Sunday, 24 January 2016

Curtain Call

If Salvador Dali had hung up his paintbrushes and moved into the restaurant trade, the result may not have been unlike The Man Behind The Curtain. This wonderful Leeds eaterie has a touch of the surreal to it, along with more than a small dollop of brilliance.

The quirkiness begins before you even get to the front door, as to enter the restaurant you need to walk through one of the city's higher-end clothes shops. But while the threads seemed a bit overpriced and guilty of style over substance, The Man Behind The Curtain was totally the opposite.

Head chef Michael O'Hare went down a storm in the 2015 series of the Great British Menu and his restaurant has definitely benefited from the exposure. There's not a Saturday booking to be had throughout the rest of 2016, so we thought ourselves very lucky indeed when we were ushered into the main eating area, which looks more like a modern art gallery than a Michelin-starred eating establishment.

Upon taking our plain-looking but comfortable seats we were presented with the menu and wine list. The food choice was easy - which is to say there wasn't one. Of an evening only the 12 sequence tasting menu is available (there's a 7 sequence version available at lunchtimes). The wine selection required some thought however, and we plumped for the accompanying flight, degustation or whatever you wish to call it.

It's fair to say that the food was the most eccentrically presented we've ever eaten. But this wasn't just frivolity for the sake of it - there wasn't a single dish that didn't taste fantastic. Starting with langoustine tartare and octopus, taking in the sights of rabbit paella and deep-friend snail on the way and ending with a cupcake in an edible case, this was a wonderfully judged and varied meal. The highlights included the 'Emancipation' fish and chips dish which wowed the notoriously hard-to-please Marcus Wareing on the aforementioned BBC2 programme. Deliciously flaky cod was smothered in squid ink and dashi and topped with an unruly thatch of grated potato, which was great in itself but really elevated by scraping it through the vinegar powder which dusted the plate.

Emancipation (or fish and chips)

However, as good as this was it was bettered by the main course and the first dessert. The former was some perfectly pink Iberico pork, joined on the plate by sour and salty anchovies and a pile of edible 'cinders' (tiny shards of crunchy, squid ink infused bread). The latter matched crunchy, rich, dark chocolate cunningly disguised as tinfoil, with silky potato custard (yes, really), beetroot tinged puffed potato (yes, really, again) and violet ice-cream. Sounds bizarre, looks incredible and tastes sensational.

Pork, anchovies and 'cinders'

Tinfoil chocolate and puffed potato

Service was slick throughout and the staff were knowledgeable and engaging. The wine accompaniments were excellent and brought an extra dimension to each of the dishes, though they were all trumped by an incredible, orange-and-olive infused red Vermouth. An eclectic mix of music set a relaxed atmosphere and there's generous space between the tables. The lighting was a tiny bit dim, but was regularly punctuated by the cameraphone flashes of any number of gobsmacked diners. This level of restaurant doesn't always feel like value for money but The Man Behind The Curtain did, with both the food and matching wine together costing less than many a tasting menu at similar establishments.

If you can't get there during the week then you may have quite a wait before sampling the wonders of The Man Behind The Curtain. Believe me though, it'll be worth it.