Madrid-based chef David Muñoz, holder of three Michelin stars for his flagship restaurant DiverXO, has always been known for his energy and dedication. Since opening in his home city in 2007, he hasn’t missed a single service, and the incredibly rapid turnover of ideas in his head means the menus, known for their unusual combinations of ingredients, could change at any time.

But 2014 has really put his seemingly boundless energy to the test. July saw the reopening of DiverXO afterits much-hyped relocation to NH Collection Eurobuilding in central Madrid, in October he opened a new casual street food restaurant in London under his second brand StreetXo and late November saw the relocation of his first StreetXo outpost. All the while, the committed 34-year-old has maintained his ever-present record in the DiverXO kitchen.

The biggest news for Muñoz and the restaurant he started together with his wife and partner Ángela Montero Díaz in a tiny space in an obscure location in 2007, is that he’s finally found a spot where he believes he can bring out the true potential of DiverXO: the NH Collection Eurobuilding.

The central Madrid location is the DiverXO’s third incarnation. For the second, in 2009, it moved from its original premises to a nondescript street in a working-class district of the city. It had only a 220m2 footprint, which in reality was far too small for the 30 staff he employed to look after the same number of covers. But space limitations didn’t stop Muñoz and his team from making a serious impact on the Spanish capital’s culinary scene.

Success was not only delivered by DiverXO’s food but also by the unique experience the tiny restaurant strived to create. Diners could expect combinations of ingredients as diverse as strawberries and squid, or piglet and white chocolate, and eating implements were not restricted to the traditional knife and fork. Meals could take several hours, servers might rush to add an ingredient to a customer’s dish when they’d already started eating and the décor was anything but ordinary. Think black butterflies on the walls, sculptures of pink flying pigs with wings on the tables and a line of huge metallic ants leading the way to the dining room – all on a background of understated grey and chrome.

"It’s going to be like Cirque de Soleil. Everything – the service, the food, the decoration – everything in it is going to be totally changed."

Despite – or perhaps because of – the extreme nature of the restaurant, especially when compared with the traditional feel that has historically typified the dining scene in Madrid, success in the form of worldwide recognition and three Michelin stars came quickly – the third was awarded in 2013 – and a table at DiverXO is now one of the most sought after in Madrid, with a six-month waiting list.

Progress waits for no man, however, and Muñoz couldn’t be more excited about the changes being made at DiverXO’s new, much larger location, which opened its doors in July. "The main idea of the restaurant is going to be the same," he says, "but so many things will change. I wanted to make a completely new and unique gastronomic experience, even on the decoration side, so we are making a restaurant that is going to be just everything about the imagination; more than ever, it’s going to be like Cirque de Soleil. Everything – the service, the food, the decoration – everything in it is going to be totally changed."

The new DiverXO is white and beige, as opposed to grey and chrome, and occupies a space of around 500m2, more than double the size at the previous location, but its capacity has only changed slightly, with the addition of a couple of extra tables to give it around 40 covers. Thanks to interior designer Lázaro Rosa Violán, the design is as eclectic as ever, featuring wooden panels with papier-mâché winged pigs on the walls, white leather armchairs and a platform in the centre of the dining room where all the plates receive their finishing touches.


Complements of the chef
Crucially, the changes that have been made, as well as those that are still ongoing, are not at the behest of Muñoz’s new partners, the NH Hotel Group. The chef still operates his restaurant independently, just with a bit of extra support and space, which he says was absolutely necessary to take DiverXO to the next level.

Hugo Rovira, managing director of the NH Hotel Group for Spain, Portugal and Andorra, confirms that the restaurant concept remains entirely in Muñoz’s hands. "This is an agreement that has never been seen before between a hotel company and a restaurant, from which both parts will make profit due to a splendid synergy as equals," he says.

"DiverXO works together with NH, and apart from the fact that David and his team will move to our facilities, David will continue being the emblem and the stronghold of his restaurant and his brand. From NH Collection Eurobuilding, he will continue to offer gastronomy without boundaries – distinctive, unique, cutting edge and very radical."

In a nutshell, Muñoz explains, the deal struck means that NH charges him a low rent for the space and has made all the investment for the new location. In exchange, the hotel group gets a three-Michelin-starred restaurant, the only one in Madrid.

Muñoz believes it’s not just DiverXO and the NH Hotel Group that are going through a period of evolution: his hometown is, too. "Everything has changed," he declares.

"The Michelin guide is probably starting to be something different. We should ask them, we’ll see."

While Madrid has always been a city with a huge variety of restaurants, the establishments that used to be successful were generally expensive and traditional. "People are starting to understand that everything happens with a big talent and not necessarily with big money," Muñoz believes.

DiverXO is an example of this. The restaurant hasn’t been profitable since its launch in 2007. Food costs have typically accounted for about half of the restaurant’s overheads, and all the rest has gone on rent and payroll. Against this backdrop, it managed to really catch the attention of the famously conservative Michelin inspectors.

"The Michelin Guide is probably starting to be something different," Muñoz grins, before adding that he wouldn’t presume to be able to predict the future. "We should ask them," he laughs, "we’ll see."
Nonetheless, he does think the food and the service offered by DiverXO are different to those that would normally be awarded a third Michelin star, and that it may have been this uniqueness that swung it for them.

"A restaurant deserves a trip from the Michelin inspectors because it is something unique," he explains. "I don’t think we’re much better than anyone else, it’s just that what we’re doing in DiverXO only happens in DiverXO."


Street smarts
Muñoz’s next project – the opening of street food concept StreetXo in London, where he lived for five years earlier in his career – will be similarly singular. Although it will have the Cirque du Soleil feel that has made DiverXO so popular, Muñoz emphasises that it will be a concept and brand in its own right. "It’s not the second man of DiverXO. It’s another main brand in the XO group."

StreetXo, which is much more casual than DiverXO, began its life in 2012 in the heart of Madrid, where Muñoz opened the first branch in the gourmet food hall on the ninth floor of high-end department store El Corte Inglés on the Plaza de Callao. Essentially a street food cafe, the Madrid branch sees diners sitting on stools around a small open kitchen area, where they listen to house music and watch an enthusiastic team of young chefs cook Asian-inspired meals to order.

The London outpost, which is set to open in 2015, will be a more extreme, much larger and, most importantly, "crazier" incarnation of his original street food concept.

Set in a 400m2, there will again be a central open kitchen where chefs will interact with diners. But there won’t be any waiters at all: a handpicked selection of 20 of the best chefs from Muñoz’s team in Madrid will cook and serve their customers from a regularly changing menu consisting of 12 to 14 dishes. There will also be a huge bar serving cocktails and champagne, as well as a roving trolley stocked with one-off creations.

Incredibly, Muñoz plans to spend as much time as possible at the new venture, all while continuing never to miss a service at DiverXO in Madrid.

"The day has got only 24 hours, so it is quite tough to be doing everything at the same time," he admits, adding that he’s only been getting about four hours sleep a night since winning his third Michelin star. "We’re very busy with the restaurants, and we are trying to attend to media, reviews and everything else on top of that." This is not enough for the young, ambitious Muñoz though. "Now, we’re trying to make an agreement to move StreetXo to Asia at the beginning of 2015," he reveals. "We’ll see if it’s Hong Kong, Macau or Singapore; it will be one of those cities for sure."

For the lucky new location, it’s time to get prepared.