DiverXO – Madrid, Spain
Asian inspiration meets Spanish execution. That sums up DiverXO neatly for me.
Shortly before our 2pm reservation, we arrive via cab at a short squat building in the Cuzco area of Madrid. The frontage is painted black and the windows are coated with a dark tint such that passersby can only make out the shapes and vague movements inside. Only the restaurant’s name rendered in gold Asian font lettering hangs beside the double black doors and discreetly announces its presence.
It’s much less gloomy as we step inside. Sunlight spills into the dining area from an inner courtyard filled with greenery. We are handed a menu with only three choices: Express consisting of a mere 7 courses, Degustacion with 9, and the full-blown DiverXO Degustacion with 11.
Apparently, the chef, David Munoz, guards his privacy with equal fervor as no photographs of the food are allowed. As a result I had to resort to using the voice recorder on my phone (ala Matt Damon in The Informant) as well as taking copious notes to memorize our meal.
First to arrive is edamame liberally sprinkled with sea salt and black sesame seeds. It is served in a white ceramic container resembling a giant Dixie cup crumpled on one side. With it is a bright citron colored ajada (garlic and oil emulsion) flavored with Peruvian chile. The heat is subtle and manifests itself at the back of the throat.
While there is no wine pairing, they do serve a pot of Chinese green tea with lime, raspberry, lily and other herbal flowers to go with the next few dishes:
An asymmetrical teardrop shaped glass holds a parfait of sorts — breadcrumbs on top followed by layers of béchamel, minced chives, tiger mussels brined in kefir lime, flying fish roe in soy. The flavors get sharper and more intense as you dig deeper.
Puntillo, egg white fried to a lacy crispness, rests precariously on top of a single siumai in an equally diminutive bamboo dim sum basket. The siumai’s translucent skin is made of wheat flour and, instead of the usual pork filling, it’s stuffed with morcilla (spanish blood sausage) and a tiny egg yolk (quail or pigeon?). This is meant to be eaten in one bite, but that’s only half the dish. Underneath the bamboo basket is a nice surprise — a piece of pig’s ear (about the side of a Ghirardelli square chocolate) is soft and gelatinous all over but slightly browned and crunchy on the edges. It’s served with a little spicy duck sauce and thinly sliced red onions.
A mini-siopao bun is stuffed with minced trumpet mushrooms and coated with a ‘milk skin’ all over. A translucent slice of Cecina ham is impaled on a metal flagpole that sticks out from the plate. It’s meant to be eaten together, providing a salty counterpoint to the slightly sweet bun and the savory richness of the mushroom. As for the kumato tomatoes lying below the bun, I don’t think they add anything to the dish since they’re out of season and quite tasteless.
Raw prawns pounded paper thin and cut into two translucent disks that are barely cooked by pouring a stream of hot oil over them. Underneath are small tasty mounds of tomalley from the heads. On top are minced chives and sesame seeds. A handful of micro greens dressed in oil and yuzu flank the disks on the right and a cup of hot creamy runny mayonnaise on the left. This is my favorite dish of the meal.
Next is a Spanish take on Singapore’s famous chili crab. In the middle is a txangurro made of buey de mar, a Spanish spider crab, seasoned with pimenton dela vera and chipotle chile. Beside it is a poached pigeon’s egg that is meant to be mixed into the shredded crabmeat. On the the left is a light and airy brioche sprinkled with more pimenton dela vera. On the right is half a fried soft shelled crab with a dab of aioli.
A chunk of wok seared monkfish glazed with soy sauce and five spices reminds me very much of cha-siew (Chinese barbecue pork). Wok searing seals the juiciness of the fish and while glazing is not a technique typically employed with fish since it tends to overcook them, I am told the chef has found a way to do this while keeping the fish still very moist. Sweet fat white asparagus dot the plate like tree stumps. Other garnishes are lotus root chips and small pools of black sesame paste.
Cuchinillo served Peking duck style. An impossibly thin crisp rectangle of Iberico pork skin lies flat skin side down on a miniature metal scaffolding. The skin is bisected by a line of hoisin sauce and topped with salmon roe and little chunks of cucumber competing with it for crunch.
Part II comes in a square yellow styrofoam box. Inside is an iceberg lettuce leaf and a chunk of steamed Iberico ground pork no larger than a golf ball, sprinkled with fried shallots, basil and mint. It’s served with an adobo flavored dipping sauce made of oregano, rice vinegar, paprika. Since Iberico pork is 80% fat, steaming renders most of it out. It’s meant to be eaten like lettuce cups.
The last savory dish features mounds of ox short ribs cooked in the oven for 24 hours at 80 degrees. Each mound is covered by a rice paper disk and surrounded by a sweet sour demi-glace made from its own jus. Baby (or fetus since they’re so tiny) carrots and mushrooms are strewn over the dish. Tamarind foam dot the plate like mini volcanic eruptions.
Ceviche of lychee with Thai basil ice cream and a meringue of lychee and roses. Little globes of finger lime from Australia provide bursts of citrus while strands of ito togarashi (Japanese chili pepper) perk up the palate.
A second dessert consists of three small logs of violet, white sesame and nut flavored panna cotta under a cloud of violet cotton candy.
Normally, I’m not a fan of Asian fusion menus nor did I expect to travel to Spain to eat it, but I’m not disappointed because this is certainly a fascinating meal. Each dish provokes a reaction: amusement, curiosity, delight, wonder. In some cases, one or all of the above.