The Man Behind The Curtain – Restaurant Review
The Man Behind the Curtain
by Matt Callard
The city of Leeds has something of an uneasy relationship with its fine dining restaurants. It had to wait until 1995 to get its first (and only) Michelin Star – ten years later Jeff Baker’s Pool Court had closed. The last serious fine dining restaurant in the city (Anthony’s) was, at its peak (some time around 2008/2009, we reckon), serving up the best, most adventurous, food the city has ever tasted. But it still went the way of the dodo in 2013, despite building the kind of reputation that led Jay Rayner, no less, to question Michelin’s continued steadfast refusal to award the establishment a much longed-for and much deserved Star.
Since the closure of Anthony’s and the almost simultaneous opening of Trinity Shopping Centre’s tasteless but overwhelmingly successful coterie of chain restaurants, it is easy to surmise that fine dining is lost forever to the city, exiled to the cosier confines of Ilkley and the altogether more tasteful and refined Yorkshire countryside.
So how surprising and thrilling to see the opening of The Man Behind the Curtain in the city, then – especially as the team have moved into the terrific first floor space previously occupied by Anthony’s At Flannels (a location so much more appealing than Anthony’s airless flagship space on Boar Lane or the atmosphere-draining proportions of their Piazza in The Corn Exchange).
Chef Michael O’Hare comes with top credentials, having previously worked in Denmark’s Noma (experimentation, foraging, Best Restaurant in the World accolades). He’s fresh from turning the York dining scene on its head with the Blind Swine. He’s a no compromise chef, out to thrill and delight – but also to challenge.
Not that you’ll find any copycat Noma rusticity at play here: this is city food – complicated, elegant, daring. If you try the 12-course tasting menu (and you should) you probably won’t even like everything – but you’ll discover things, be thoroughly entertained and, I suggest, at least three courses will leave you staggering and drooling. And I suppose that’s pretty important too.
It would be an insensitive critic who went through the minutiae of the dishes – part of the thrill of The Man Behind The Curtain is in the guesswork of translating the menu and then taking in the food’s sheer visual delight when it arrives – so you’ll find no spoilers here. But to give you a taster: olives come encased in dissolvable wrapping and need to be dipped into alcohol; oysters are accompanied by a sea-green-flavoured vegetable called salty fingers; one dish is based around a Tom Ford fragrance and another course is served on an ornate brass tree. You get the idea.
“All working, all singing”
Still, I must give special mention to the Hot and Cold Ham Baguette – never before has something so poetically harmonious been laden with such a prosaic title. Service add three swirls of colour to a rich, full-flavoured and piping hot pea soup which is next to a zingy quenelle of pea ice cream. Next, a burnt butter dip with pork comes with lovely snappy bits of mini baguettes for you to dip in and dream. There is crunch and cream, hot and cold, sweet and savoury – all balanced, all working, all singing. I kid you not: you’ll die.
They’ve added some neat touches to the overall experience too. Pots of herbs outline the restaurant and staff will buzz among them selecting snippets for consumption. Each course’s cutlery comes in a presentation box, adding to the drama. Your chef will even visit your table to serve up the occasional dish. It really is all great fun.
Look, Leeds needs The Man Behind the Curtain because every great city needs a great fine dining restaurant. Whether TMBTC can crack the Leeds fine dining riddle, however, and stick around for some long-lasting success remains to be seen. But certainly this is a fine and assured beginning.
The Man Behind The Curtain, 68-78 Vicar Lane, Leeds LS1 7JH
0113 243 2376
Editor’s addition: In 2015 The Man Behind the Curtain was awarded a Michelin Star, which has been retained ever since