Thursday 28 May 2015

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds.

A few months ago I was commissioned by steel bollocked chef Michael O'Hare to photograph at his restaurant in Leeds. But he didn't want any standard stock shots doing. Him being as he is, he wanted something different, some images that 'didn't really look like food' for his website. You see Man Behind the Curtain is no ordinary restaurant. We have nothing remotely like it in Manchester, which is why I guess half of their clientèle are from my home city. What follows was one of the more enjoyable and inspirational afternoons I've had as a photographer. 
He introduces me to Laynes coffee bar too, just round the corner, easily the finest coffee I've had in the UK. (I insist on one of their flat whites on the way to and from the restaurant). As I rarely eat when shooting, we were desperate to return as (fully paying) customers, so we went for lunch last Friday. 
Rather than choose from one of the amusingly titled new lunch menus "The insecurity of Postmen in Oakley Glasses", "Inception of a Space-cat in Black" or "Marc Bolan wasn't a welder", we let the chef send out what he wants which is pretty much the taster menu that we share. (We take pride in not being fussy eaters, we eat everything and anything).
As I'm taking lots of shots, I catch the attention of a smart looking mysterious lone diner who asks me about the photographs, the blog etc. We end up telling him about our recent trip to Spain and how following that, few places give us the 'wow factor' now. Outside of London, The Man Behind The Curtain is a rare UK exception along with Fraiche in Merseyside.
We begin with an exceptional array of fun little snacks.   
Mackerel and Coffee Bon Bon.
A bag of Pork Rinds seasoned with yuzu and olive powder. I don't listen as usual and miss that the bag is actually edible. 
Ethical Foie Gras mousse, (in a pickled daikon radish) give us the rich foie 'hit' we're looking for. 
We take a tiny sample of  Lacuesta Reserva Vermouth & olives.
The Oyster (cooked in shell to absorb its own juice and served chilled, Mock Pearl made from purée of oyster, escabeche sauce, oyster leaf and vinaigrette) is a real beauty. Inspired by Ferran Adrià (and why not) it's such an impressive looking dish and the large oysters are fresh, plump and juicy. The mock pearl explodes on your tongue. The innovation and presentation is never at the expense of the all important taste using high quality produce.
Langoustine (Raw) Marinated in honey and lavender, pata negra, grated frozen apple. 
Hake Cheek, Pil pil.
Sweetbread. Veal throat, sweet and sour Hong Kong style, ice cold tomato and strawberry consommé.  
It's funny, only after the meal do I see the real Asian influences coming through this time. This is because unusually, O'Hare's food transcends his inspiration and becomes all his own. Somehow like Spanish chef David Muñoz's cuisine, it all hangs together and works, in some style too.
Cod Loin, Salt and sugar cured, crispy potatoes, dashi of tasted cod skin, ink and vinegar. 
Whitby Crab and Bisque is another favourite. Perfect silky bisque (it's easy to get this over salted, not here) and fresh crab, oh we lap this down. Mrs B catches the curious lone diner spot her getting the last morsels of bisque with her finger. She lacks any embarrassment though and continues until she's finished every last drop of the precious juices.
Consommé Of Beef "hot and sour".
Pork Pressa, Mandarin Spices.
Iberian Pork. Secreto Ibérico, ajo blanco and BBQ cinders.
Sweet Soup of Cardamon & Lemon Grass. This is an electrifying dessert, we both declared it the best of the year. Shockingly good and unusual too.
Milk Chocolate, Violet Ice cream, potato and vanilla custard, salt and vinegar rice, beetroot vinegar.
Signature Cupcakes. Praline and Passion fruit cupcake, freeze dried berries. In one!
Bon Bon, cep and white chocolate.
If I'd not eaten here myself I may have thought that it looks a little gimmicky. But not a bit of it, O'Hare always delivers on flavour.
Not only did we enjoy the food even more than our last visit but this restaurant feels like home, with lovely and friendly service, led by the charming Charlotte Rasburn. We live in a time where average uninspired restaurants regularly get described on social media as 'amazing' but few are actually anywhere near. This place is one of the rare ones.
The Man Behind The Curtain has become our favourite restaurant in the UK. One doesn't want to tempt fate but it seem unlikely that a Michelin inspector could eat the food we did on Friday and not hand out an award. Either way, chef Michael O'Hare and The Man Behind The Curtain are heading for the stars, I'm utterly convinced of it.
50 photos here.
We shared the taster menu which costs £65.
Lunch is £27, £34 or £38.
We love the soundtrack too. Tunes by Gotan Project, Air and Todd Terje are just perfect.
The Man Behind the Curtain on Urbanspoon

Monday 18 May 2015

Mina, Bilbao, Spain.

Mina is exactly my favourite sort of restaurant. It's in Spain for a start which helps. It's contemporary, small, local and friendly. The food here is relatively simple yet still innovative. Most importantly, it's just a real and absolute joy to eat here. It's not really on the tourist trail yet, in the same way that the big three starred restaurants are but the food is equally as impressive, to me anyway. It has one Michelin star right now but it deserves another at the very least. Mina is very reasonable too, with a 7 course taster menu setting us back at just €69. I can guarantee that no restaurant in Manchester can hold a candle to the food they're producing here right now and yet they're selling it at such reasonable prices. £50 is more or less the price of dinner at an average mid range Italian chain restaurant in our city. This is exactly why we come to Spain. The quality of food and value for money is incomparable.
I'd recommended it to more than one group of friends who were in Bilbao even before we'd gone ourselves. One pal who has never been to a Michelin star restaurant before, said that he understands what 'it's all about now' and why we do what we do; travel and visit places like this just for lunch. On this grey Saturday morning, we make our way across the river and past the grand ornate food market opposite. Chef Álvaro Garrido visits here every morning before deciding what he'd like to cook that day. Of course we're eagerly early, (all the chefs are eating their lunch and look on our arrival with some surprise). So we retreat to sit outside a local grungey but friendly neighbourhood bar for some cold drinks before heading back at 2pm for a most memorable lunch. You enter up the stairs to an elegant, modern, light dining room with windows along one wall, looking out over the river. It's empty when we arrive but totally full (of locals) within the hour.
We begin with a light taste of Crunchy cod skin. Something like this sets the scene and gives you a feeling you're on for a good one.
Panna cotta of black garlic.
 I love everything that is put in front of me here but this Mussels in lemon grass and coconut soup and spice tomato sticks in the memory, such vivid flavours.
Oyster Gillardeau, gin and citric. 
Cod and grapefruit soufflé. Quite acidic with the grapefruit, overly so for some of our party. I love the way the light, fluffy soufflé melts on your tongue.
Season asparagus served with 'bearnaise' sauce and blood orange. 
More wine?
Norway lobster and fennel.
 The partridge ravioli. Even Mrs B with her slight aversion to partridge loved this one. The flavours are strong and intense but never unbalanced or overly salty.
Hake from the Cantabric Sea, roasted and served with seasonal vegetables.
Grilled sirloin steak served with balsamic pumpkin.
The Sea". Crème brulee, pear and frozen Amaretto.  All the desserts are extremely accomplished.
Not only is the food a real pleasure to eat, the service is actually the best we encounter on this trip to The Basque country and the taster menu is well paced too. Yes we all loved Mina. I'd strongly suggest a cheap flight to Bilbao and a visit there yourself, we couldn't recommend it highly enough, it's one of our best meals of 2015.
Larger photos here.