FEW places came with such anticipation and the chance to disappoint.
It had been six months since I’d interviewed Spain’s chef-of-the-moment Dabiz Muñoz back in 2016, at his restaurant DiverXO… and this was the first available Saturday booking.
Back then, the man with the Mohawk had just won his third Michelin star in almost as many years and the first for Madrid in over two decades.
Describing his food as ‘brutal’ and ‘like porno’, he had understandably been bombarded with media requests, not to mention 100 times as many calls for bookings.
It was something of a blow, to say the least, that after driving all the way to Madrid we hadn’t even had a sniff of his food (nor even a glass of water) during the interview.
Egalitarian in the extreme, he had explained that ‘not even David Beckham or Princess Letizia’ could get a table that month. Getting in line was ‘our best option’… apparently a method Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had utilized when he ate there last month.
Having waited six months for a table, we arrived – for once – 10 minutes early to be led through, literally, an army of waiters (around two dozen, no exaggeration) to our table with David’s trademark piglet upon it.
DiverXO has been described as like entering a ‘magical world’ and the first genuine stroke of magic was our waiter Tobias, steering us away from the 11-course menu to a very reasonable seven-course affair, costing just 115 euros a head, cheap by three star Michelin standards. (NB. Check prices today as they will have probably gone up.)
Even when we told him we had deliberately eaten lightly for lunch, he still insisted we took it. A brilliant piece of advice (not just for the wallet) as it turned out.
Next came the exceptionally good value wine list, where we chose a bottle of champagne for €35, followed by a bottle of exception white Meursault ‘Les Tillets’ for €50 and a Spanish wine Dido, from Montsant, for just €27.
I am not going to give you a blow by blow breakdown of what we ate, but I can tell you the seven courses often comprise two or three dishes each, with new layers added as we went along.
Inspired by journeys to the Far East, his years in London (including celebrated joints like Hakkasan and Nobu) and, above all, his love of native Madrid, David has created a new way of eating. Fact.
The simple explosion of flavours on the canvases, as he calls them, the pure joy of what is being produced, be it meat, fish or vegetables, made this the best meal I have ever eaten in Spain… and like nothing else myself or my well-travelled friends had experience before.
Forget Ferran Adria’s creative acumen, the panache of Dani Garcia and the crazy science of chefs like Heston Blumenthal (I have tried all three), this is simply a display of passion, a true love of food.
The fact that David has not missed a service for six years and refuses to open if he is not in the house, says it all.
He is completely driven to find the perfect meal for his punters and the menu changes weekly, daily, sometimes hourly, depending a little bit on the guests.
So short of references for his food before handing him the landmark three stars last year, Michelin’s bosses sent no less than 10 inspectors from around the world to run a rule over him.
What is guaranteed is fun. We laughed right through the meal and a large part of DiverXO’s success must go to its wonderful waiters and sommeliers, who definitely enhance the experience.
Their sense of theatre is impeccable; their style (all dressed in black with little piggies on the back) is hard to beat.
When we finally meet David afterwards, well into the early hours, his face streaming sweat and his team still smiling and jumping around behind him, it is clear that this man really is a find.
Still incredibly young, enthusiastic and friendly – and looking forward to opening a restaurant in London this Autumn – this man cannot be kept down.
One thing for certain, this should keep Spain a head and shoulders above the French in the culinary stakes for the next ten years.