The Man Behind the Curtain – innovative dishes with more than a touch of theatre...
For a vibrant city the size of Leeds, you would expect it to have more than just one Michelin starred restaurant. But The Man Behind the Curtain more than makes up for this with a fine dining experience which mixes quality & innovation, with modern, unusual and artisticly presented dishes.
The restaurant which recently retained its Michelin star for a 7th consecutive year was set up by Michael O’Hare in 2014. Its name comes from a line in the Wizard of Oz – “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.
The restaurant was originally on the top floor of Flannels on Vicar Lane, Leeds, but over the last few years has moved downstairs in to the basement. This modern setting is now themed with concrete skimmed walls, palm tree graffiti wall art, rock hands and skater/surf chic which links into O’Hare’s rock and roll persona – after all his twitter handle is @hairmetalchef.
We had booked to go before lockdown and our booking was re-arranged twice due to covid, but we were excited when time for our booking came along as every one who we knew who had ever been there had raved about it.
On arrival we were taken into the bar area and shown a small, but classic aperitif menu where we had a Vesper Martini and a Margarita.
We went for the tasting menu – a 14 course menu and went for one of the wine pairings, where wine was chosen to accompany 2 or 3 of the dishes at a time.
The service was sharp, but the space and dining was pretty relaxed and informal. The dishes started to appear and this is where the theatre started with 3 suchi/tuna inspired dishes.
Tamagoyaki Scramble, which consisted of tuna tartare with a watermelon siracha was first up
Followed closely by Otoro Hand Roll with wasabi and wagyu fat.
The final dish of the trio was Tuna Nigiri, a circle of tuna with a hint of fisherman’s friends – weird but wonderful.
Dish four was a strange dish – called Aged beef, it was a small dish with flavours of beef, olive juice and warm fat. Very interesting.
The next dish was Dali to Delhi. A homage to the famous Salvador Dali artwork with a large tikka spiced Denei red prawn served creatively on a black bakerlight old telephone. The prawn head was roasted an you were instructed to suck the juices out and the body was BBQ’d with the spices – a perfect combination.
This dish was followed by an iced tomato consommé which was refreshing and a a great palette cleanser.
The next dish was served in separate boxes and the detail and presentation was all about making sure you knew this dish was special. Called Fake Foie – it was a toasted brioche with caviar and if you look closely at the fake foie you can make out Michael O’Hare’s rock star hair!
Up next was a black BBQ scallop, tigers milk and plankton focaccia. A black scallop served in a black scallop shell with a green tigers milk – it not only looked great but tasted great.
Dish nine entitled Emancipation and was one of Michael O’Hare’s signature dishes, being his take on fish and chips. The name apparently was originally in honour of 100 years of The Women’s Institute and women’s rights.
The squid ink splattered on the plate, a nod to the ink from the days when fish and chops was served in newspaper. Believe it or not this was a lightly curried cod with charred gem lettuce and a hint of vinegar.
It’s worth noting that this dish won the fish course in 2015 in the BBC’s The Great British menu!
The theatre continued with the next dish – called Black Caesar which combined Iberico pork, garlic, egg and anchovy into something otherworldly. As a fab of Bowie, I loved the black star plate.
There were four desserts yet to come, a modern take of tiramisu followed by Sex Wax. The presentation here was unforgettable as a mini surf board was brought to the table. Having surfed in my youth, the famous Sex Wax surf wax you would rub on your board to help your grip was something I instantly recognised. But with this dish the wax had been replaced with a frozen pineapple and coconut dessert with beautiful tropical flavours.
A small Chocolate crowdie was served next in the shape of an elephant’s head – small but delicious consisting of a chocolate Grenache pinned to the plate with a sort of cream cheese and olive.
There was one dish to come, but we had ordered a peppermint tea and espresso and were taken back into the bar area for these. The finale was a tribute to Leeds artist Damien Hirst whose famous large panels of colourful circles inspired the dish. A board of different colour macarons were bough to the table and we chose a colour each. You are not told the flavour before you choose the colour, but I went blue which was sour raspberry and my wife red which was parma violet.
It was a great end for the meal. It was not a cheap meal but one we will always remember, for the taste as well as presentation. A real treat and one I would highly recommend (if you can get a table!).