Restaurant Review: The Man Behind the Curtain

Keeping Mr GFB’s birthday treat a secret was a task.

I’m normally open – talk to anyone about anything. Keeping other people’s secrets is easy, but mine? Especially something I was so darned excited about was downright hard. Especially when friends were visiting The Man Behind the Curtain all the bloomin time and raving about it. I was certain my face was going to give something away, or after a drink or two too many, I’d say something.

But I did it. I kept my mouth shut.

And so it was I took my new dress from Lady Voluptuous out with Mr GFB for a dining experience. I may be slightly in love with the dress and may have pranced around the Victorian arcade in it. Thank god Mr GFB is patient.

The Man Behind the Curtain is set above Flannels in the city centre, and you enter via the shop, where a chap on security stands amongst pretty clothes and shoes. I must admit to getting distracted by a pair of stillettoes much to his bemusement.

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Dragging myself away from the florals and polka dots, we entered the shop and walked to the lift at the back of the store, and headed up.

Now, I was nice and didn’t shoot 101 pictures of the space upstairs. But, think 1980s New York loft apartment. White walls, wooden floor and mixed media artwork on the walls by Schoph – a link to his own images of the walls is here. (As an aside, I really like his more recent geometric style stuff).

Staff are dressed all in black and there are a plethora of skinny jeans and pointed-toe shoes. It really felt like I time travelled in the lift to 1980s NYC. As someone who was an 80’s kid, I can’t describe it any other way.

Unfortunately, due to being a little under the weather, I was off the booze, bar a quick pre dinner G&T, which of course, was no ordinary G&T. Beefeater 24 is the gin of choice and you can choose from a selection of ‘flavours’. Picking violet I received a bright purple drink with a touch of violet to complement the gin. Mr GFB was able to indulge in a Manhattan made with Woodford Reserve, before he indulged in matched wines with dinner.

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Dinner wise, you’re given a hint of what to expect, but chef does reserve the right to change things at will – as things may well not just change and adapt, but also things move in and out of season and availability. Given what we’d heard from friends, we were definitely excited.

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First, a trio of lovelies, to get the tastebuds working. Ceviche of mackerel atop a bowl of ice, chicharron with pistachio and disappearing ravioli.

The fish was delightful. Fresh, gently ‘cooked’ and wrapped in choy leaf, it showed off the flavour and texture of the fish, without it being overly oily, or intense. It was a mere morsel for the mouth. The chicharron was light, probably the lightest I’ve ever had (and I do like a bit of pork skin done this way), it was almost tissue paper light, with dabs of rich, buttery pistachio on top.

The ravioli was a whole heap of fun. Wrapped, (I think, my notes are limited) in a potato starch envelope that you dipped into your drink to soften before biting into it, releasing the fruity, bitter olive flavours.

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The sense of excitement continued with our next course – oysters that had been loosened from their shells and very gently cooked in its shell – ostensibly to encourage your to chew and savour them, rather than just swallow. Each had it’s own pearl of oyster essence – a shell encasing a liquid made from liquidised oyster, and dressing, that popped pleasingly in your mouth filling it with marine flavours.

Oh yes. Our tastebuds were most definitely awake now.

Mr GFB sipped Exmoor Drive Semillion with his first two courses – a light, citrus filled white with hints of herbs from New Zealand, while I moved onto water. 2015-04-17 19.26.08

And onto the first ‘real’ course. Red mullet, perfectly cooked, with merguez oil, roasted garlic puree, parsley oil and nasturtium. The fish had a deliciously light charred flavour, that went well with the broth it sat in and the herbal notes of the oil and nasturtium. The garlic puree was again full of flavour, but light, the real creaminess you get from a softly roasted bulb, as opposed to the harder astringent flavours. If I’m honest, had I been at home, I’d have tipped the bowl to my face to consume the last dregs of liquid. But I was in polite company (and in full view of the rest of the restaurant), so refrained.

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The next course looked stunning, an artistic piece, on top of a piece of red textured perspex. Beneath the black ‘ash’ lay a poached egg and herb paste, topped with charred ash and edible shell. The egg was soft and the yolk soon soaked into the bitter ash – much like a poached egg on burnt toast. The shell was intriguing. It seemed almost milky, I can’t put my finger on it, but it reminded me of something. One day I’m going to shout out eureka like an idiot and figure it out.

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What followed was again visually stunning and completely at odds with the flavours in your mouth. It was fish and chips – but not as we know it. Poached cod in a dashi made of it’s skin was hidden beneath crisp potato, and all covered with a powder made of malt vinegar and squid ink. One of my favourite dishes of the evening, this was worth the visit alone. And Mr GFB enjoyed it with a glass of Vouvray Chenin. Lucky boy.

But of course, we weren’t finished yet.

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Duck followed the fish, served with charred pineapple, beetroot cake, rice paper and pineapple tuille. The duck was perfectly tender and I loved the contrast of textures, but coming after the previous dish it felt overshadowed.

My favourite course appeared next.

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Veal sweetbread, with black truffle, madeira sauce, parsley cake and apple blossom. Stunning. Tender creamy sweetbread, buttery umami truffle, rich madeira, and herbal parsley, with the crisp light sweetness of the blossom. This was sexy, this was texture and flavour playing with each other and creating something that made me yearn for a quiet room, and another plateful.

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Our final savoury course. Stinking Bishop encased in a protective sugar coating, that allowed it to be gently warmed, sitting atop pickled diced tomato. As big cheese lovers, we were looking forward to this, but it was a tease. The flavour of the cheese was so fleeting, as the sugar and pickled tomato dominated. Blink and you’d missed the heavy sour cheese.

Onto desserts and here I have to say I struggled a bit. Including the petit four, we had three chocolate courses. I like chocolate. But I felt a little bit cheated. Having experienced what had gone before, why wasn’t there more variation? Perhaps, that’s selfish of me, but though the courses were lovely, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Mr GFB was more than happy, as he has a massively sweet tooth and loves chocolate.

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First, a lemon curd, coated in chocolate, with a burnt chocolate crumb, sherbet and lemon and cascara water. I liked this a lot – I’m normally not a fan of fruit and chocolate, but the floral flavours from the cascara and the bitterness from the burnt chocolate crumb made it a balanced, but textural dish.

The next course, which I failed to get a picture of was a milk chocolate and lavender with toasted rice and sweet potato. It was lovely – again, the florals with the creaminess of the sweet potato and the chocolate were lovely, but not a patch on the cascara.

And because I’m and idiot and failed to take a shot of it, you can see the cascara dish again.

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Replete, we sipped tea and coffee from beautiful cups and saucers. If someone can tell me where I can get some like these, I’d be thrilled, as both myself and a few friends rather loved them.

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As our final mouthful – the wafer thin mint of the evening – we had a passion fruit cupcake – edible in it’s entirety, paper cup and all.

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The base was a chocolate ganache, the centre a liquid passion fruit bombe, topped with cream, freeze dried berries and pistachio. An intense sweet, chocolatey hit. And sadly, not for me at all.

Overall, it’s an experience not to be missed. Yes, there may be courses that aren’t to your tastes, but the ones that are, are so divine, created with skill and presented so beautifully, you have to go. At least once.

There’s nowhere else like it.

Square Meal

All food and drink consumed was paid for by myself and Mr GFB.

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