauce either

The butcher's steak was cooked spot on, displaying that Eric’s cooking skills aren’t limited to temperature controlled poultry. The meat was accompanied by a steaming pot of unctuous dauphinous and the best homemade béarnaise ever. Definitely not from a jar or eeked out with artificial thickeners; creamy, dreamy, divine.

With sated appetites and full tummies we relaxed into the soft leather booth to contemplate pudding. Out came our café gourmand – coffee and macaroons. Eric macaroon’s will become a Manchester must have in the coming months; soft little discs of understated flavour and creamy filling that aren’t overly sweet. What’s more impressive is that they’re not bought in, Eric creates these himself (indeed he even makes a really big one for macaroon fiends). I dream about these little globes of almondy delight and would fore go the usual once a year treat of a Laduree box in favour of Eric’s any day (well, may be not the rose ones).

To finish Eric came over and suggested Armangac, very good choice and the perfect end to a very good meal.

63 Degrees is the cuisine I fell in love with – simple yet well thought out French cuisine with careful, attentive front of house and unobtrusive French music on the speakers. Manchester needs more chic, more glamour and more French – viva la revolution!

Price for two starters, two mains, one pudding, two glasses of wine, two Armangacs and a coffee – 78.95

Food – 8/10
Service – 8/10
Atmosphere – 7/10 (point knocked off for being a little quiet)
Value for money – 7/10

Total – 30/40

Go again? Yes definitely – understatedly elegant and chic without the usual bling and big attitude that you get in Manchester’s restaurants. This place has style AND substance.

63 Degrees, 20 Church Street, Norther Quarter, Manchester M4 1PN - 0161 832 5438 - - Twitter - Facebook

Please note the restaurant did not know I was there and didn’t know who I was, though they did know my dining companion as he is their butcher.

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