Glamour and delight at TMBTC
Okay, look, if your tasting menu is described as “12 courses” and two of those courses are the petit fours, you’re actually grasping a bit. I’m just saying. Felt a bit silly ordering a second glass of dessert wine in anticipation of another dessert, only to have it put in front of us and then be asked “and would you like a coffee?”
I’m picking holes. We basically loved our meal at The Man Behind The Curtain and would go back. But there’s an important caveat for those of you with a healthy apetite: even I was tempted into a bag of crisps when I got back to our hotel after the meal. The portions are modest, but boy are they packed with flavour. Flavour and pizzazz. Lots of pizzazz.
Beautiful akee hake throat
You can see this in the first dish out of the blocks, a glistening oyster on the shell with a vivid green mojito dressing and a big fake pearl sitting on top. As well as the lime and oyster being a winning combo, the cocoa butter pearl filled with oyster emulsion made the whole thing a terrific statement. Setting the stage, kinda thing. Among our next bites were a vivid red oriental-style bun filled with some beautiful veal sweetbread and XO sauce, really eye-opening. But just in case you’re thinking it’s all show: the next bite was of hand-massaged octopus, a technique followed by only the most diligent sushi restaurants to get octopus of just the right texture. Really scrumptious with caper, lemon and a paprika emulsion – one of those “skip the rest of the menu, I’ll have a plate of this please” moments. And just to emphasise chef Hare’s winning originality: the third bite was raw wagyu beef with gordal olive juice, which turns out to be just a genius pairing of flavour and texture.
Black cod, inky shadow
The next three courses were all fishy and all superb. Salted hake throat – yeah, hake throat – had the taste and texture of raw prawn, and was slavered with a wonderfully spicy akee sauce. Raw langoustine was pepped to superbness with an intense green curry sauce. The black cod had been baked to perfection and topped with crispy potato dramatised with black squid ink and vinegar powder. The vinegar a bit relentless for me, but then Maureen loved it so it’s all to taste.
This was one of those meals where most of our conversation was about the food we were eating. That’s a good meal.
More dramatic plating of the main course; four or five tiny bites of ox cheek with little dollops of truffle, parsley and mustard sauce to dip them in, all served on dark ceramic with twelve little dips in it (surely intended as an escargot dish originally?!). This was just a bit tiny for me, and those three spare dips in the dish were crying out for maybe three cubes of roasted turnip or something else bitter and vegetal to balance the sticky loveliness of the meat.
Tiny space-age main course
Loved the pudding. Chocolate cunningly disguised as a crumpled bit of silver foil, hiding a wicked violet ice cream and scattered with delicious potato puffs. There are far too many tasting menus that can’t carry the sheer invention and balance into their puds – either too insubstantial or too sickly – nice to find one that’s just right. There was a little after-pud which I enjoyed even more: a sorbet-based muddle of flavours that all sang a chorus of summer together; cucumber, strawberry, lychee, lime and basil. The petit fours were good too.
There’s no way you’ll find another tasting menu with this level of invention and skill for the knock-down price of £75! No wonder bookings are running months in advance. And the wines by the glass are terribly reasonable too. Hm. I haven’t even mentioned the bonkers punk-graffiti interior or the quirky location above a clothes shop, have I? The food was too distractingly good.
The Man Behind The Curtain