South East Asian food with a Spanish twist is not for the faint-hearted, writes Sophie McIntyre, but if it’s flavour you’re after then you won’t be disappointed
A muscular man in a ringleader-style jacket pulls aside the iron doors and we descend the bronze stairs into the moody basement restaurant. House music is thumping and it feels like we have accidentally wandered into an S&M club – not a smart new Mayfair opening from a three Michelin star holding global super chef. Welcome to David Muñoz’s first London restaurant, Street XO in Old Burlington Street.
The cocktail bar takes up almost as much space as the kitchen and the dark punky interior is discombobulating – but that’s the idea. Glossy plastic-like materials in red and black dominate the expansive scheme – neon lights and bubble-like pendant lighting shed a few rays in the dark, clubby space.
Seated at the diner-style bar, the crew of young chefs manoeuvre and jiggle pans just across from us. Even the chefs are punk; dressed in heavily buckled strait-jacket-like outfits. One of the big kitchen characters Jhonny (who has an excellent Instagram feed) has even crowned his look with a striking pink Mohawk.
We chat to the team as we sip on experimental cocktails – mine a blend involving coconut milk, galangal and fish roe – fortunately, much nicer than it sounds.
The first dish they slide us across the bar is juicy pork dumplings presented on a sheet of parchment drizzled, Jackson Pollock-style, with an unusual strawberry Hoisin sauce – accompanied by spring onions and gherkins which cut through the pork and side of crispy scratchings nicely. Then it’s on to lettuce boats filled with pork belly strips and mussels with gingered mushrooms. My dining companion, decides to deconstruct her boat and tackles the pork and shellfish separately. Fair enough.
The food is South East Asian with a Spanish twist. A strong Vietnamese vibe is in evidence. Next are Bao-style buns with (more) belly pork and a fried egg. Soon after this taste of Vietnam, we are brought a smoky Gazpacho bowl served with roasted cherry tomatoes and a hugely rich grating of truffle – very continental.
The kitchen is kitted out with a charcoal oven, which burns only Spanish wood to infuse the deliciously charred meats and seafood with an Iberian flair. Langoustine flame on the grill in front of us and we tuck into a tender plate of deconstructed charred squid – complete with various purees and slightly-over-fiddly decoration (both garnishes a theme throughout the menu).
The flavours are not for the faint hearted. The Hoisin is a little cloying and sickly and my companion scrapes the truffle from her charred tomatoes, declaring it ‘far too rich’.
But you don’t come to the first London restaurant of Madrid’s infamously rebellious chef David Muñoz for a predictable experience. You expect your senses to be well and truly tested. Muñoz’s conceptual Madrid restaurant Diver XO has been awarded the rare accolade of three Michelin stars. And Street XO (pronounced ‘street show’) is an equally experimental offshoot, with a slightly more affordable menu.
After an Umani-heavy series of savoury courses (we also tried Rendang Tortilla garnished with Thai Basil and a heavily–dressed papaya salad – a little too slimy), we order an innocent sounding strawberry cake for pudding. What arrives is a sort of deconstructed baked Alaska: light ice cream with a separate and obscenely airy strawberry sponge on the side. The cream is also peppered with sharp fizzy jellies and small crunchy shards – the whole creation is Barbie pink, unexpectedly fresh and not at all saccharine.
After coffee, we take the industrially styled lift (complete with fluorescent warning tape) to ground level and are ushered through the weighty doors into the bright and breezy streets of Mayfair. Talk about a trip down the rabbit hole… If you want an unusual olfactory exploration of a meal, then you should take the challenge at Street XO. David Muñoz’s daring creations do not disappoint.
Sophie McIntyre is editorial manager at Spear’s