The Man Behind The Curtain - Michelin Star Leeds
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 of 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.
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.
A dish he continues to share on his lunch and dinner menus.
Its location is on the lower ground floor of Flannels and opposite the vibrant 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 bared walls, except for an artistic display of skateboards more reminiscent of a skateboard shop—a monochromatic palette of black, white and marble.
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 happens before moving onto the dining area.
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 with or without wine pairing.
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 beef, it remained the 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, unfolding a story, an art piece. 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 become a part of the show, synchronised in their strides, their delivery of the dishes, and even 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.
Not only was the eggshell edible, but the wrapper on a cupcake that followed sometime later was also good to eat. In actual fact, apart from the plates served on and the cutlery, it was all for eating.
Cheese fondue with rendered beef fat had been reinvigorated following the chefs' recent return from the French Alps. An awakening that 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. Our taste buds from savoury to sweet and all the other eyes smiling flavours in between.
Ultimately gratified with a recognizably 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 to come. And just like the macaron selection, it is 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 the 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 and agrees they do. And aren't they the bible when it comes to discerning palates?
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