It’s difficult to decide whether to write about DiverXO as doing so feels like I am betraying a closely guarded secret. Much like The Fat Duck, its not just about the food, it’s a theatrical experience in itself and one that is incredibly difficult to put into words. Dinner at DiverXO is a lot like falling into a tank of electric eels- there is an initial shock followed by apprehension as you wait, senses heightened to see what will happen next. It’s fine dining, but not as you know it.
So, go and look up DiverXO and if you decide you might go then step away now as there are spoilers to come….
Chef: David Muñoz
World Ranking: 96
Michelin Stars: 3
Upon arrival at DiverXO it’s difficult to not feel as if you are stepping into a theatre or an elaborate circus. We began by walking under large spinning discs and upstairs lined with giant silver ants. We had booked a table a year in advance as the 12 table restaurant is known not only for it’s Michelin starred food but for it’s unusual presentations and leanings to punk rock. Translation? It’s a cool place to be and hard to get a table!
A tour of the kitchen was an unexpected treat and we were guided through a sea of red curtains before visiting each of the preparation areas and being talked through the ‘ideas’ board where new dishes are created. (It’s worth noting that I have no idea if everyone walks through the kitchens before being seated but all of the staff were exceptionally friendly and said hello as we passed through)
Walking past a long counter headed up by a large pig sporting wings and a mohawk we were more than bemused when a curtain was pulled back and we were seated at a round table, even more bizarre the curtain was then drawn around us and we sat completely encircled by heavy black curtains on which there were eyes of various animals and the more than familiar eyes and toothy grin of the Cheshire Cat (Disney’s Alice in Wonderland). We sat, all eyes on us and waited for the show to start.
Although we had seen a few videos online, we hadn’t really known what to expect as the menu is not published, instead our host gave us two options and we went for the longer menu despite the warning that it could take about 3 hours.
I was tempted to just write about the highlights of this menu, but that would involve deciding which dishes were less deserving of comment than others and in all honesty- I don’t think it’s possible to separate them so instead, I will cover each one briefly and hope to capture the most important points of each dish. Bear with me on this, there are a lot of dishes!
Viva Mexico Cabrones!!!
We kicked off with a glowing plate of peas, green tomato and fennel with a generous shaving of fresh truffle, it acted as a palate cleanser but without feeling like a perfunctory dish, it was part of the menu rather than being there just to fulfil a role.
The highlight of this section turned out to be one of our favourite courses of the night, the bull tail sandwich with black mole was packed with flavour and left us wishing we could have more- honestly if there was an option to order additional courses or to take something home with us we could easily have eaten several of these in one go. Imagine the most intense food craving you have ever had, and then the feeling of it being fulfilled. That is what this dish achieves with its crispy shell and ‘lick-the-plate-clean’ sauce
The next plate baffled me at the time as its dense mushroom flavour is something I am not normally fond of but it was surprisingly pleasant- I also had never heard of huitlacoche and was a little shocked to read this when I later googled it:
Corn smut, fungus, Mexican truffle — these are just some of the aliases of huitlacoche (pronounced WHEE-tala-coach-A). But what exactly is this soft, spreadable and dark-as-night ingredient? In simple terms, it’s a plant disease that grows on ears of corn around the kernels in puffy, gray clouds that look kind of like river stones. Taken from FoodRepublic.com- read the full article here
After eating these dishes, it became clear that the menu would be a bit of a culinary tour of the world and that the ingredients on offer would be an adventure in itself, it was at this point that I realised that we really did have no idea as to what we would be eating, it’s not that often that we get exposure to more unusual ingredients delivered in such a refined way so this served as an excellent introduction.
A little more truffle and a puff of sweetcorn set us off on the next stage of our journey as the a green sea beamed at us from the table. My tolerance for heat is quite low but the jalapeno gazpacho sat within my comfortable range, softened by cubes of bacon ice cream and topped with Tonburi, a seed often known as ‘land caviar’ due to its appearance. It was at this point that we were presented with our ‘snake cutlery’ another little twist that kept the imagination running during the courses.
Suckling pig with deceptive ‘peanuts’ followed- I hadn’t realised before putting one into my mouth that they were not real nuts and instead cleverly formed crisp shells concealing a soft peanut cream. It threw me a little but in a pleasing kind of way. The skin on the pork was so fine it almost shattered as you bit into it and the cockles unexpectedly sweet yet not lost against the saltiness of the other elements. This was one of those dishes where you want to try each item individually, but then cannot help but try to get them all onto one forkful in order to get the full experience of them amalgamating together in one go in your mouth, I felt like I carefully rationed out the peanuts to make sure I got the best mix of all of the ingredients only to then realise that the dish had almost been plated with this thought process in mind as there was just enough to go around.
The title of this dish initially appears deceptive as there is no papaya to be seen however, the elegant plate was served with a little something on the side, probably for the first time in my life, my dinner came with a glass pipe…. Against the rich complexities of its accompanying plate this little pipe was full of light, vibrant flavours. Sharp burst of flavour and a playful display helped keep the ‘expect the unexpected’ feeling going but again, didn’t feel in any way contrived or unnecessary.
We finished with a bowl packed with the most intense chicken flavour, that somehow stood out on its own but didn’t overwhelm soft crab or the smoked salmon fins. The trout roe added a pleasant extra dimension although typically neither of us are huge fans of it. In this instance, the pops of flavour worked well against such a rich flavour and enhanced the seafaring items on the plate.
7 dishes down..
At this point we were given a little Sherry to drink- I’m not normally a fan but it was suitably pleasant and went well with the previous dishes.
Yumcha XO Style
Yum Cha is a Cantonese tradition of serving tea and dim sum or small dishes, in preparation for this our table was reset and a music box arrived at the table playing soft, oriental sounds which washed over the restaurant background music (Spanish versions of popular songs from across the decades- we had a lot of fun trying to work out what the original songs were.)
To our table came a traditional steamer however this was hidden behind a cloud of dry ice. Our server encouraged us to look through the different layers and seek out our dinner. Hidden within we found a selection of treats, dim sum is a bit of an obsession for me at the moment although Jordan isn’t as much of a fan (apart from when we went to Lung King Heen in Hong Kong).
We started with Guinea fowl with a creamy, spicy Peruvian Huancaina sauce and a crispy chicken skin wafer that was like a souped up version of a scratching that you would buy in a real pub. A dark dumpling with a red wine skin was as rich as the beef tail earlier in the menu and just as satisfying. One of the standout things from this menu for me was how well the flavours of the red meats were developed, I sometimes think that there is too much reliance on the power of a meaty flavour in its own right- which is fine and should be celebrated but to experience well cooked meats that are are drenched in complementing flavours without losing the essence of the meat itself is a real treat.
The pigeon was just like this, tender, still gamey but supporting all of the ingredients accompanying it. The ‘Peruvian Robuchon’ was a little tricky to eat but only because I was intent on getting every last bit out of its bone marrow housing. I’ve not been to Peru, but I sure as hell want to go now.
King of the Prawns
Deserving of its own title come two prawn dishes, I may be somewhat biased as prawns are top of my ‘want to eat all of the time’ list right now but I confess I am still squeamish about them sometimes, no matter how tasty they are. First up was a fragile tube of ‘macaroni’ made from Thai basil, served with a ossobuco sauce and shrimp bolognese which was joined by a warmed piece of sashimi. When explained to us, I wasn’t sure how this soft little seafood would a) turn into bolognese and b) hold its own against something like ossobucco. I don’t know why I thought this because I was completely wrong, the sashimi ensured the delivery of the prawn flavour whilst the bolognese still carried the taste of seafood but with more depth and meatiness from the accompanying sauce. It worked together in harmony with the basil acting as a final lift on the spoon. I suppose it’s surf and turf really but that seems like underselling something that really deserves more.
Wasting nothing, the prawn shell came next, on a bed of prawn powder and with prawn crackers on the side and a touch of tomato. I have no idea how prawn powder is made but it was delicious and I found myself licking a finger to mop up the remnants as if they were the coating left behind in a bag of crisps.
13 courses down…
The Whopper: How does a “Whopper” taste in Diverxo?
Of all the things I expected to find on a menu, a reinterpretation of a Burger King Whopper is something I would never have been able to imagine and whether it was the execution or the knowledge of the famous burger to which it paid homage to, it really did remind me of a paper wrapped indulgence.
The burger was nothing like you have seen before, a sticky dark sauce of gochujang (I had to google this, turns out its a Korean condiment) wrapped around a tube of “duck royale” with five spice. I don’t think of either of those things when I think about a Whopper (or duck heart!) but it really does work. The chives somehow morph into lettuce and the soft inside of a brioche becomes the bun. Most surprisingly of all, just as you think you are finished, you are presented with a skewer of crispy “fries” which, in this instance were spicy deep fried duck tongues delivered to the table with impeccable timing.
Honestly- It was the best Whopper I’ve ever eaten. I love reinventing food but its become a bit old hat to ‘deconstruct’ things all the time, I much prefer this take of ‘what does it taste like’ rather than ‘what should the ingredients be. Again, you can’t help but wish you could take this home with you. Diverxo has this knack of making complex things seem homely yet exciting. There are an abundance of rare or unusual ingredients but they feel at home on the menu, whilst the theatre certainly adds to the experience Diverxo is not about style over substance. Its 100% all about excellent food delivered in a creative way- I’d just as happily eat the whole menu on my sofa in my pjs as I would sat around a table wrapped in a curtain of peering eyes.
This section follows on from the Whopper but takes a more traditional direction and I suppose is a series of main courses that reflect further travels. Next up came a classically presented langoustine accompanied by xo sauce and kimchi (both very popular at present). This was the most delicate dish in terms of appearance and really did champion the langoustine which was soft and sweet.
My assumptions about moving on to a more ‘traditional’ dishes didn’t last long- the next dish followed an earlier theme and used the remainder of the langoustine but this time, the head meat was presented atop a plate that came complete with its own tongue, playful and inventive this immediately refocused attention. With 30 courses, the visual treats certainly help overcome any diners fatigue and this was a light, bright dish that acted as a bit of a mid menu reviver.
We prodded and poked our empty tongue plate until it was replaced with one of the most notable seafood dishes of the menu, a whole stewed squid with smoked alioli, bone marrow, fish roe and curried calamansi – a type of citrus. We had had a lot of really good squid of late and this was no different. Bone Marrow is one of those acquired tastes that I’ve grown to enjoy over time and its buttery texture worked well with the texture of the little squid, the plating was simple but lets face it, a full squid will always look a little exciting.
We Want Plates!
Ok, in this instance maybe not but I will certainly be sending a video to them on Twitter! This is the first time a dish has been ‘plated’ in my hand and the experience was an odd one. The theory comes from the chef David who recalled an experience of eating fresh sea urchin pulled straight out of the water and opened out onto the palm of his hand, the memory was a strong one and the story goes that he wanted to recreate that feeling of something being as fresh as it could be. If I had one complaint it would be that there was maybe too much uni for me to eat in one go (I can’t think of a bigger #firstworldproblem and do feel like an idiot for thinking it!) Flavourwise though, it really was incredible and featured finger limes which we first tried in Australia this year and I have since been trying to find at home, those bursts of citrus are essential against the creaminess of the urchin topped with a liquorice and black garlic jelly that added a darker, more savoury flavour.
19 courses down…
We got a little drink at this point too- a reinterpretation of a pisco sour. It was made with Mezcal and Tonka bean, i was surprised at how refreshing it was but it also tied many of the previous dishes together.
Tastes like home:
Birmingham is (rightly or wrongly) the home of many a famous Indian dish so as the courses progressed we moved into two recreations of some of our home town favourites. Firstly a tiny copper pan of masala lentils, curds and coconut topped with chlorophyll. Masala is a very familiar taste and lentils a greatly undervalued ingredient, they were just firm but not grainy and steeped in flavour. To the side we had smoked caviar, this did seem a bit indulgent albeit the saltiness balanced well against the spices. It wasn’t an essential addition for me but it does make things seem more luxurious n.b Alex Alata of D.O.M makes some interesting points about luxury in his episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix . It’s worth a watch
At Gaggan earlier this year, we were impressed to see a version of a British Classic on the menu in the form of a reinvented Chicken Tikka Masala. So it was interesting to make a comparison to the DiverXO take on a Butter Chicken dish. It particularly amused me when our waitress asked where we came from and after telling her we lived in Birmingham told us ‘that is where this comes from!’
It was delicate and elegant, but in no way traditional, the frogs leg was impeccably tender and the miniature poppadom and mango chutney a clever touch. You might not find it on the menu in a curry house but it was authentic in its use of spices and the simple presentation served it well.
Not wanting to undersell any of the dishes, but again there then followed a few more ‘main courses’
A chef arrived at our table to plate our Yakitori sea bream that had been cooked on the Hibachi grill, this meant that the skin was superb and the combination of the pil pil (I think with salt cod) and chorizo sauces were both creamy yet with a little kick to them.
Salad with a difference
Salad can be wonderful and increasingly people are putting a bit more effort into it, that said its a pretty difficult course to get excited about. When told our next course was fresh lettuce with roasted bream sauce (note the reuse of ingredient to transition between dishes again) I half expected a fish dish with garnish, what arrived however was a beautifully tied bouquet of lettuce with a dipping sauce. Yes, it was essentially just a dressed salad but the little roll of leaves made it into more of an experience.
The husk of a coconut was re-purposed as the setting for our final fish dish of the evening, beneath the foam lay further sauces and a meaty skate wing (confession- I tried to eat the bones)
Finishing off was one final carnivorous treat, plated as an XO and featuring a crisp black ribbon, and Wagyu Sirlion. A radish Chantilly was an interesting addition here but lets face it, uber tender beef that gives way under the knife paired with light spices is always going to be a winner. I licked the sauce clean from the plate and even tried one of the pickled mushrooms (omitted from my dish as I typically can’t stand them.
25 courses down…
The Finale- a fantasy sweet world
Pudding. I know I should say dessert but in my mind, what I am really thinking is pudding but that never sounds quite as sophisticated. I have a bit of a sweet tooth but generally would prefer a plate of cheese over something sweet when it comes to a long dinner so when savoury flavours are introduced at this stage of a meal I am pretty excited.
First up was Kakigori a shaved ice dish from Japan that turned out to be a frozen version of a Tom Kha gai soup (Thai/Lao) with lemongrass, chilli, lime and guava. The shards of guava were served added at the table and reminded me of shattered glass. Adding this burst of colour certainly made the dish more visually appealing but the texture was equally satisfying. This was a surefire winner for me and reminded me of an incredible cocktail we once had in Bangkok. Thai flavours lend themselves to this kind of dish that melts away as soon as it touches the tongue. On a hot day, I’d take this over a 99 Flake any day.
The best dessert I have ever had..
I feel like this is quite a bold statement to make (especially after trying the Snow Egg by Peter Gilmore earlier in the year) but honestly this was the most unusual, suprising thing I’ve ever eaten and visually stunning. I dont think I can describe it really, Coconut ganache, black garlic, blackcurrant bubblegum, basil, liquorice, yuzu Ice cream and coconut ashes. It almost sounds made up and certainly looks like it should be hanging on display in a gallery rather than being on a plate. Not only are the flavours complex, a little challenging but also refreshing but this invokes *so* much nostalgia as a result of the bubblegum flavour- its not a taste you ever really forget or expect on a good menu (those bubblegum drinks and freakshake abominations shouldn’t exist in my opinion) but it was truly incredible. If I could recreate one dish in my life, it would be this- just to see the look of shock/pleasure/confusion pass across someone else’s face all in one go. Love. Utter love for this concoction.
It’s pretty hard to do anything impressive after that, in all honesty I could have happily finished at that point but instead we had an interesting dish based on cereal milk as a replacement for the wasabi on the menu (great really because I dont like wasabi) Cereal milk had the same playful nature we had seen elsewhere in the menu and actually, as it was getting quite late by this point it reminded me of coming home and eating bowls of cornflakes before bed when I was younger. It was simple, elegant but still delicious.
As if we hadn’t had enough surprises for the evening- this arrived next. I am pretty sure this was dreamed up after watching too much American Horror Story
This is another dessert- concealed beneath the cone was a wibbly flan of cotton candy topped with a sriracha and vanilla sauce. And of course, it came with a twist- this is a ‘look no hands’ dish so you have to pick up the creepy face and pop the whole thing in your mouth in one go, making sure not to miss out on the beetroot powder.
I’m not going to lie, it was pretty difficult not to play with the bowl, pretend it was real or just stick things in its mouth. It all felt a bit perverse yet great fun at the same time.
Finally, course 30. As we ordered a strong coffee to see us home the last dish arrived, dainty, elegant and reasonably traditional this was a little like being given a glass of hot milk to take up to bed. Cookies and milk flavoured mochi and a tiny croissant it was comforting and seemed like a natural signal that it was time to go home
And we are done..
I still think despite how long this post is it really doesn’t do justice to just how good DiverXO is not just as an experience but in terms of quality of food. The aesthetic is very appealing but the attention to detail is what makes this so special. It’s not just about assembling a list of dishes in a semi-organised manner, the menu is well thought out, challenges the diner and most important makes you feel like you are important, like the experience is there just for you and that they really want you to sit back and take it all in. We were there for a long time, but it’s totally worth missing out on a few late night cocktails when you can have this instead.
I have so much more to say about DiverXo but it will take some time to truly let it all sink in.
DiverXO was booked in July 2017 for a June 2018 table.
Dinner: €500 (€120 deposit payable in advance)
NH Eurobuilding, Calle de Padre Damián, 23, 28036 Madrid, Spain