When news broke in September that Leeds had finally acquired its first Michelin star, I was both smug and pleased – the former because we already had a table booked at the victorious restaurant and the latter because it would finally put an end to the criticism that the city’s dining scene was ‘rubbish’.
Having written extensively on this very subject, I was keen to see firsthand whether the matter would be put to rest and so it was with great expectations I went to Michael O’Hare’s The Man Behind the Curtain.
First things first – a restaurant above an upmarket mens’ clothing shop has always struck me as an odd choice of venue and I maintain that no matter how good the food, having to walk through a shop after hours to get to my eating destination will always seem a bit weird.
But once seated, it’s easy to forget the strange location because it feels like you’re eating in an art gallery anyway. Black toilet paper, paint splattered canvases on the walls and a cornucopia of abstract servingware are just some of the features of this avant-garde dining experience, and that’s before the first dish has even hit the table.
We settled in for the 12-course degustation menu, which at £70 a head is best saved for a special occasion unless you’ve got cash to burn on modernist meals.
Having watched the self-proclaimed ‘hair metal chef’ on BBC 2’s The Great British Menu, I was eager to see whether the food lived up to its stylish hype and was pleasantly surprised from the off with my candelabra of sweet and salty raw langoustine, which left to my own devices, I would never normally have chosen myself.
I quickly devoured the next dishes – a plate of hake cheek and a spider crab dish with black egg yolk which was beautifully rich and full of flavour.
But it was two of the more substantial dishes which stood out – the Iberian pork, which was a welcome change from the numerous salted fish and/or egg dishes which had come before it, and what I would describe as the ‘main’ – O’Hare’s quirky take on fish and chips, featuring salted cod and crispy slithers of potato doused in sweet vinegar; all blackened as if an ink pot had exploded in the kitchen.
Though largely an enjoyable gastronomic affair, there were elements which, almost understandably given the experimental nature of TMBTC, were a little wide of the mark. The chocolate violet ice cream for instance was delicately perfumed and a textural delight; the accompanying potato custard however was the very embodiment of why tubers so rarely work in puddings.
That being said, the experience you get when dining at Leeds’ only Michelin starred restaurant is part of what you pay for and there’s no doubt it delivered on that score. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable and it was heartening to see the man of the hour serving punters himself.
So go with an open mind and a willingness to dig in to whatever is presented. And maybe buy a bag of crisps on the way home just to balance things out.