Restaurant review: The Man Behind the Curtain, Leeds

The Man Behind The Curtain. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The Man Behind The Curtain. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

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WALKING towards the restaurant, it was difficult to decide whether or not I was dreaming.

A sharply-dressed man in a black suit opened the big glass doors and said the name of our reservation as we entered.

I confirmed his prediction was correct, and later wondered how he could have known who we were out of all the diners on a busy Saturday night.

This was not the first time I would be left feeling a bit mystified tonight.

The man smiled politely, said nothing else and pointed us towards the lift.

There was something surreal and eerie about walking through the empty Flannels store at night, past the expensive suits, shoes and shirts to the restaurant on the third floor.

As the lift doors opened, they revealed a huge white room with dark wooden beams, furnished in a minimalist style with dark tables and grey chairs.

A woman was stood smiling broadly by a desk that had a small yellow question mark printed on it, which was turned out to be a subtle recurring theme and was, again, a little odd.

She correctly guessed our names once more before taking our coats and seating us at a table with a lovely view overlooking Leeds.

The spacious, airy room had a longer table at the other end where the chefs were silently preparing the food.

It was pointed out to us that the ‘Man Behind the Curtain’ is a Wizard of Oz reference, and means that chef Michael O’Hare and his team have been brought out of the kitchen (from behind the metaphorical curtain) and put centre stage.

An interesting idea, we thought, as we mulled over the cocktail menu.

The small choice of three cocktails are around £10 each, but a glass of wine will only set you back £5, and it’s a reasonable £11 for a carafe.

We couldn’t resist and went for an elderflower, raspberry and cava creation, and an ice, mandarin and Tahitian vanilla cocktail.

They were both delicious, but the latter stole the show.

Turning up at the table on a small silver platter, the perfect sphere of frosted ice with a small black straw poking out the top acted as the vessel for the booze-laden cocktail.

It was an innovative work of art (which we were later told was made using balloons) and it set up the scene for what was to come.

Almost immediately, the 12-course tasting menu got underway.

It’s a compulsory set menu, and at a pricy £65 a head, it’s by no means cheap.

To be honest, we were sceptical as to whether it would be worth the hefty price tag.

But then along came the food.

And out went the scepticism.

There’s not enough space on this page – or in the paper – to go into enough detail to describe every single one of the incredible concoctions that O’Hare has managed to come up with.

Plus, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you.

But I will tell you it was an experience that Oliver will never forget.

My personal favourite was the black cod – sourced from Kirkgate Market – served with powdered squid ink.

The juicy fish was cooked perfectly and fell apart at the lightest touch, and left me with a black tongue, which amused my companion no end.

His favourite was the ox cheek in foie gras and sherry sauce with puffed wild rice, which was bursting with flavour.

Another stand-out dish was the pea ice-cream with warm pea soup, served with beetroot, red cabbage and carrot foam.

The colours on the plate were stunning and it was a sight to behold.

Importantly, though, O’Hare doesn’t substitute style for substance, and everything is made from fresh, quality ingredients so it’s full of flavour.

On top of that, there’s a whole load of weird and wacky creations.

Scoffing the edible cellophane was one of the most strange courses, and the salty fingers and leaves were surprisingly tasty.

The tobacco and vanilla ice cream served with scissors in a Tom Ford-inspired ice box left me stunned and the langoustines served in spoons on an ornate silver tree were like something from a strange dream.

While you may not like everything you try because it’s so unusual, you certainly won’t forget it.

Every dish is a carefully-constructed innovation, each one a surprise. We smiled from ear to ear throughout the 12 courses, leaving restaurant buzzing from the extraordinary experience.

O’Hare and his highly-skilled team work seamlessly together, each with an in-depth knowledge and passion for what they do.

Not only that but almost every dish was brought to us by a different server – often the chefs themselves.

Considering it’s only been open a couple of months, it’s an incredibly well-oiled machine.

His impressive performance – and it really is that – speaks volumes for O’Hare’s previous experiences at the Blind Swine in York and Noma in Copenhagen.

One word of advice for anyone thinking of going to visit The Man Behind the Curtain – it’s not somewhere you would go if you’re starving and looking to fill your boots.

The portions are on the small side (it is a tasting menu after all).

But rather than stuffing you until you end up rolling out of the restaurant, your money will instead buy you an incredible culinary adventure, which will leave you wanting more.

It’s a one-off treat, where you can get dressed up and go for a special occasion.

The unbelievable food, service and experience all add up to deliver an original concept for Leeds, and, in my opinion, one that’s well on its way to a Michelin star.

O’Hare’s unusual food really is the stuff dreams are made of.