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


  1. We love Michael and his unique style and above all the tastes he extracts from his ingredients.(We are one of his older food groopies)
    We are going to the Basque country next week for 12 days and very exited. Just nervous about some of our restaurant choices and would appreciate your thoughts as you too love the same sort of tasty food. We start at Murgritz, then Alkare then Extabarri is that a good mix?? Booked but not set in stone!

    1. Akelaŕe is a solid choice but although the restaurant is beautiful it's not considered one of the most cutting edge of the 3 stars. If would add (or swap it for) Azurmendi in Bilbao instead or Martin Berasategui. Keep Asador Etxebarri, it's brilliant. Are you in Bilbao at all? Mina is great. Mugaritz seems to split opinion,I would like to go but it maybe a gamble on my £100+ it's certainly very cutting edge but does everything actually work/taste good? Don't forget to explore San Sebastián old town for pintxos which is at least as important as all the starred places!

  2. Thanks for your help, now booked lunch at Mina for our 1st day in Bilbao and will try to book Azurmendi as I too fancy it just as much as Akelarre. I loved your travel log on getting there, hope the VW polo will make it up the lane ok. We are staying 3 nights in Sn Sebastian and will hopefully find some nice pintxos too. Co-incidentally Claire Smith of GR at Hospital Rd strongly recommended Etxebarri. Think a lie down between days of eating is highly likely!! Hubby has just done a quick tot up and looks pale!

    1. Ha ha, I know the feeling! I will be publishing our San Sebastian pintxos trail this week so look out for that. :-)

  3. Awesome , a meal here is well up my list when i can finally get my backside into little time.
    Food looks amazing , right up my street and also some nice photo opportunities by the look of things....Great pics.
    Excited ;-)

    1. You will love it I'm sure. Enjoyed your post from Quique Dacosta. If you were me & had a limited budget would you go there or somewhere else?

  4. This is definitely on my list of restaurants to visit!