Category Archives: Food

The Man Behind the Curtain

Langoustine

Langoustine

Last night, we went to The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds – here is my  Tripadvisor review. You might get the impression that we liked the place!

 

 

 

“Creativity, wittiness, technical skill – this place has it all!”
5 of 5 stars

Our second visit found a substantially changed menu – which is good as you have no choice, a £65 taster menu or go to McDonalds. That’s a good thing in my book as it saves the effort of choosing and exposes me to food experiences unlike those I might choose.
And what experiences! I’m not going to try to describe all the dishes (I could actually try to describe the dishes, because every course was served on its’ own rather special ‘crockery’, offering an extra dimension to what must be described as a dining experience rather than just a meal) because I could not possibly do justice to them.
Let me instead just give a flavour of the offerings, as if I were ordering a four course menu from what we ate – start with a spoon-sized serving of raw langoustine in a mussel broth dribbled with basil oil, move on to an offering of prawn/scallop/sweetbreads served with a very spicy Ponzu sauce and preceded by an “electric daisy”, for meat take the braised ox cheek with salt ‘n vinegar crispy rice etc, and finish with a single bit of tiramisu stiing in it’s edible cup and exploding in your mouth to give a spectacular end to your feast.
Of course, in the real work dof Michael O’Hare, you get 8 other equally creative and impressive dishes. We were there for 3.5 hours and enjoyed every minute.
The gold high heels have gone, and the very friendly and communicative staff appreciate that, presenting cutlery in boxes has also gone (I thought this was rather cute if a touch OTT) and chef made an appearance to explain his ‘electric daisy’ creation to us.

We ate at The Man Behind The Curtain

The Man Behind The Curtain - brilliant Leeds RestaurantStylish, witty, inventive and best of all extremely tasty.

If, possibly like some of those curmudgeons who give low marks, you want to go home feeling stuffed then go to your local fish & chip shop; if however you want to go home feeling nicely replete after experiencing a series of often surprising, and always interesting and successful, tastes then head here as soon as you can afford the (£65 per head) tasting menu which is the only offering on an evening.

First, the room. On the 3rd (top) floor above Flannels men’s clothing shop it is airy with well-spaced tables (your private tete-a-tetes will not be overheard here) and very ‘modern’ and edgy art on the walls. A big space (50 covers?) is broken up by strategically placed walls with the bar along one wall and the open kitchen along another. Sitting watching dishes being assembled, and having the chance to chat to the chef and his very small brigade (who often served and explained the dishes) was endlessly fascinating and added to the enjoyment for me. Don’t be put off by the dress policy stated on the website; the night we were there I did not see a single men’s jacket and it’s much more the kind of dressing up that would be appropriate in a continental high end restaurant than a stuffy British one. And finally on the facilities, go to the loo whether you want to or not – surprising toilet tissue!

Now the food. From beginning to end, over 2½ hours and 12 (?) courses later, we were presented with a series of small portions of spectacularly presented and often even more spectacularly flavoured dishes. Each came with its own cutlery presented to the table in a black box – an intriguing touch. Here goes with some of them:

Poached chicken and foie gras ‘sandwich’ between two piece of crispy chicken skin – one of the standout tastes for me. It exploded in the mouth with layer after layer of chickeny flavour which just kept coming and lasted in the mouth. A plate of these alone would have made my night!

TMBTC soup treeRazor clam poaching in a mussel consommé dripped with parsley oil – never has razor clam tasted so sweet. It’s a single mouthful beautifully presented in a sort of tree contraption with a spoonful of the creation balanced on one of the branches.

Langoustine ‘sashimi’ – morsels of raw langoustine served with a lavender smear (yes, he does them!), dill(?) oil, pickled carrot and all sorts of other tiny little bits of flavour that created a harmonious and spectacular whole.

Black cod – wittily presented under a cover of shards of crispy salt & vinegar flavoured potato shards which were drifted with a black (squid ink) powder. VERY upmarket fish & chips was the resultant taste. Clever, witty, moresome.

Ox cheek – clearly cooked for hours, it was soooo…. soft and deeply flavoured before it was covered in a foie gras foam and puffed wild rice.

I’m running out of superlatives for the food, so perhaps here is a chance to talk about drinks. A very ‘sensible’ wine list has maybe 50 bottles but no outrageous £500+ ones and best of all they offer 3 different flights to accompany the meal. One of us opted for the standard one, rejecting the premium pairings, and I was driving so was delighted to find a soft drinks pairing available. Some of the pairings were outstandingly good and the highlight was a carrot and passion fruit juice with the ox cheek, yes it works but how does it work this well? It was actually much more successful than the Oloroso Sherry that accompanied the ox from the alcoholic flight. Servings of wine were plentiful and at least once we got a top-up, no skinflints tasting portions here.

But back to the food…next came a big rectangle of slightly fluorescent orange Perspex (watch out for the interesting range of ‘crockery’) onto which was artfully arranged slices of a cut from near the shoulder of an Iberico pig, some cracking, anchovies and baked purple potatoes, all drizzled with something creamy and pink. Stunning!

Onwards to desserts, starting with the highlight – a tiny little cup cake appearance, which we were advised to eat whole including the (rice paper) wrapping, revealed a mystery chocolate shell which cracked open in the mouth pouring passion fruit flavours over the creamy, and much more complex than I can recall, outer. More please.

Gin & tonic marshmallows, peanut butter doughnuts…

All in all, a wonderful experience and I hope that The Man Behind The Curtain can succeed where Anthony Flinn, despite his many talents, could not. It’s not as good as L’Enclume, which is my closest reference point to the whole experience, but then again they have been open less than a year and that Lake District delight does have 2 Michelin ‘stars’ after all.

GO and be amazed.

Cheese and music – an interesting combination

Music & CheeseYesterday, at Cornucopia Underground I took part in an interesting cheese experience (courtesy of Homage to Fromage). Now these are the guys who have spent time putting together the Periodic Table of Cheese, so an invitation to take part in a Heston-style experiment exploring how, if at all, listening to different music changed one’s appreciation of cheese was not to be missed.

The proposition was that we taste five cheeses, each twice. The first listening to one track and the second hearing a different one. Our noble leader suggested that he had chosen the tracks to associate with the cheese or not. We were offered five very different cheeses, starting with a Parmesan, through various soft cheeses to Blacksticks Blue.

I’m not going to bore you with my detailed tasting notes (not least because we were asked to hand them in for analysis) but simply offer an overview of the experience. For most of the cheeses I did not feel that the music made any difference to the basic taste, although it did affect the overall experience.

Firstly, the pace or beat rate of the music seemed to matter. Faster beat rates led to faster mastication, which in turn probably helped entrain more air (which we know makes a difference to many tasting experiences) and led to more saliva production (which affected the mouthfeel).

Secondly, whether or not I liked the music and.or had any associations with the music affected the experience too. One one occasion I found myself just absent mindedly chewing a lump of cheese while listening to one of my favourite tracks, on another the positive associations with the music brought back pleasurable memories which in turn led to enjoying that portion more than the twin. Others reported that a disliked track led to less enjoyment. This ‘cross-anchoring’ is well known on other circles and might well be used to advantage if only we knew what tracks we could play for individual eaters/drinkers to trigger those positive associations.

Do, an interesting experience and experiment – why not try something similar yourself.

The cockerel crowed

Cockerel

Cockerel

The cockerel crowed, his territory slowly and inevitably being challenged by his own offspring.

The products of the three second liaison had been nurtured by one willing mother, who took on the role for her and the other three members of his harem. Extending the harem seemed a good idea, but the thought of male competition was not welcome. The brood had produced eight potential wives but also four future challenges for their favours.

One challenger, somehow maturing that bit faster than his brothers, now stood atop the fence post. His still small yet equally distinct comb and wattle engorged with youthful excitement. He throws his head back in the early morning sun and crows as if his life depended on it, as well it might if in due course this verbal battle turns physical. For his old rival already sports savage heel spurs capable of doing serious damage, or even meting out death, to this young upstart. For now, the verbals are enough, the patriarch of this growing clan flutters atop an adjacent French fencepost and lets blast; a slightly deeper, perhaps more mature, crowing; one carrying more variation and lasting longer; one clearly designed to put the youngster in his place; a rallying call to the hens that are still his and will probably remain so.

For this new cockerel, just like his three brothers, is unlikely ever to savour the glory of being king of the coop. A few more days and he and his brothers will be segregated from the rest of the flock with a different end in mind. Fattened for three or four weeks on a rich diet of corn, he will make a magnificent lunch one day soon, leaving his father to deliver another crop of siblings who he will never see or hear.

Enjoy your crowing dear cockerel while you can…

A barbecue on a boat?

Dinner arrives!“How will we barbecue fish on a boat?” was the obvious question. But we can deal with that later.

The prospect of a week sailing a yacht through the waters off the Turkish coast had brought six men, of varying sailing ability, together. The experienced skipper had assured us of all the usual – day long yellow sun, cooling breezes, warm deepest blue waters – and then tempted us with the further prospect of catching our own fish as we sailed. Well, could I resist? There is little better than eating fish so fresh that it was swimming around only minutes before being cooked. I recalled the fishing expeditions with my dad. Evening sessions on the beach in Hornsea or some other East Yorkshire resort. My job to find the wood and light the fire on which the first fish we caught would be cooked. One eye on the rod waiting for another unwilling victim, one on the frying pan where our supper lay cooking to perfection. Could we regenerate that passion, that atmosphere, that unforgettable smell on board our 40foot yacht?

Let’s take a look at those six willing victims volunteers.

The most experienced, our skipper – let’s call him Jon – had enough certificates of competence to be able to sail our 40 footer across the Atlantic let alone around the relatively calm waters of the Mediterranean.

Next – calling him Geoff will protect the innocent – was an older version of that callow youth who accompanied his father around the coast when he was young. His childhood had been spent in and around boats of one sort or another, in on or near water. He had later learned to sail dinghies when his not inconsiderable bulk helped hold them in the water when less well-upholstered persons might have got blown over.

Wynn and Adrian, old greying friends, professed to being happier half way (or more) up a Himalayan peak and turned up with their Nepalese or Burmese T-shirts, Factor 50 (they knew all about the effects of the sun reflected off the snow, or sea), layers of technical clothing and ice-axes (OK, I lied about the ice-axes). They were up for anything and keen to learn.

Chris, the psycho (sorry, psychologist/counsellor/therapist) would undoubtedly have a key role in holding us all together when the going got tough.

And last but by no means least was Henry. Henry needed a change. He had recently retired from his long-held post at a prestigious university and was free, easy and available – although what prospect there was of romantic entanglement when we spent all day cooped up with five other red-blooded married blokes was hard to imagine.

So there we all were, enthusiastic yet largely unskilled. Willing to be led and educated by our brave skipper who proceeded to show us not only how to tie a bowline with one hand (try it yourself) but also the other delights he had brought with him. Carbon fibre rod, multiplier reel, lines, spinners and hooks galore. Yet apparently not quite the right lure for the huge great tuna, grouper, gilthead bream and other delights promised on turkishculture.org . A visit to the tackle shop beckoned.

Aladdin’s’ Cave would have looked tawdry compared to this place. Tempting the unwary fisherman in with garish offerings of soft rubbery lures, trapping him once inside with the prospect that any one of this cornucopia of delights could be just the one for that big fish and holding out the prospect of rewards unimaginable once it had been tied on to a bit of string and flung out the back of the boat. The walls covered with photographs of great fish and the even greater fishermen into whose firmament we could enter if only we bought the right tackle. “This one, Sir, will guarantee to seduce any local tuna onto your hook”, “How about this green and yellow imitation squid, or perhaps this with five different yet similar lures all on the same piece of wire?” (The wire being necessary for when the sharp teeth of the tuna bit into the lure and raised the angler’s heartbeat.) Fishermen find it hard to refuse these emblandishments and we walked out with the latter five-temptation setup, eager to get out on the water and catch our supper.

Fast forward – well, as fast as a Force 3 wind will allow – to mid-afternoon on Day1. All sails out, sailing as close to the wind as we can get, relaxing into an easy cruise to our dinner destination and out comes the fishing rod. “Time to catch dinner”. The little rubbery pseudo-squid dangle wobbly on the end of the metal trace as yards of line pay out behind the yacht. And then we wait, and wait, and wait… For today was not going to be our lucky day and dinner tonight was pasta and tinned tuna.

The next day followed the same pattern – we are going too slow, too fast, bouncing around too much. Not a nibble. Not even a change of tactic – replacing the by now infamous rubber squid with a garish spinner – tempted even a tiddler to bite. We knew that there were fish to be caught, every time we moored we found either a thriving fish market or some local restaurant’s fish tank packed with a range of treats that we could only dream about; the posters on the tackle shop window seemed to be advertising someone’s reality, just not ours.

By Day 5 we were beginning to wonder if we would ever catch our own supper. We had heard that the scent of women on the lure was more likely to attract the objects of our desire (fish, not women) but with six men on a boat that was out of the question. Perhaps Chris would come into his role, holding our psyches together amid an ocean of disbelief and hunger?

We moored that evening in a secluded bay with a rickety jetty and just one little restaurant. Drifting up to the landing we shouted out to ask if they could feed six of us and if they had any fresh fish. Encouraging nods and waves beckoned us over, by which time the one son who spoke broken English had been summoned. “We have fresh swordfish” sounded encouraging, so we settled down for a beer or two noting that the service was slow even by Turkish standards and wondering how come our Turkish guardian had time to phone his friends when he could be preparing our dinner. As we finished the starter of inevitable Hummus, Aubergines, Dolmades our friendly son – we never could understand his name – remarked “Fish here soon”. Good, that is what we were there for. A further beer arrived and then we heard the gentle and unmistakeable sound of a small outboard phut phutting in the bay; louder yet louder until it turned the headland and was clearly heading in our direction. It seemed like all of a sudden there was activity on a scale totally unanticipated; one son sent off to the shed to get something, another off to help the little fishing boat moor, yet another encouraging us to come and see.

Well, having a look at the boat mooring would pass the time, so off we went beers in hand. Big smiles all around and we were informed “Fish here”. The phone call had been to a local fisherman, who had promised to deliver fresh fish to fulfil our order. Not just Fresh fish, but fresh swordfish. Not just fresh swordfish, but three of the glistening silver and blue beauties. The smallest about 2 feet long, the biggest perhaps 5 feet from the crook of the splayed tail to the pointy tip of that fearsome sword. Eyes disproportionately large to help them see in the depths in which they hunted their own prey; bodies of pure muscle shaped to enable speed; a sword not used for spearing other less fortunate fish but to slash at supersonic speed through a shoal of prey stunning one or two who were to become the latest snack.

A large plastic sheet was hastily laid across one of the restaurant tables while help was sent to find the ancient weighing balance – you know the ones you see on the old photos, with a sliding weight on the top. But how to get these huge soon-to-be-dinners onto the vicious looking hook to weigh them? Another excursion to the shed revealed a length of rope with which the tails and heads of these slippery beasts were tied together. Two of the medium-sized sons held the pole on their shoulders and the weighing apparatus was hooked on. Slowly the fish were eased into balance and the fish eased into the air. We could not establish the total weight, but the more experienced amongst our crew reckoned on about 50kg in total. The fisherman had had a good day. An unknown amount of Turkish Lire exchanged hands and dinner was on!

And what a dinner. Can anything beat the taste of freshly caught fish barbecued on the wood from local vines and olives, basted in rough olive oil and herbs from the hillside only 50metres away? Potatoes sliced half a centimetre thick were cooked in oil with garlic, olives, onions and yet more herbs – soft and unctuous. A simple local salad of lettuce, tomatoes that had been on the plant less than half an hour ago, raw onions still warm from the earth they had rested in until very recently and yet more local olive oil.

THIS was gourmet eating and after all our disappointments we still ate barbecued fish, and never had to meet the challenge of how to do it on the boat.

The blue and green chair

Blue and gree chairIt wasn’t an ordinary chair, and yet it was. Blue and green, cobbled together from seemingly random lengths of wood – jetsam or flotsam, who knows? Bishop’s seat or a Macintosh masterpiece, or perhaps the creation of the beach bar owner – Chirinquitos they call them round here. I had read that the owner was South African, journeyed from the southern tip of the mysterious continent and landed only just into Europe. I met him only as we left to pay-great manly paw reaching out to wish me well and hope to be back again, the smile on his face enough for the whole of the beach. It was an instant and personal connection. People leave their homeland the many reasons. Had he escaped, years ago, from the oppressed oppressive apartheid regime; was he a romantic voyager moving from place to place in search of adventure, excitement and maybe something deeper? The twinkle in his eye and the warmth with which he greeted this passing customer suggested peace, they carried the energy of the man who knows himself and is comfortably his skin. I choose to imagine that somewhere on his travels he met an Andalucian beauty and chose to settle with her on this sunkissed Mediterranean bench. The edge of Europe, his home continent within sight, almost within touch.

And the chair, well it was just a chair one among many an eclectic mix of old and new, hand and factory made, barely two matching yet all of them so appropriate for this beach bar. A place so full of life that I can feel it now. The most battered, the least swish, of the few that I’ve seen somehow had the most attraction. And after sitting drinking for an hour I could feel the life blood seeping back into me. I could spend hours, days even, just sitting in this world of battered reed umbrellas just being.

The blue and green chair my new companion, nothing fancy just honest.

Chocolate

This piece was prompted by my choosing the word “chocolate” from a word hoard we created – in itself an interesting exercise in eliminating the ‘editor’ that so usually moderates the connection between our first thought and what we choose to communicate. For some reason the exercise reminded me of Wittgenstein’s concept of ‘underthought’.

Chocolate HeartChocolate

She won’t be thinking of chocolate right now, far too many other pressures and demands. It turns out to have been a greater present than I could have ever thought, bringing so many people (as well as so few) together in a melee of warm, moist, smelly, edible fun. The tables draped for protection, the carpeted floor covered, everyone provided with their own protective cocoon against the delightful mess. It started well, they worked together – mother and daughter finally in symbiosis; each knowing their roles yet helping each other. Brought together by a singular love.

The life intervened. What could have been a luscious future was torn apart in a single short conversation – he wasn’t bothered about customers, only to make money. Trust broken, relationship ended, thankfulness or thoughtfulness absent.

What’s to learn? Don’t rely on others, they risk letting you down? Look after your own needs yet be both in dependent and inter-dependent? It starts with love, then work follows on, then love wins out in the end.

So here is to chocolate making, life’s lessons enrobed in a crisp, dark, sensuous skin. Look beneath the skin, there is always something interesting once you break the surface. Break your own skin, encourage others to break theirs – you cannot find their fillings for them but you can help them. Sweet or spicy, coffee or crisp, milk or plain, we are all different.