We went out for dinner the other night, to celebrate three wonderful years of marriage. Three years, anyway. Bits of them were wonderful. The meal itself didn't quite fall into the wonderful category which is a shame, and I'm often tempted not to write about experiences that I don't really enjoy which is probably why I'd never make it as a bona fide restaurant reviewer. But there was enough to like to make it worth a post.
There are no pictures, by the way - for which regular readers, used to the dismal standard of photography on this blog, may well breathe a sigh of relief. Hey, people, I paint pictures with words, yeah? But TMBTC requests that mobile phones and cameras are "left at the door" so that one can enjoy the food and the company free from distractions. I respect them for asking, even though I have never really understood why some chefs object to people taking photographs of food so much - it's generally a compliment. Plus, when you drink as much as I do, a useful aide memoire.
So, The Man Behind The Curtain. They actually have a philosophy section on their website (you can read it here) which is sort of admirable. And a dress code (which most of the diners seemed to ignore). The chef has worked at Noma and, more recently, at a York venue called The Blind Swine about which we had heard great things and were sorry to have missed. So all the signs were good.
I just found, personally, the food didn't quite support the weight of expectations. And, to be honest, when it really comes down to it, the food is what I am interested in.
Venue - modern, trendy, wins extra points for being only accessible through one of Leeds most upmarket department stores (we looked at shoes while we waited for the lift up there). Waiting staff - friendly, professional. There is a long table set up at one side of the room where the chefs plate up, which is fun to watch and, although not a new conceit, certainly the first time I have seen it done outside of London. The chefs themselves bring the dishes to the table (very Nomaesque) and were more than happy to chat about the food, which is great.
Some of the dishes were tasty. We particularly loved the fish course which was halibut with a crust best described as crushed salt and vinegar Quavers - which might sound insulting but is the only way I can possibly begin to describe it to you and, rest assured, it was lick the plate good. Ox cheek was nice too - cooked to absolute perfection so that it dissolved into a luscious memory of meaty goodness as soon as it was placed in the mouth. These chaps can most definitely cook.
I felt that sometimes they got a weeny bit over excited. Some of the combinations, to my mind, just didn't work brilliantly (maybe I am just not progressive enough, but I found chocolate and cep, for example, to be pretty unpleasant. And I adore both chocolate and mushrooms.) And some of the courses were a touch...insubstantial. Stylish, yes. But lacking in...roots. Some of the most memorable meals we have had recently (Eleven Madison Park, Five Senses) have had a very strong sense of tradition and place running through them, and I felt that was lacking here. I didn't quite understand what the chef was trying to achieve, what was in his heart when he designed the food.
I am keen to go back for the next iteration of the menu to see if the personality becomes more apparent; after all, this is still quite a new restaurant and it may yet settle down. There is clearly talent enough to make it into something very good as long as it finds the story it wants to tell.
The Man Behind The Curtain
68-78 Vicar Lane