Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds
If you’ve ever wondered about our name Squidbeak, it comes from graffiti found in a fancy pants restaurant: ‘squidbeak of a bums arse on a bed of bum gravy’, describing the sort of dainty, deconstructed, mucked about food we generally abhor. So you might wonder why we are raving about a place that offers a no choice 12 course tasting menu at 70 quid a throw, that gives you sweetbreads to eat with your fingers, pairs ceps with chocolate and brings your olives wrapped in edible cellophane. Is this not squidbeakery of the highest order?
Definitely not. I reviewed the Man Behind the Curtain, for the Yorkshire Post soon after opening in the summer of 2015, and was blown away, not least because it is the brainchild of Michael O’Hare, the idiosyncratic chef who brought us Blind Swine in York and for 12 months made us smile with his mint juleps served in an old tin can and carrots ‘growing’ in rye soil, before abruptly closing last summer.
He says he’s over all that neo-Nordic stuff now and the Man Behind the Curtain is a proper, grown-up restaurant. So it is, and a considerable number of steps in ambition above Blind Swine. For a start it’s in Leeds, in a spacious attic above Flannels clothes store (lovely room but a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for restaurants having hosted Anthony at Flannels and Leeds City College, neither of which could make it work).
The menu is long, adventurous, ambitious and fun. Don’t come here expecting to trough it; the 10-14 courses are small and delicate, though they increase in size and complexity as you progress through the meal. We started with those cellophane wrapped olives and finish with slices of kiwi and the rest inbetween if I listed it all here would not only bore the pants off you but would spoil the fun. Suffice to say there are oysters, lardo, hot and cold pea soup, langoustine, turbot, veal sweetbreads, ox cheek, ice cream, strawberries and chocolate like you’ve never had them before, brilliantly executed and beautifully presented. (and yes there is a full vegetarian menu on request). It’s all changed again since then, O’Hare has won a Michelin star, been on TV and you have to book a table months in advance. Now he has opened ‘The Diffusion Line’ – 12 snacks and four cocktails, we’ve never sampled this, but it looks as if it harks back to those Blind Swine days when we all got hammered on a cocktail with every course. Then there is the Capsule Table: ‘an immersive experience’ where new dishes are debuted at £160-£240 per person!
Overseeing front of house is restaurant manager Charlotte Rasburn who jumped ship from the Box Tree and dispenses her advice with endearing charm and without an iota of pomposity. Alongside is ex-Blind Swiner and barman Rob Derbyshire who has created some terrific cocktails.
Save up, hammer the credit card, rob a bank if you must, but go to the Man Behind the Curtain (the name comes from a reference in the Wizard of Oz). We love it in all its craziness.