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68-78 Vicar Lane
“Obscure food in a fashionable environment” is one reader’s snapshot of The Man Behind the Curtain. Taking its name from a quote in The Wizard of Oz, this cool white space atop Flannels clothes store promises views over the city’s rooftops and a menu that throws down lots of boundary-smashing gauntlets: thrills and challenges abound as maverick chef Michael O’Hare conjures up a riot of cutting-edge Michelin-starred dishes – although the whole experience sometimes feels like performance art. At lunchtime, you can graze from a ‘rapide’ menu, but the real action takes place in the evening, when it’s all about ‘the permanent collection’ – a tasting extravaganza involving 10 to 14 ‘sequences’ (aka courses) running from Wagyu beef with olive juice to a dessert involving cardamom and lemongrass soup with chilli sorbet. In between, expect the unexpected as the chef conjures up tomato tartare with beetroot and macadamia nuts, ackee and salt fish with tripe dumplings, artichoke and brioche Rossini or bowls of birds’ nest and kimchi ramen. To drink, off-piste wines and wacky cocktails are the stars – in short, this place is a genuine one-off.
SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK 2018 is compiled using votes from our annual survey, last conducted in spring 2018. Thousands of readers took part and the results were moderated by SquareMeal’s editor and his nationwide team of professional reviewers. The UK survey does not include any restaurants in London. Click here for the full list of SquareMeal’s Best Restaurants in the UK.
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68-78 Vicar Lane
Leeds Station 1km
Moor Row (Hunslet) Station 2km
Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds 990m
Leeds Metropolitan University 1km
Fri-Sat 12.30-2pm Tues-Sat 6.30-8.30pm (Sat 5 - )
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 2
Yet another chef we felt drawn to visit on the basis of our impression of his TV persona and cuisine. Previously we had been mightily disappointed with the sole Michelin star restaurant in Leeds, now long defunct, and relied on an Italian place for our annual trek here. Clearly, going by the fact that to be sure of getting a table you have to book some five months in advance, Michael O’Hare seemed to be doing something right, however, he was not in the kitchen on the evening we dined here, so perhaps he was too busy being interviewed by the national press and criticising his paying customers for not conforming to his idea of fun people. A chef who believes he can dictate how his customers should enjoy themselves in his restaurant might well end up with only a few locals once the novelty of his fame has worn off. He might also consider that, firstly, one man’s fun could be someone else’s hell, and in the cavernous top floor ex-clothes shop premises the over-loud music could easily put some customers off their food, and, secondly, that you wouldn’t want to take photos of empty plates and photos are part of the “fun” for a lot of people. Some of the staff appeared not to quite understand what they were doing or how to engage with diners who were trying to get as much enjoyment as possible from the experience by asking pertinent questions and there was no obvious restaurant manager to guide them and the pouring of wine from an exaggerated height is just 70s flash. To an extent this was fantasy food, aimed at breaking the boundaries between visual expectation and taste surprise and satisfaction, and the “snacks” with which the meal commenced were examples of this. The raw Denia prawn cooked on the plate by having the barbecued brain poured on it was exceptional, the smoky octopus soaked in lemon and garnished with a paprika emulsion was tender and delicious, and the XO veal sweetbread served in a steamed bun was super. From then on we found ourselves mostly less than impressed. Tender beef in potato paper with a sauce made of rendered down fat and with olive bits added was fine, the sea-urchin sauce with parmesan noodles that became crunchy after contact with sauce was good, the Iberico lardo dish with quail’s egg and a crisp identified by the waitress as “siracko”, which turned out to be Txangurro, was neutral at best. The helping of the signature “fish and chips” seemed to be less generous than expected on the plate and it disappointed with the excess saltiness of the black cod and lack of any pseudo-deep-fried element. We liked the anchovy and the ash in the pork dish but the latter was tasteless and not what we could recognise as the Iberico version. An experiment in matching tastes and possibly purporting to be a palate cleanser combining caraway seeds and lavender and chocolate on over-salty pork rind simply did not work, but the potato custard dessert with very rich chocolate, very good violet ice cream and sweet beetroot vinegar did. The explosion of passion fruit in white chocolate was another throwback and didn’t appeal, and our coffee was not accompanied by petits fours. In the end, although we did enjoy much of the food, a restaurant where the dishes that remain in the memory are the starters is not providing a complete experience, and once the fine dining meets performance art element wore off and the paucity of wow-factor dishes hit home it became a question of how much style and how much substance?
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