Flamboyant Madrid Chef Finally to Bring Shocking Food to London Outpost
David Muñoz, who holds three Michelin stars at DiverXO in Madrid, is getting ready to open a restaurant in London.
If you've never tasted his food, prepare to be surprised.
"It is quite aggressive in the idea, the concept and the flavors," he says. "It's explosions in the mouth. I want it to be one gunshot after another when people come into the restaurant. I am absolutely intense in everything I do."
The planned StreetXO London on Old Burlington Street, in Mayfair, has been a long time in coming. It was originally set for June 2014. Muñoz blames construction delays for the long wait and says he may open in late June.
"I don't want to give a date because I've got it wrong so many times already," he says, and laughs. "But I was in London last week and it looks like we should be ready in three or four months. We are going to London to make something amazing, unbelievable, mind-blowing, but it is difficult. It's a big deal for us and I am impatient to get started."
Muñoz, 36, is speaking after the first night of a unique collaboration in Madrid with Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago, where each chef creates two halves of the meal in his kitchen, with guests swapping between dining rooms midway through dinner. Achatz has moved his entire team to Spain for a monthlong residency, with this first week given over to the joint meal.
Half the diners start in each restaurant. For those in DiverXO, it's a trippy experience: You are greeted by a young woman in a mask who escorts you into a room like a circus, with a glitter ball,and a man dressed in a gold lame jumpsuit, while two different musical soundtracks play simultaneously.
If that doesn't disorient you, the food might. Most of the dozen or so dishes he serves are designed to amuse and confuse: a traditional tripe stew is actually made with cod, together with Singapore-style chili crab. An homage to Madrid's Chinese restaurants features a frog's leg parading as lemon chicken. Black cod is in reality cod cheek coated in squid ink, served on a bed of pickled mussels and accompanied by a tofu spaghetti. The tableware ranges from an octopus to a rising-sun flag.
(The quietly spoken Achatz is similarly flamboyant when cooking: All the flavors of a hot dog are compressed into a tiny cube snack served as you enter his dining room. His dishes include red mullet served atop a painting by Joan Miro, which the food echoes with yellow-pepper coulis, basil coulis, squid ink, saffron mayonnaise and violet for the splodges and stripes.)
Muñoz is dressed in a fluorescent jacket you might describe as camouflage-style, but the colors are so bright he could only work in an acid-house rave. He's been described as the enfant terrible of Spanish gastronomy.
In photographs, he can look quite scary. In person, he smiles a lot. He's very friendly and not at all precious. He says that for all the theater that surrounds his dishes, his focus is always on flavor.
"The most important thing with any kind of food is that you put it in your mouth and you feel it is absolutely unique, tasty and powerful," he says. "I love to make a unique experience around the food. I want you to laugh, to have fun, to be surprised. I want to do a lot of things but the most important thing is the flavor."
He says his London restaurant will be a version of his StreetXO in Madrid, which is less elaborate and less expensive than DiverXO, with the average spending around 50 pounds ($71.50). Costs are kept down by having the chefs serve the food.
Muñoz spent about five years cooking in London after he moved there aged 23. He worked at several restaurants, including Orrery, Pearl and Nahm, but the main influences came from two years at Hakkasan and about 18 months at Nobu.
What does the future hold for him?
"I want to cook all around the world but I'm not in a hurry," he says. "I never miss a service in DiverXO, which is closed on Sunday and Monday, so every week I want to go to London on those days. And when London is right, we'll start to think about New York. We're looking at three or four sites in Manhattan. I think that will be for 2017 but we don't want to run.
"After that, we'll see. I don't want to open restaurants all over the world. I don't want to be a businessman. I have to take care of the business side because it's a very important part of my restaurants and my career but it's cooking that makes me happy. I want to be cooking."
DiverXO is at Calle de Padre Damián, 23, 28036 Madrid, Spain; diverxo.com
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines