Disclaimer: I was invited to sample The Man Behind the Curtain’s Degustation menu free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review on The Culture Vulture (where this post originally featured).
I’m staring at my plate. Not eating, just staring. My partner has given up waiting for me, devouring the dish on his plate with a symphony of satisfied noises that are slowly weakening my resolve. I want to join him; I’m dying to join him, but not yet. I need to relish this moment for just a little bit longer.
Seconds before, the dish on this plate was just a string of enigmatic words. “PEA,” the menu read. “Hot and cold.” The chef arrived, clutching a trio of silver pots, a steaming silver jug and a frosted glass dish. It began simply; a lime green quenelle perched on the glass dish, adorned with a sprinkle of crispy onions and a few delicate leaves. Then it happened. I watched as my plate became a canvas, daubed with layers of colour by our chef-turned-expressionist artist. A splash of green, followed by swirls of purple, orange and crimson. It was extraordinary. The chef stood back, admired his masterpiece, then returned to the kitchen; his pointed silver heels clicking as he walked.
I think I’m ready. I take my spoon and reluctantly disturb the painting, scooping up each of the layers. I put the spoon in my mouth. And I start laughing. I can’t help it; it’s genius. Mirroring the expressionist flair with which the chef created the dish in front of me, the flavours of each layer surge in colourful waves around my mouth. There’s the sweet creaminess of the ice cream, the tangy crunch of the crispy onions, the rich intensity of the pea soup. I take another slurp and the flavours intensify, seasoned by notes of bitterness and sweetness from the beetroot, carrot and red cabbage foams. I don’t want this dish to end. It’s a masterpiece. A Michael O’Hare masterpiece.
The Man Behind the Curtain may be the most exciting restaurant to have ever opened in Leeds. There, I said it. A fine dining restaurant occupying the former digs of Anthony’s and The Food Academy above Flannels, it’s exciting because of the man behind the curtain. Michael O’Hare. Known for his rather fabulous blonde locks and a stint at that little-known restaurant, Noma, Michael has earned a reputation for theatrical fine dining at its most rock’n’roll. His most recent venture, The Blind Swine in York, was showered with praise for its gastronomical innovation. It closed earlier this year, so O’Hare decided to show Leeds what all the fuss was about. Lucky us.
That ‘fuss’, is O’Hare’s refreshing approach to fine dining. “It’s about time somebody did something different,” he declared in a recent interview with One and Other, “because if I see another chef put another picture of a herb they foraged on twitter, I’m going to shoot myself.” Refusing to be restricted by geography or food trends, O’Hare’s The Man Behind the Curtain is a creative exploration of flavours, textures, ingredients and techniques. It doesn’t fit neatly into a particular genre, nor does it want to. You’ll find freeze-dried raspberries straddling tomato seeds and potatoes, cep mushrooms coated in chocolate, and ice pops inspired by a Tom Ford aftershave. An imaginative response to the concept of fine dining, the only concurrent theme running through menus is a sense of excitement, innovation and art. And chocolate mushrooms, FYI? Fabulous.
Michael O’Hare is an artist, and every artist needs a gallery to exhibit his work. The Man Behind the Curtain is some gallery. The city’s light pours in through large windows that line the walls, illuminating the vast, open dining room that commandeers the entire top floor of Flannels. A white linen-free zone, the décor is understated; a neutral palate of greys, whites and blacks that’s brightened by pops of colour that punctuate the space. There’s the green of herbs and leaves that grow in clusters throughout the room, the terracotta of the surrounding Victorian rooftops that peep through the windows, the silver of the chefs’ pointed shoes. A mahogany façade fronts the bar, complemented by exposed wooden beams that dominate the ceiling. It’s stylish without distracting; a canvas that lets the dishes do the decorating.
I want to tell you about every single one of those dishes. Really, I do. I want to tell you about the complex flavours that developed from just a single mouthful of tomato consommé. I want to tell you about the sensation of parmesan ice cream paired with freeze-dried basil, raw milk powder and strawberries. I want to tell you about the tears of joy that pricked my eyes as I tasted a slow-cooked duck egg, blanketed in a potato and nutmeg foam with salt and vinegar wild rice. I want to tell you everything. But I can’t. Because The Man Behind the Curtain isn’t about words, or even pictures. It’s about the experience. Perhaps the most wonderful food experience you’ll have ever had. I don’t want to take that away from you.
An incredible fine dining restaurant that blurs the boundaries between food, art and theatre, The Man Behind the Curtain is an outstanding addition to Leeds’ amazing food and drink scene. Yes, it’s pricier than your average meal out, but that’s because it’s not your average meal out. As Michael O’Hare himself says in his ‘Manifesto Behind the Curtain‘, “This is an occasion restaurant, a destination that you can get dressed up for in spectacularly dandyish or glamorous fashion. This is a restaurant for diners who want to go out for dinner and really mean it.”
Enough words. It’s time for action. Make a reservation, don your finery and get to The Man Behind the Curtain before the Michelin inspectors beat you to it. It’s only a matter of time.
I ate from the Degustation menu at The Man behind the Curtain, a £65pp 12 course tasting menu with paired wines that was adapted to suit my awkward vegetarianism. (That’s one glass of wine for every three courses, by the way. NOT 12 glasses of wine.) The Man Behind the Curtain also does a four course ‘Gourmet Rapide’, priced at £35pp. Get all the details on The Man Behind the Curtain’s website. And book. Immediately. You won’t regret it.