Since we had seen him on Great British Menu as a contestant a few years ago, we’d been fans of Michael O’Hare, the chef owner of quirkily name The Man Behind the Curtain. For me, it was also his 1980s looks that brought me back to my teenage years when I used to listen to goth music but occasionally wouldn’t mind a chat to my heavy metal fan neighbour. In any case, Michael suddently became famous, not just for his appearance, but rather, for his food which impressed the judges as well as the viewing public like ourselves. He came back the following year as a judge, and he revealed himself to be fair, friendly and on point; we loved him even more. We had to go to Leeds!
The opportunity came for me to join a group of friends with whom I often dine in special places (special for us anyway, from Marcus Wareing to immersive dinners), 4 girls on a saturday afternoon escape to Leeds. The train is only 2.5 hours and when you travel together, it actually goes pretty quicky. The restaurant is around 10mins walk from the station and the centre of Leeds is very attractive, with beautiful classic buildings and shopping galleries.
Lift the curtain…
We finally arrived and when we visited, the place was still on the 3rd floor or clothes’ store Flannels, but will soon be moving to the basement of the same building, albeit with its own entrance (no more curtains to lift then). The current space is beautiful, more like an art gallery than a restaurant; tables are comfortable and well spaced out so one can dine and chat without having to fight to hear your mates, and the music (some cool rock of course) is background and not over loud. The staff are friendly, young and trendy and as smart as one can expect from a 1* establishment, with none the fuss that sometime comes with the star (and often, without too). We had had to pay our food bill in advance and were aware it would be non refundable (if it had been anyone other than Mr O’Hare we might have given up coming over), but at £65 + service, what we were about to experience was worth every penny.
The Permanent Collection
One doesnt order, in fact it’s a tasting menu of between 10 and 14 courses, some tiny, some bigger, and what you get is based on what Michael feels like cooking each day, all dishes part of the collection but always slightly tweaked based on seasonality or personal whim and in our case, intolerances or ethical issues (mine, really).
I can’t possibly describe each course in details (too many!)… but I will try. We enjoyed 11 in the end, beginning with a trio of amouse bouche that came served in the lovelies of plates shaped like a heart, a lightining bolt and a dash of paint. One of those was a bright red mini slider with grilled sweetbread, I hate sweetbread but this was fantastic, of course. They were followed by one of the most surprising dishes of the meal, a small but super intense chilled soup of almond milk, ajo blanco, olive oil and frozen tomato, all in beautiful shades of white, served on a smooth mountain top of a bowl, we all really loved it.
This was followed by a suet dumpling with salt cod, in a bright yellow sauce with tiny strands of chili pepper on top which added a massive burst of heat in a rich and satisfying dish.
Another chilled item followed, a very delicate raw langoustine in a mussel broth, almost like a palate cleanser, ahead of Michael’s signature dish, the famous black cod masterpiece he prepared at the GBM banquet. Our faces said it all, and the waiter smiled at us, I am guessing they get a similar reaction from everyone. This version is not the flamboyant presentation of the TV show, of course, but a beautifully monotone black on black food. We started by smelling it, the aroma completely reminding us of fish and chips from an actual chippy shop, yet the taste was something else, just beautifully cooked cod with crispy textures of the potatoes
A strange course followed, perhaps the one who impressed us the least, yet it was still pretty memorable. Aged beef tartare with flapping (moving!) see through potato paper.. salty, rich. And then came another of the highlihts of our meal, Iberico pork with an edible egg shell, containing a real oozing egg yold, crumbs of charcoal and a splash and dash of white garlic, it was amazing to look at as well as to eat.
Dessert time. A burst of colours from the plate itself (another stunning item) to the actual dessert which had, amongst others, bright purple (Parma viola ice cream), red and white (cereal puffs) and silver (chocolate shards). I polished it all in seconds, and desserts arent often my favourite part of the meal.
A single petit four arrived with the coffes, a delicious, soft and squidgy chocolate and soft merengue bite with a liquid passion fruit heart. Coffees were served in cranium like cups, and the teapots for the tea had marble lids, and required years of body building to lift up.
We had an absolutely memorable meal. Despite the strict booking policy, this is a great value deal for the incredible food Michael creates and the whole, fun, experience. We felt enjoying such a meal in the company of friends is perhaps the best set up, we had a laugh as well as had great food.
Michael was in and out of the dining room, as it was one of the last few days in the upstairs floor and he was busy with the new dining space downstairs, yet he did stop at each table to say hi and it was the icing on the cake for us to say hello and meet him in person. He was as charming there as he had appeared on TV.
We’re now planning our spring trip to Leeds…