The Man Behind The Curtain * | Leeds (UK)

An experience that feels like performance art rather than dining.
But O’Hare lost sight of the essence of hospitality: Entertaining your guests!

About a month ago we traveled up North to Yorkshire. We spent a long weekend visiting York, Leeds and Sheffield. It happened to be Joanne’s birthday that Saturday, so of course I looked for something special for dinner and The Man Behind the Curtain * in Leeds certainly hits the brief.

Opened by Head Chef Michael O’Hare in 2014, The Man Behind the Curtain * has a reputation for unusual food, with a unique artistic presentation. It was awarded a Michelin star in October 2015 (which they still hold) and three AA Rosettes in 2016.  Taking its name from a quote in The Wizard of Oz: “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”. And it looks like the restaurant features the same manic creativity as L Frank Baum’s fantasy novel.

After admiring the shiny motorcycle in the window, we descend down the stairs into the restaurant. Located in the basement of Flannel’s department store we enter The Man Behind The Curtain’s monochrome ebony and ivory world. A concrete and black-tiled space with white leather couches, chrome finishings, a floor to ceiling mirror and black and white marble tables.

the dining room

A few touches of playfulness catch your eye, like the “hey dude” hands as table centre pieces, or the skateboard wall decorations.

Hey dude

Originally from Middlesbrough, now aged 40 Michael O’Hare was raised in Redcar, North Yorkshire. He studied classical and modern ballet between the ages of 11 and 18, then embarked on a degree in aeronautical engineering at Kingston University in London before a change of heart struck, and he eventually decided to pursue a career as a chef.
Michael went to work for John Burton-Race at the Landmark in London, then to Seaham Hall in County Durham before heading to René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen. He made a name for himself leading the kitchen at the Blind Swine in York before launching his own restaurant, The Man Behind the Curtain, in 2014.
He became a true celebrity chef after appearing on the BBC’s Great British Menu in 2015, astounding viewers and judges alike with his creative and experimental dishes. He returned to the Great British Menu as a judge the following years and has also appeared on MasterChef, BBC Saturday Kitchen other British programs.

The man Behind The Curtain * currently opens from Thursday to Sunday for lunch and from Tuesday to Saturday for dinner. For lunch they offer a 9 servings menu (at £95) and for dinner a 12 servings menu (at £145 from Tuesday to Thursday and £165 on Friday and Saturday).
The menu’s are predetermined and they do not offer any alternative menus for any allergies or dislikes. Menu’s contain meat and fish, so veggies and vegan are not welcome. On their website they suggest guests with allergies or dislikes to skip offending dishes if they wish to dine there. This made my eyebrows frown a bit.
And there is more!. You pay the menu in full when you book. You can cancel and get a full refund up to 48 hours after confirmation. After that you are not able to cancel or even change your booking! They compare it to attending a concert or the theatre and suggest that you can always transfer your ticket to another person…..

We had lunch on a Saturday about a month ago.

Gin & Tonic

No selection of gins on the drinks list. Just one choice: gin & tonic. Turned out to be their house-branded gin by Slingsby, distilled with caviar (why not). Nice taste, full of botanicals and saltiness. And a large one as well!

Wine list

The wine list looked more than a celebrity’s portfolio. Michael Jackson springs to mind. With the cheapest bottle priced at £65, we decided to stick with the gin and tonic.

Warm Potato and Vanilla Mousse, Amalfi Lemon, Chive Oil

First to arrive was a star egg filled with foam of new potatoes with vanilla, caviar and chive oil. Zesty tones were lifting this amazing combination of humility and decadence. Silky smooth with little bursts of caviar. Clever and delicious!
Brought back memories of the mashed potatoes dish we had at our best dining experience in London at Claude Bosi at Bibendum **.

Denia Red Prawn, Tikka Spiced Tail, Roasted Head Juices

Next a Dali-esque prawn dish, strectching precariously on the non-edible black telephone. A red prawn from Denia, on the Costa Blanca, is marinated for 7 hours in tikka spices. After the head is deep fried, the prawn is finished off on the bbq. Bold Indian flavours with a touch of heat. The prawn was okay, but as a dish quite underwhelming and, I dare to say, boring. I see the Instagrammable appeal, but to me a case of style over substance.

Chilled Garlic and Almond Soup, Tomato Consommé/Granita

We continue with ajo blanco made from almonds, chilli, garlic and basil, topped with an iced tomato consommé with vanilla. It’s very heavy on the garlic, so it’s good that everyone gets the same! I like the taste, but it feels like the dish misses an element. A typical ajo blanco (the cold soup from Andalusia) is served with grapes or melon. Something like that would benifit the flavour and texture palette I think. Joanne is less impressed and calls it upmarket aioli with tomato ice. 

Denatured Isle of Skye Scallop, Nahm Jim Bisque

The scallop is denatured by “cooking” it at -18ºC, which tenderizes the scallop nicely. It’s then served at room temperature, together with a piece of lobster and a fiery Thai flavoured bisque, with quite a spice-kick to it. I loved it.
Joanne doesn’t eat cold fish or cold shellfish, which I mentioned when I booked and as it was her birthday I hoped they could accommodate. They acknowledged that they got my message, but she just got the same dish. No substitute or alteration. So that plate went back untouched. To me, this is really poor at this level of hospitality.

Salt Cured Cod Loin, Potato and Shallots, Ink, Vinegar Pickled Onion Juice

Next that “Great British Menu” fish dish! Cod cured in sugar and salt, charred gem lettuce, dashi, patato sticks and vinegar. Joanne struggled with the texture of the cod. I struggled more with the blackness of everything else. You get the texture of the crispy potato, but is unrecognizable as is the gem lettuce. I’m sure there’s a lot of effort gone into this dish, but the presentation is hindering the real enjoyment of the tastes and flavours. You’re left with feeling of a fancy take on fish and chips. Again, the style clearly overpowers the substance, which is a shame.

Rhubarb Hoisin, Crispy Leg, Yaki Onigiri, Cucumber

The meat dish is squab, which is an immature domestic pigeon of about 4 weeks old. Because it is too young to fly, the meat is very tender. Before preparation the pigeon is dry-aged for 8 weeks on the premises. Nice pink squab breast with crunchy legs and pigeon jus with a macho side of pickled cucumber rolled in its own ashes. Great dish!

Passionfruit, Meringue

Next was a cupcake of passionfruit chocolate with raspberry and pistachio and an edible wrapper. Quite a creamy mouthful. Lovely taste though with the passionfruit coming through nicely to battle all the creaminess. 

Lavender, Honey, Potato

Dessert was a potato custard with chocolate ganache and raspberry underneath a blanket of silver chocolate. Puffed potato with beetroot on top as nuggets of crunch. Excellent skills and taste to match!


With our coffees, a tray of brightly coloured macarons was brought to our table, looking just like the famous artist Damien Hirst’ Spot painting. Love this presentation.

We picked two macarons each. Salted caramel (brown), sour raspberry (blue) , rhubarb (red) and banoffee (yellow). All nice and well made macarons.

Service was smooth and the staff super friendly. Not only the waiting staff, but also the guys in the kitchen. We had a look in the restaurant’s beautiful kitchen, where we had a nice chat with head chef Jon Huhges (as O’Hare was not there….). What a passionate guy, showing real interest in our feedback. Much appreciated.

The Man Behind The Curtain is definitely different. Michael O’Hare has a distinct style, which is carried through all the dishes, the presentation and even the restaurant itself. An experience that feels like performance art rather than dining.
However. The balance between style and substance is key in any dining experience and unfortunately in a number of dishes the style won from the substance. You end up disappointed by the dish, because ultimately it’s the enjoyment that matters.

Even the bill is delivered in style.

I really wanted to like the experience, but I must admit I left somewhat disappointed. Was it the food? Partly yes, but in the end it was the arrogance of the chef (Michael O’Hare that is).

Don’t get me wrong. I like a self-confident chef with a distinct style. But you can go too far. When you ignore people with dislikes and allergies, don’t allow guests to cancel or rearrange bookings while taking their money upfront, and on top of that charging a mandatory (is that even legal) 13% service charge, then you’re taking your customers for granted and you’ve lost sight of the essence of hospitality: Entertaining your guests!

I would have liked to tell him in person, but O’Hare unfortunately stayed firmly behind his own curtain that day.