Michelin and their coveted stars have had an erratic love affair with fine dining in Leeds.
An affair began in 1996 with the first Michelin* star awarded to Pool Court at 42, The Calls. Coupling with Racasse shortly after, who swiftly joined the soiree in 1997. Leeds then romanced two; one Michelin-starred restaurants for the next three years. When Michelin's love for Racasse waned in 2000, Racasse lost its star. 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 not so much as a fling for fourteen years.
That is, 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. This his signature dish among a menu of other exciting dishes earned The Man Behind The Curtain, multiple awards.
All of the above saw us make the two and a half hour journey to Leeds for a celebration and his food. And below we share that fine dining experience.
Its location is on the lower ground floor of Flannels and opposite the vibrant Leeds Victoria Gate shopping mall - reservations may be difficult to come by.
But once secured, descend the low-lit stairs and go Behind the Curtain (literally). Its mirrored columns and bared walls behind there. And, except for an artistic display of skateboards more reminiscent of a skateboard shop—a monochromatic black, white and marble palette.
The fur-covered off-white seats at reception begged for a caress while we swigged on Krug champagne accompanied by caviar in sour cream and chive with truffle crisps. All of which happened before we moved to our reserved table.
Except for two tables seating more than two guests, it was a solid showing of couples on the night. The no window, lower ground floor setting, and low lights make it an idyllic venue for a couple's night out. And where the food becomes what the Mona Lisa is to the Louvre - the key attraction.
Ten or the fourteen-course culinary escapade? That's the only decision needed. Oh, and is it with or without wine pairing?
Char Sui octopus presented as a hot dog on a red love heart, tuna nigiri on a lightning flash server, and wagyu sirloin beef held in a skeletal hand were the first of three dishes presented.
The question is, which should we eat first? But the plates are placed in a way that fixates your eyes and draws on your stomach. And so we ate the love heart to the tuna and then beef. All clever in their conceptions though the beef stood out of the trio. An intricate creation that undeniably kept the wagyu beef true to the palate.
This culinary experience developed beautifully, unfolding a story, an art piece. One where the kitchen directs and the dishes the ultimate showpieces. Only knowing what is next once each plate is delivered to your table and the waiters detail the dish. At times, the waiters become part of the show, synchronised in their strides and delivery of the plates and the cutlery to the tables.
Going into a fourteen-course taste menu at a fine dining restaurant, it was nearly unthinkable that one of the taste plates would be ackee, saltfish, and 'johnny bake'. But there it was, where all but my sense of sight recognised it—a dish eaten on many a Sunday morning in many a Caribbean home. Beautifully executed 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.
The eggshell edible, the wrapper on a cupcake that followed sometime later, also good to eat. In fact, apart from the plates served on and the cutlery, it was all for eating.
After the chefs' recent return from the French Alps, cheese fondue with rendered beef fat had been reinvigorated. An awakening that will have me reach for cheese fondue on the next menu it crosses.
'Emancipation' a unique 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. Our taste buds go from savoury to sweet and all the other eyes smile flavours in between.
Ultimately gratified with a recognisably flavoured drumstick lolly ice cream and that long-awaited tray of macarons.
Not to be concerned with the flavours and fillings; single out the ones your eyes are drawn to.
Certainly, after fourteen plates, your memory will dangle this taste experience in front of you for some time. And just like the macaron selection, it is all but impossible to choose the starring plate of the show.
Wines: Vineyards from around the world appear during the wine pairings. A selection of champagnes, reds, whites and roses. My favourite, the Brachetto d'Acqui, Contero - fruity, mousse and sweet.
For non-wine drinkers, a glass of cherry soda with fermented passion fruit juice is your glass of foamy topped contentedness.
There's only one menu at this restaurant and that is, this ten or fourteen course dining experience. It is the same at lunch though the menu is only a tad bit shorter.
Dress code: Wear your finest to mirror the experience and the milestone or occasion you are celebrating.
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 and agrees they do. And so did we. And isn't Michelin the bible when it comes to discerning palates?
Highlights: It was a solid performance from the staff throughout the evening. Amazing - Emancipation, I'd readily return to eat this again. Memorable - the macarons and their presentation, notable - the glass of Contero Brachetto wine. Artistic in both food and decor, Chef O'Hare's touch is felt throughout the fine dining experience.
Great For: a dégustation awakening, romantic dining, special occasions
Location: Flannels, 68-78 Vicar Lane, LS1 7JH
*Michelin Guide Star History: 1996 - 2020