The Man Behind The Curtain - Michelin Star Leeds
Updated: Jan 30
Michelin and their coveted stars have had an erratic love affair with fine dining in Leeds.
An affair which began in 1996 with the first Michelin* star awarded to Pool Court at 42, The Calls. Coupling with Racasse shortly after, they swiftly joined the soiree in 1997. Leeds then romanced two, one Michelin starred restaurants for the next three years. Michelin's love of Racasse waned and Racasse lost its star in 2000. Only for Michelin to ignite a one-star romance with Gueller in 2002, the culinary honeymoon was over in just a year. The city's remaining one-star restaurant was divorced in 2006 and for fourteen years not so much as a fling.
Until, chef Michael O'Hare and his fine-dining restaurant - 'The Man Behind The Curtain.' At the time, recognised for his unorthodox chef's shag but equally known for his win with his 'Emancipated' cod, ink and chips presentation on the Great British Menu 2015.
Its location is on the lower ground floor of Flannels and opposite the vibrant and eye pleasingly designed Leeds Victoria Gate shopping mall - reservations may be difficult to get. But once secured, descend the low lit stairs and go Behind the Curtain (literally). It was mirrored columns and bare walls, except for an artistic display of skateboards more reminiscent of a skateboard shop. A muted décor of black, white, marble and low lights. In some ways, it cut a figure of the 'Man' himself who came onto our television screens back in 2015.
The fur-covered off-white seats at reception begged for a caress while swigging on Krug champagne accompanied by caviar in sour cream and chive with truffle crisps. All of which happens before moving onto the designated dining area.
Except for two tables where more than two guests were seated, it was a solid showing of couples on the night. The no window and lower ground floor setting was a reminder of a night club frequented in my late teens called La Cave (french for The Cave). Always delivering a rip-roaring night out and always, packed out like sardines. But there is no elbow to elbow in this setting and thrilled to hear your conversation will not be overheard. The setting is such that the food becomes what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre - the key attraction.
The tasting menu is presented as a ten or fourteen-course escapade of show-stopping culinary execution with wine pairing. With taste menus, the entire table eats the same dishes except where there are dietary requirements. The wine pairing is optional.
Char Sui octopus presented as a hot dog on a red love heart, tuna nigiri on a lightning flash and wagyu sirloin beef held in the palm of a skeletal hand were the first of three dishes presented. A question of 'Which should be eaten first?' Knowingly the plates are placed in such a way, you are compelled to eat from the love heart first, then tuna and then beef. Whilst all clever in their conceptions and in particular the beef it remained the culinary stand out of the trio. An intricate creation that undeniably kept the wagyu beef true to the palate.
The dining experience developed at a beautiful pace as if to unfold a story, a work of art. One where the kitchen directs and the dishes are definitely the showpieces. Never knowing what is next until each plate is delivered to your table and the waiters detail the dish. At times the waiters themselves became a part of the show, synchronised in their strides and the delivery of the dishes and cutlery to the tables.
Going into a fourteen-course taste menu at a fine dining restaurant, it was unthinkable that one of the tastes plates would be ackee, saltfish and 'johnny bake'. This dish, eaten on many a Sunday morning in a Caribbean home. But there it was, where all but my sense of sight recognised it! A beautiful execution with attention to keeping the essentials true to themselves. Both a humbling and euphoric find. Somewhat like the new partner, you would have no qualms telling the parents about.
And just as one dish made its way off the breakfast menu of a west Indian home, so did another disguised as a savoury mouthful of eggs, edible eggshell included.
Not only was the eggshell edible but the wrapper on the cupcake that followed sometime later was also good to eat. In actual fact, apart from the plates served on, and the cutlery, it is all for eating.
Cheese fondue with rendered beef fat had been reinvigorated following the chefs' recent return from the French Alps. An awakening which will have me reach for cheese fondue the next menu it crosses.
'Emancipation' an inimitable twist on cod and chips. An excited mouthful of savoury crunch you want to have repeatedly. Perfection!
Just as the dishes went from fish to meat to poultry so did we journey from the Caribbean to Europe and the far east and our taste buds from savoury to sweet.
Ultimately gratified with a recognizably flavoured drumstick lolly ice-cream and that long-awaited tray of macarons. Don't be too concerned with the flavours and fillings, simply single out the one or the ones your eyes are drawn to.
After fourteen plates there's no failing to remember this taste experience and just like the macaron selection, all but impossible to choose the starring plate of the show.
Wine - Vineyards from around the world make an appearance during the wine pairings. A selection of champagnes, reds and whites. The outright favourite being the Contro Brachetto d'Acqui 2019.
For non-wine drinkers, a glass of cherry soda with fermented passion fruit juice is a glass of foamy topped contentedness.
Is 'The Man' and 'The Man Behind The Curtain' deserving of their Michelin star? With a solid marriage in place since 2015, Michelin undoubtedly believes agrees they do.
Highlights: It was a solid performance from the staff throughout the evening. Emancipation remains the most memorable dish of the night whilst the glass of Contero Brachetto the most memorable wine. Artistic in both food and decor, chef O'Hare's personal touch is felt throughout the experience.
Great For: a dégustation awakening, romantic dining, special occasions
Location: Flannels, 68-78 Vicar Lane, LS1 7JH
*Michelin Guide Star History: 1996 - 2020