Sorry for the radio silence. We were away for 2 weeks in glorious Spain, and have only just managed to find the time to write about some of our amazing gastronomic experiences there.
The best meal of the trip by far, and quite possibly the best meal we’ve ever had, was at DiverXO, David Munoz’s one-Michelin star restaurant in Madrid that combines Asian flavours with Spanish ingredients and techniques. David and his wife Angela, who runs front of house at DiverXO, are huge fans of Asia and Singapore in particular, and have brought their unique flavours to the World Gourmet Summit in Singapore twice.
I have to admit that being fanboys of Anthony Bourdain, we came to know about DiverXO after watching the No Reservations Madrid episode. Reservations are apparently essential, so I called 30 days before our requested date and managed to snag a reservation.
There is no a la carte menu, just 3 degustation menus – 7, 9 and 11 courses for 75, 100 and 120 euros respectively. Since we were on vacation and figured we wouldn’t be back in Madrid any time in the foreseeable future, we decided to go the whole hog and ordered the 11 course menu. Note: DiverXO doesn’t allow any photos of their food, as they feel that the element of surprise contributes quite substantially to the overall dining experience. As each course appeared and we were blown away again and again, I do see their point, so I’ll just try to describe the courses as best I can.
1)Edamame with a Peruvian chilli aioli
This wasn’t really a course, but a little teaser, similar to the complimentary peanuts that you get at Chinese restaurants. This was served in a cute little ceramic flower pot that looked like it was crumpled on one side. The aioli had a subtle but very distinct heat.
2) Tiger mussel with béchamel sauce, tobiko and topped with breadcrumbs
This was the official amuse bouche. It arrived in a little teardrop-shaped glass, with each ingredient layered almost like a parfait. There were some hints of soy sauce, but the béchamel sauce and breadcrumbs made it taste surprisingly like a typical gratinated baked mussel.
3) Fillet of hake with fried duck tongues
This is where the meal started getting really interesting. The hake was cooked perfectly, and flavoured with Sichuan pepper, which is more flowery than just heat. The duck tongues were a revelation – light and crispy, with a little bit of bite and not greasy at all.
4) Smoked tuna belly with bottargo and fried wontons
The tuna belly was again amazingly cooked – smoky and creamy at the same time. The fish was served with a black garlic puree, and topped with sheets of dried bottargo and fried wontons. Each tiny wonton was filled with a quail’s egg yolk, and my first bite into one of them, with a rush of oozing egg yolk, was just sublime.
5) Potstickers (guotie) with langoustines in a chicken broth
The guotie were filled with chicken and shitake mushroom, and to recreate the texture of the seared end of a guotie, these were steamed with a crisp circle of pastry attached to each one. They were served with poached langoustine, in a rich chicken broth.
6) Steamed bao stuffed with minced trumpet mushrooms
More unique dimsum inspired dishes, this uses a light Spanish flour to create a really fluffy bao. It’s coated with a light milk skin, and served with a thin crisp slice of ham jerky. Eaten together, the saltiness of the ham, sweetness of the bun and the savoury mushroom filling complement each other perfectly.
7) Peking “duck” part 1
DiverXO’s take on Peking duck is a slice of Iberico pork crackling in place of the usual duck skin. The thin crisp crackling is topped with cucumber puree and a hoisin sauce made from cherries. It’s amazing how each bite really tasted like a Peking duck pancake.
8) Peking “duck” part 2
This was served in an old-school Styrofoam burger container, and featured Iberico pork collar formed into a burger patty, and served Vietnamese style with a rice paper wrap.
9) Red prawns “fried backwards”
This is another of their signature dishes. Raw prawns are pounded paper thin and cut into two discs, which are then “fried” by having hot oil poured over them. Under the discs is a puree made from the flavourful head juice from the prawns.
10) DiverXO’s chilli crab
Angela herself came out to explain this dish to us, saying how they love Singapore and how inspired they are by our street food here. Their take on chilli crab uses Spanish pimentone in the sauce, and the egg element is provided by a poached quail’s egg. The crab, which is just the meat from sweet Northern Spanish crabs, is plated separately, along with a fried soft-shell crab. Finally, their take on the mantou element for mopping up the sauce is a light, buttery brioche. Amazing; best chilli crab ever, and it’s in Madrid.
11) Glazed monkfish with purple potato sheets and white asparagus
The monkfish was wok-seared, and apparently while glazing tends to overcook and dry out fish, Chef managed to find a way to glaze the fish while still keeping it moist. No s***. The fish was so impeccably cooked it was ridiculous. The purple potato came in the form of cellophane-like sheets that melted in your mouth leaving a distinct potato chip flavor.
12) Stewed beef with “non-fat fat”
This was the last savoury dish. It featured beef short ribs that were slow-cooked for 24 hours, then topped with a rice paper disc that’s meant to mimic the mouthfeel of fat without actually being fat, hence the name.
13) Raspberry chewing gum
The first of 3 desserts, this was a little rectangle of gelatinized raspberry paired with yogurt.
14) Violet ice cream with marshmallow
It took us a while but we finally figured out what this dessert reminded us of – ice cream potong!
15) White chocolate balls with celery foam and lime sorbet
The celery foam was a bit disconcerting at first, but the flavours of the chocolate and the sorbet more than made up for it.
Service was outstanding. Despite a slight language barrier, the waiters described each dish very well, and their easy banter made the meal that much more pleasant. The timing of the kitchen was also perfect. Each dish followed the next with just the right intervals, giving us enough time to marvel at the dish we just ate and to cleanse our palate, without any perceptible long wait in between courses. Despite the number of courses, somehow the courses were timed so well that we both only felt full at the same moment – right after we had our second bite of the beef stew, which incidentally marked the end of the savoury courses.
I think the reason we loved DiverXO so much was that it wasn’t just innovation for the sake of it. At the heart of it all, besides all the creativity and interesting techniques, it was just damn good, really tasty food.
Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. One of the best meals I’ve ever had. And the monkfish was definitely the best cooked fish I’ve ever had. A must-try if you’re in Madrid (and can get a reservation). We’ll be trying to get seats for his next cooking engagement in Singapore.