If somebody said to you ‘it’s curtains for you!’ you would be well within your rights to assume that one of two things was happening. Either your death was imminent, or you’d just arrived in a home furnishings department. In some unfortunate circumstances, maybe even both. Today however, it’s neither of these things. Instead, I’m visiting the restaurant The Man Behind The Curtain, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Leeds, from the chef Michael O’Hare, who is the aforementioned man behind the curtain. Or so he claims.
I say this because tonight we will indeed be meeting the man behind the curtain, but it’s not who you think. Menes was an Egyptian Pharoah often credited as the founder of the First Dynasty of Egypt. We know few things about this period of Egyptian history, however one thing we do know is that this was the first time in history that fabrics had been hung across doorways, making Menes the man who oversaw the birth of curtains. As such, today I am going to be visiting The Man Behind The Curtain with the man behind the curtain.
I find Menes sitting in the restaurant’s entrance, a selection of sofas and lounge chairs attached to the main dining area. The room is huge. It feels futuristic yet industrial, as if it wouldn’t be out of place in Blade Runner. Menes however, absolutely would be out of place in Blade Runner. A short, topless man in a tall hat and golden necklace, he’s made himself comfortable and is enjoying a Rum Manhattan cocktail.
“Menes,” I say, with a nod.
“Andy,” says Menes. Our interaction feels a bit cold, but there’s good reason for that, as myself and Menes have history. It was the annual Dead Celebrities Ball, an event that I host every year to thank all the figures who have participated in previous blogs, as well as network with potential future celebrities I’d hope to dine with in future. This was back in 2021 when I published a remarkable one blog all year, so the ‘thanking’ aspect of the event that year was restricted to just Pheidippides, however I’d invited quite a wide range of other guests because as ever, I believed that that one blog would be the springboard to much more regular blogging. Menes was one of these people, primarily then because I was aware of his role as the founder of the First Dynasty of Egypt. I wasn’t even aware of his involvement in curtains at the time. Anyway, I was making my way around the room when I happened to stumble into a conversation that he was having at the bar with Ada Lovelace and John Stuart Mill.
“-so anyway, my own dogs started attacking me, so I hopped on the back of a crocodile and escaped across the lake. When I arrived safely on the other side, I hopped off and founded Crocodilopolis as a way of thanking that crocodile for taking me to safety.”
I let out an audible chuckle. Menes turned to face me.
“Is there something funny?” he said.
“Sorry, you said you surfed on a crocodile and then founded a city called Crocodilopolis. I thought you were joking.”
“Why would I be joking?”
“Well it doesn’t sound very believable, does it?” I say, looking at John Stuart Mill for reassurance. He avoids my glance. I guess in an argument between two people it’s hard to know how to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
“It’s just as believable as your story,” says Menes.
“What the hell is my story?”
“That Channel 4 gave you an award.”
“Channel 4 DID give me an award!”
“And I rode a crocodile across a lake and founded a city called Crocodilopolis!”
“Fine,” I said, frustrated. There was no point in arguing this and what did it matter anyway? I certainly wasn’t going to see this man again, not after this incident. Sadly, I was not aware at the time who the inventor of the curtain was, and had little choice but to invite him for this soirée.
“I must say I was surprised to receive your invite,” says Menes, taking another sip of his Rum Manhattan. “I assume you became aware of my history with curtains.”
“I did,” I say, somewhat through gritted teeth. “What a legacy you have.”
It’s now that we’re told our table is ready, and we’re ushered into the main dining area, where we’re given the first of our courses, an oyster paired with a strawberry broth. I’m not especially into oysters, but this one is very pleasant. Shortly after this comes our next course, which is much more to my tastes, given as it is, mostly potato. This is followed by a tuna handroll with truffle and wasabi. Again, it’s a nice, light and tasty start to our meal.
“So, I’m guessing you’re in Leeds for work,” says Menes.
“No. Why would you assume that?”
“Oh, I just thought Channel 4 was based here now,” he says, smirking as he takes another sip of his drink.
“Ok, so we’re going to have this argument are we?”
“All I’m saying is there’s absolutely no evidence there ever was a ‘4Talent Awards’. It even sounds made-up.”
“Whereas there’s plenty of evidence that you sailed on a crocodile?”
“Why else would I call it Crocodilopolis if I hadn’t sailed on a crocodile!”
“To make people think you had!”
“You know what? I’m going to prove this to you the only way I can. Once we’re finished here, we’re going to go down to the river, and I’m going to ride over it on a crocodile.”
Menes downs the rest of his drink and signals for the same again. “Ok, and where exactly are you going to get a crocodile?” I ask.
“You think I can’t rustle up a crocodile at short notice? I founded Crocodilopolis!”
“You know this was meant to be about curtains, right?”
Menes shrugs, and with that, our next course is served, a tiny, raspberry sugared donut with a duck liver pate.
“We should at least talk about curtains, since you’re supposedly the man behind the curtain at The Man Behind The Curtain,” I say. “We need to give the people what they want.”
“And what you think the people want is a man who invented curtains discussing curtains at a place with ‘curtain’ in its name?” says Menes. “I can see why Channel 4 would shower you with awards. But fine, what do you want to know?” he adds, taking another bite of his donut.
“I guess how did you come up with them?”
“It wasn’t difficult. There was nothing there. It didn’t take a genius to say ‘we should have something to stand things on.’”
“Stand things on?”
“Yes. What’s better to stand things on than a really sturdy curtain?” he says, knocking on the table. It’s then that I realise, this man has absolutely no idea what curtains are. He didn’t invent them, that’s just a lie to give himself an exciting legacy. I already suspected that his crocodile story wasn’t true, but this just seems to confirm it. As such I am now confident that this evening I will be going down to the River Aire in Leeds to watch a man be consumed by an angry crocodile who does not want to be ridden. The question now is, do I say something?
“You know I invented writing too, right?” says Menes. “So actually anything you’ve ever achieved has been thanks to me. You’re welcome.”
No, I don’t think I will, I decide, as our next course of aged beef arrives. It’s a beef tartar dish, which again is a new experience for me. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s as good as cooked beef, but I refrain from giving this feedback, as I don’t believe that me asking a famous chef if he’s considered cooking his beef would be any more helpful than if he came to me and asked me if I’d considered not being a depressed shell of a man. Still, our next course could bring a smile to anybody’s face, served as it is in a truly unique way.
“Ring, ring! Hello, prawn?” Says Menes, picking up the prawn that sits upon the telephone served in front of us. To his credit, as much as I dislike the man there’s no doubt that holding a prawn to your face and pretending it’s a telephone receiver is undoubtedly A-grade comedy material. Beyond its comedy potential though, the dish is also delicious, which isn’t always the case in a dish designed to be so visually striking. We enjoy that, followed by the seventh of our fourteen courses, a refreshing iced tomato consommé. We’re halfway through now, and everything has been wonderful.
“Excuse me, I’m going to the bathroom,” says Menes. I use this moment to order myself a Rum Manhattan. It looked great when Menes had it, and I do love a maraschino cherry. I sit there sipping my cocktail when our next course arrives, scallop and lobster in a Thai bisque. They do say that the courses will come out as they’re ready (which makes it sound more Wagamama than it is), but this wouldn’t have been a problem had Menes been back already. I want to enjoy the food at its best, so tuck in whilst it’s hot, and I’m glad that I do, as this might be my favourite course so far. The bisque is just the right level of spicy for me (which is to say, not too spicy at all), and goes wonderfully with the scallop and lobster. It’s a real delight, as I’m sure Menes will agree.
Except he doesn’t, because he still hasn’t returned by the time our next course comes up. This is perhaps the most famous of all the courses, having featured on The Great British Menu back in 2015. At its core, it’s essentially fish and chips, a piece of cod topped with crispy potato, and seasoned with dashi and vinegar. I’m not usually a fan of basic dishes done ‘fancy’, as often I find that the basic dish can’t be improved upon. This most often happens with desserts. It’s the ‘law of eclairs’ as I have only once called it just now, where the fancier an éclair becomes, the worse it gets (I have tried many a fancy éclair, but I would say that not one has yet been better than a standard M&S chocolate éclair). Here though, it’s more of a tribute to fish and chips than a fancy version, and it’s delicious. It’s a shame that Menes is missing it. Where the hell is he?
I leave the table and head towards the toilet. As I open the door, I hear a familiar voice.
“Look, all I’m asking you to do is come to the river dressed as a crocodile! Well, I don’t know where you’ll find a costume! Buy something, make something, I don’t care! You owe me, you remember? You owe me! Just be there, ok?”
With that, he hangs up and I quickly close the door before he notices me. I get back to the table before he returns.
“Sorry about that, what did I miss?” He asks. I point at the two dishes that have been sat waiting for him while he was gone, which he quickly gobbles with gusto. “Very good. It’s important to get as much energy as I can now, ready for later.”
“Yes of course, I think we’re all excited about that. Hey, maybe you should invite more people. I’m sure others would love to see it.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“How about John Stuart Mill? I bet Mill would love to see it.”
“Mill is busy.”
“Busy with what?”
“I’m just going to give him a call and see,” I say, dialling the number for the afterlife. “John Stuart Mill, please.” There’s a short silence whilst I’m connected, and then I hear Mill. “Mill, it’s Andy from Dead Dining and… The 4Talent Awards,” I say, giving a look to Menes. “What are you up to in an hour or so? Well what are ‘Mill things’? Ok, fine, never mind.”
“I told you.”
“Look, I know you’re lying about all of this stuff. You don’t even seem to know what curtains are.”
“How dare you say that, while I’m sat right here at the curtains!”
“This is a table. Those are curtains,” I say, pointing at some fabric hanging nearby. “If you’re lying about the curtains, I know you’re lying about Crocodilopolis too. Just admit it, and you don’t have to go through with this.”
“Never! Now let’s finish this meal and get down to that river so I can show you.”
Our next course is a squab pigeon with a rhubarb hoisin sauce, served on a star-etched plate. It’s nice, but not my favourite of the things we’ve eaten tonight. With that, we’re through to the beginning of the desserts section. First up is something truly unique, a chocolate dessert with a potato foam, topped with lavender puffed rice. Somehow, all these ingredients combine in a way that works fantastically, making me wonder whether we should be using potato more often in desserts. After this we’re served a tiny passionfruit and praline cupcake which is a refreshing little delight, followed by a tasty little stroopwafel. After this comes an exciting ‘petit fours’ section, whereby they bring out a tray of various coloured macarons, and we have to decide which one we’d like to eat without any information, choosing purely based on which colour we like the look of. I choose a blue macaron and Menes goes for gold.
“What flavour did you get?” I ask.
“Coconut I think,” says Menes. “You?”
We decide to share our macarons. Just because we have an ongoing feud that doesn’t mean we’re savages (though I admit my definition of a savage as being ‘one who won’t share their macarons’ is perhaps the most middle-class thing I have ever said, and that’s coming from somebody who has spent this review extolling the virtues of potato foam). Menes nods. “Bubblegum,” he confirms.
The staff later come over to try and tell us that it was actually blue raspberry, but all I’m saying is that I know what I tasted, and it was the most bubblegum flavour I’ve had since Hubba Bubba. As such, it looks like I’m taking another grievance to my grave. Our meal now concluded, it’s been a wonderful experience, but now it’s time for the main event, and off we go to the River Aire.
As we take the short walk down to the bank of the river, I notice Menes looking anxious and even a little despondent. It’s no surprise really, since his supposedly legacy is about to be blown apart. I find myself feeling sorry for him. As somebody who also feels like all of their glories are behind them (the aforementioned 4Talent Awards) I know how it feels when somebody questions those things that you look back on so fondly. As such, I somehow find myself rooting for him. Maybe he really did ride a crocodile over a river and found Crocodilopolis in honour of that event, and even if he didn’t, wouldn’t it be great to see him now live out what may be his wildest dream?
This hope is somewhat dashed when we arrive at the bank of the river to be greeted by a six foot ‘crocodile’ standing on its hind legs, that gives us a wave when it sees us approaching, evidently forgetting the whole charade that’s going on here, then suddenly remembering and dropping on to all fours. “Wonderful, my crocodile is here!” Says Menes, gesturing to what is quite clearly a man in a green body suit, dressed in the head of a dragon. The crocodile responds with what can only be described as a half moo, half roar sound, which is evidently what they think a crocodile sounds like. I so want this to be a success now though that I don’t say anything. “Right, are you ready for this? Let this be the end of all debate on this matter,” says Menes. The crocodile crawls into the water, and Menes jumps onto its back, immediately knocking the dragon head off to reveal John Stuart Mill underneath. All of us steadfastly refuse to acknowledge it, and so I watch as Menes and Mill tediously thrash around in the water, meandering slowly and ungraciously from one side to the other, water flailing everywhere like it’s a beginner’s swimming class where instead of a pool float you’re holding on to the writer of On Liberty. Against all odds, after what feels like two hours but is probably closer to ten minutes, they somehow make it to the other side, cheering and hugging as they make dry land. “I told you so! Crocodilopolis!” Shouts Menes. I still don’t believe he’s ever done this before, but I clap for them anyway. It’s a heart-warming reminder that we can defy expectations and achieve our dreams, even when nobody believes in us. As I reflect on my own achievements, I realise that maybe it’s time to let go of the 4Talent Awards and stop reminiscing about the past. It’s finally time to have my ‘Off-Air Radio Winner 2008’ tattoo removed and move on to something better.
“Menes, I’m coming over!” I say, as I wade into the river. He and Mill wade back in from the other side, and before we know it we’re all splashing about and laughing together in the River Aire.
“It’s time I let go of my 4Talent Award and moved on!” I say.
“Oh Andy, we both know you never actually won a 4Talent Award though, did you?” Says Menes.
“Yes I did!”
“No you didn’t!”
“I won for a series I wrote that got commissioned for E4 Radio!”
“E4 Radio? Do you even hear yourself? There’s no such thing as E4 Radio!”
“Yes, because it got canned because of the 2008 recession and the credit crun- you know what, you’ve ruined this moment. I’m getting out,” I say, as I wade out of the river again. Overall…
9/10 – Delicious, fun and unique food.