February 3, 2015
Madrid native David Muñoz, now 34, and his wife Ángela Montero, opened DiverXO in 2007 in a somewhat seedy part of Madrid. After studying at catering college, he worked at Balzac and Viridiana in Spain and then in London restaurants Nobu and Hakkasan. Both are somewhat glitzy and feature Asian cuisine, which left their marks on him. DiverXO’s first Michelin star came in 2009; it was followed by a second star in 2011. DiverXO became a destination for foodies, but was not successful as a business; Muñoz could not find financial backing from the traditional Madrid business community to expand his funky restaurant. But that all changed in November 2013, when he was awarded a third Michelin star, the first in Madrid for eighteen years. Then he was sought out and was able to make an advantageous deal to have big space in a modern building housing a new NH Hotel. DiverXO moved there in July 2014. Linda and I went for dinner on January 21, 2015.
The décor is light, airy, modern, funky and designed for certain practical functions. (I’ll get to those gauzy hanging curtains later.) These were the two views from my seat looking right and left. We had the second reservation of the evening at 9:08, which explains the temporarily empty tables in the photo.
The peninsula in the middle has a lot of functions; diners at tables can feel part of the action, somewhat like dining at a counter. The big pot in the middle was always lightly steaming and was used to cook the shrimp dumpling shown below. The bulbous gadget on the right, which looks like R2D2, was a big ice bucket for white and sparkling wine bottles.
The young staff wore monocolor shirt and pants outfits, mostly green, but also black for cooks and purple for one honcho. They all did cooking prep work, plating, serving, adding sauces, granules etc at the table and acting as animators for the diners. Most spoke English in a heavy accent. As far as we could tell, we were the only non-Spanish speaking diners that evening and certainly the only ones over 60, maybe over 50.
On our arrival a thin tomato wafer with granules of something sprinkled on top was on each table along with dabs of sticky caramel. We ate bits and pieces of it as the meal progressed, although we were supposed to have finished it by the end of the first course when its underlying paper was removed.
We started with glasses of Juvé y Camps cava.
The menu offers a choice between EL XOW at 145€ and EL glutón XOW at 200€. It says:
“Two options that differ only in the quantity of food and number of dishes. Both are killer and unlimited.
Unique cuisine marked by intense sensations and raw creativity.”
While it might seem logical to take advantage of this opportunity with the big menu, we had been warned that it was a lot of food and took a long time. As it was, ordering EL XOW, we were there past midnight and were stuffed at the end.
Part way into the meal we were given a printed menu in English. The course descriptions below come from that. The Spanish version seems to be equally poetic and incomplete.
On top is a corn cannelloni; popcorn was placed on four dabs on the XO-patterned paper on the table in front of us; something gooey was squirted on them and we were told to eat them with our fingers. (Oshibori were provided.) Then two different croquettes were served. The second had truffles inside and was served alongside a very cold mixed glob that was eaten with a spoon so as to retain its sprinkled granules. Then a delicious corn, litchi and garlic soup. The course ended with a generous serving of black truffle slices on huitlacoche, sometimes known as Mexican corn truffle. This was really good.
Galician sea spider and spicy tomato. ” French tradition ” with goat butter. Bienmesabe (typical marinated fish from south of Spain) and black olives.
The “omelette” was delicious spider crab meat topped with hollandaise made with goat butter. The balls were black olive gnocchi. A tempura half of a marinated soft shell crab was served very hot; I think this was a substitute for the marinated snapper shark in the menu description. This excellent dish had strong flavors, so to clear our palates a genial cook came by with a container of frozen tomato powder. She popped a spoonful directly into our mouths.
When we sat down, we noticed two small shrimps dangling on a string over our table. Now a cook told us to stand up; he put a dab of something on each shrimp; he told us to slide the shrimp down the string and pop it into our mouths. Then we were served a large Denia shrimp and a shrimp dumpling on a thick saffron sauce derived from a Catalan fish stew. Denia shrimp are considered to be particularly good as the Mediterranean Sea is very deep off Denia and the shrimp feed on algae which have not been exposed to daylight. Very good course.
A ball of good Spanish shredded ham had been sauced with a reduction of ham cooked for 48 hours until it was like a caramel. We were told to eat this in one bite with our spoon. This really brought out the meaty essence of good ham. The second part of this course was like a moo shu pork. We enveloped the three crispy-skin suckling pig slices in the thin pancake with a dark sauce underneath and ate it like a taco.
Braised duck hearts were interleaved with grapefruit and tomatillos. The red hibiscus sauce gave the illusion of heat like a Japanese grill, but was really fruity and mild. Half way through this dish a server arrived with a warm, foamy glob of duck fat on a skewer and ordered us to eat it directly off the skewer right away. It enhanced the duckiness of this dish.
This course started with the cooked skeleton of a fresh anchovy on a bed of sauce. It crumbled as we ate it. I do not remember what was in the three little cubes filled with something red and topped with small nasturtium leaves. The second part of the dish had a piece of braised skate wing with the protruding hard “ribs” giving the illusion of a chop bone. It was served in a soup sauce that was the spiciest of the whole meal, which had happily not relied on too much heat for interest. Finally, there were newborn fish (possibly anchovies) atop a sandwich of something dark and fishy. (My sparse notes seem to have disappeared completely here. The dining room had filled up; everyone was having a good time and the noise level made it hard to hear the servers.)
A lightly grilled rectangular piece of wagyu beef had been coated in green. It was served with a crispy piece of fish skin. On the right was a papaya concoction on top of smoked eel, which we were instructed to eat after the beef. Alongside was a little hamburger to be dipped in the green fruit sauce. This was off the rails in inventiveness, but it worked for me. The underlying ingredients were all top quality.
White peach, white, white and tonka bean. Flowers, herbs and essences.
The center of the dessert was wedges of white peach foam. I do not remember what the other components were. My guess is that the little scoops of ice cream were the Tonka bean.
We thought we were done and asked for the bill. It was almost midnight, but these two mignardises arrived. The popsicle had various sorbets and what seemed like frozen mocha at the base. The cotton candy, which was not too sweet, covered a little cake.
Our evening was an excellent and unforgettable culinary experience. The cuisine and talents of Muñoz have nothing to do with the notorious molecular cuisine of famous Spanish chefs Ferrán Adria and Quique Dacosta. “There are lots of ways to be avant-garde, but I don’t do molecular cooking,” he says. “Diverxo is for people who love to eat.” Of current fashionable cooking trends, he is mostly locavore, with Spanish ingredients and traditions featured. On the other hand, he is not particularly seasonal; in January we had sweet corn, tomatoes and white peaches.
They say that genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. That seems to be the case here. Muñoz is known to arrive at work at 8:30 am and leave at 1:30 am. He frequently runs home at night. At the old location the restaurant closed on the rare occasions when he was not there. That no longer seems to be true. In November he ran the New York Marathon in 3:30 and cooked a four-hands meal with Matthew Lightner at Atera the next day. Muñoz obviously has the ability to motivate and inspire his staff. They were all working hard, enjoying their work and eager to see that their customers were enjoying themselves, too.
The printed menu which we received had seventeen dishes listed. I scanned the menu and show it below. The eight courses we received were circled in blue. Those who ordered the glutón menu received all seventeen. For one of the dishes, I do not know which one, the curtains on a circular track were closed around the table to create an intimate space. A candelabra was put on the table and lit. I took a telephoto of what we could see.
Canvas 1. “It’s showtime”. Vegetables and fungi “blue-black” with bufala ‘s butter . Sour-spicy, sweet, acids and umami. Corns, litchis and yellow aji.
Canvas 2. Maximum Creamy. Vegetal Spicy.
Canvas 3. Steamed “Infant iberico”. Black iberico ham. Unctuous and sticky
Canvas 4. “Green world”: Lamb sandwiches “sticky-crunchy”. Celery, wasabi, lime and green apple. Tonka bean olive oil.
Canvas 5. Sweet smoked eel and fried bechamel-kimchi-Ripollesa sheep with spiced and acidulated baby eel. Honeyed juices of baby squid and octopus with roasted tamarind, tobiko and “pochas”.
Canvas 6. Galician sea spider and spicy tomato. ” French tradition ” with goat butter. Bienmesabe ( typical marinated fish from south of Spain) and black olives.
Canvas 7. Red shrimps with two simultaneous cooking, it’s soul in the center. Fried eggs and juice of “suquet”.
Canvas 8. Cherished 10 seconds in the Sichuan wok. Creamy forest and Roasted dairy. Black garlic and crispy seasoning mullet
Canvas 9. Foie with sea urchins or sea urchins with foie? Reversible condiments in fermented chili and green tea. Frozen Margarita Pizza. MINIMALIST CANVAS.
Canvas 10. The love and the duck. Tomatillo, pink grapefruit and much, much japanese fire (Robata).
Canvas 11.Marbling red and papaya. Fish sauce and chlorophyll like condiment. Acids sensations, sweets, smoked and fruity…warm salad?
Canvas 12. Sea chop and Jamaican pepper. Spicy-sour cod and taro.
Canvas 13. Welcome to the Paris of 70. Too many complements to be appointed. Lamb shank with it’s juice infused with lemongrass and spices of Southeast Asia.
Canvas 14. “Bacanal Andaluza-Xo”. Liquid saladof almonds, black garlic, coconut and riesling tangerines. Smoked bonito belly with jalapenos.
And “caldillo de perro”.
And mini anchovies omelette and ginger. And riesling sour of tangerines.
Canvas 15. White peach, white, white and tonka bean. Flowers, herbs and essences.
Canvas 16. Petit Suisse and White Velvet. Jazmin and Spicy Sweet and Sour.
Canvas 17. Madrizzzzzz by Dabiz. Violets and black garlic, thai basil. Spicy explosions.
*Diverzo cuisine – New culinary current that blends Andalucia with different parts of the world under Diverxo prism.
**David sometimes uses the Madrileño diminutive Dabiz.
The restaurant’s website, including an amazing nine minute film: