db’s resident foodie, Lucy Shaw, heads to madcap mohawked Madrileño David Muñoz’ London venture StreetXO in Mayfair for a rollercoaster ride of a dinner.
The concept: Davíd Muñoz is the enfant terrible of Spanish cooking and one of the country’s brightest stars. Having gained valuable culinary experience in Asia, in 2007 Muñoz opened his first fine dining restaurant, DiverXO, aged just 26. Six years later he’d won three Michelin stars at the envelope-pushing venture, which has earned him comparisons with Ferran Adrià and ElBulli.
Keen to appeal to a wider audience, in 2012 he opened casual concept StreetXO in Madrid, offering a more affordable version of DiverXO inspired by the street food he discovered while working in Asia. After two years of planning, the StreetXO concept has finally come to London, having taken up residence in a basement on Old Burlington Street in Mayfair.
Pekinese dumplings with crunchy pig’s ear and strawberry hoisin
The décor: Not for the faint hearted, or the hard of hearing, the restaurant has a clubby vibe. With its black interiors, low-hung industrial lighting and thumping dance soundtrack, it feels like you’re dining in a nightclub. To make the most out of StreetXO, leave prejudices and assumptions at the door and just go with it.
This isn’t a restaurant for the politically correct – chefs and waiters wear straight jackets and Muñoz’ popular Pekinese dumplings looks like something you’d see in an episode of Dexter, the dish’s blood spattered base made of dangerously addictive strawberry hoisin.
The best seats in the house are up at the counter, where you’re given a front row seat to the action. Your clothes will end up smelling like smoky bacon and all five of your senses will be assaulted but it’s a thrilling experience that leaves you feeling thoroughly entertained.
The food: Around 80% of the staff at StreetXO are chefs, so even if you don’t manage to sit up at the counter, you’ll most likely be served by a chef at some point during the evening. Presented on a single sheet of paper, the menu is formed of 15 wacky sounding dishes, all of which are designed to be shared.
The flavour combinations offer an insight into Muñoz’ mad scientist personality. You can almost imagine him sitting down to write it, unencumbered by any pressure to conform to culinary norms. Though he hates the term ‘fusion’, the majority of the dishes blend the best of Asian and Spanish cuisine to great effect.
One of Muñoz’ most delightful efforts was a simple barbecued scallop served in its shell with ponzu, apple blossom and a kaffir lime reduction. Worth sniffing before you eat it to enjoy an aromatic blast of lime, the Thai flavours lift the smoky, silky scallop into a rarefied realm of deliciousness, proving that simplicity is often best.
Croquettes with kimchi, sheep’s milk and toro tuna
Another triumph of texture and flavour was a prettily presented grilled squid and papaya salad inspired by the beaches of Bangkok and Andalusia. Squid is so easy to get wrong, turning rubbery if overdone, but this was impossibly silky, having been confidently cooked for exactly the right amount of time.
The crunchy peanuts and sour tang of hibiscus added interest to the squid, which could have easily worked as a solo act.
Also winning on the fish front was a chunky tentacle of grilled Galician octopus that was as juicy, tender and smoky as I hoped it would be, having seen dozens plated up in front of me over the course of the evening alongside a vivid green olive emulsion.
Signature dishes: There are three dishes you have to try if you visit StreetXO: the dumplings, the croquettes and the twist on a club sandwich. Served on a sheet of greaseproof paper, the silky duck dumplings come with a salty strip of crispy pig skin and pickles to cut through the fat.
The sweet-salty interplay from the strawberry hoisin makes for an indecently moreish combo. Greedy diners are given little red spatulas to scrape the remains up with, which is well worth doing.
The deceptively simple looking croquettes are perhaps Muñoz’ most accomplished creation. Blanketed by a strip of toro tuna, the crunchy morsels explode in your mouth, filling it with creamy molten sheep’s milk in a layered taste experience where the tuna asserts itself on the finish. Be sure to order more than one or you’ll end up feeling short changed.
The club sandwich meanwhile, is messy to eat but rewards with a decadent medley of gooey egg, salty sucking pig and piquant creamy mayo, proving you can still deliver maximum flavour without skimping on the fun factor.
The drinks: Pleasingly for a cocktail fiend, the drinks are given equal importance on the menu as the food. In fact, many of them feel like meals in themselves. Devised by bar manager Nikolai Clerk, the highlight on the ‘liquid cuisine’ menu is the Tokyo-Jerez, which blends palo cortado Sherry with miso, shiso, yuzu and Lapsang Suchong tea.
Served with the head and tail of a shrimp, you’re advised to suck the head first then swirl the tail in the cocktail to bring out its flavour. The tangerine-sweet yuzu and nutty palo cortado pair perfectly in this refreshing sip.
While I admire the experimentation on the drinks front, some of the crazy concoctions pushed the envelope too far for me. Served in what looked like an exotic sea creature with transparent tentacles, the Yellow Curry fused saffron, ginger, lemongrass, cumin and basil and tasted like a green Thai curry left to go cold.
Instagram hit the Liquid Madrizz meanwhile, married gin with a violet shrub, lime, ginger and jasmine perfume and taste like liquid Parma Violets, perhaps proving that Spaniards tend to like their cocktails much sweeter than Londoners.
Who to know: Super friendly and informative assistant head chef Jonathan Setjo, who manages to out-mohawk Muñoz with his giant neon red number, will talk you through the ingredients and intricate cooking processes that go into each dish.
Also look out for affable and utterly charming general manager Tim Chatelet who will do the best he can to secure you a seat up at the counter.
Don’t leave without: Ordering the salty and sweet kulfi (if you’ve still got room) – the lilac edible flowers make it one of the prettiest puds in London.
Last word: StreetXO isn’t for everyone but I admire its confidence to completely be itself rather than losing its individuality by trying to people please. The restaurant is unashamedly loud, brash and irreverent. You’ll leave with your ears ringing and clothes smelling of smoke but this is part of the fun.
It isn’t the kind of place you’ll keep going back to, but for a snapshot of some of the most creative, exciting and darn right tasty dishes in London, it’s unmissable. Just make sure you take someone with an open mind, hearty appetite and healthy bank balance as dishes hover around the £18 mark.
StreetXO, 15 Old Burlington St, Mayfair, London W1S 2JR; Tel: +44 (0)20 3096 7555