Wednesday 28 May 2014

DiverXO, Madrid.

I'm not a very good food blogger. Tell us something we don't know, you're saying. What I mean is that I just find it difficult to review and describe every single course on an immense taster menu like the one we had at DiverXO recently. It's enough to photograph everything, and of course drinking wine throughout the meal makes it all a bit of a blur anyway. If you want a beautifully written fully detailed review check out Elizabeth on Food's recent post here. Hopefully though I can add our own personal experience to the mix.
I've been trying to make sense of our meal at DiverXO for a few weeks now. It was probably the most similar experience to El Bulli 10 years ago. It was shocking, confusing and incredibly intense. It blew our minds, it was all a bit much frankly. We left thinking, what just happened? We also spoilt our 'preparation' which is most annoying. We can only really afford just one three star meal like this in a year. After previous mistakes, we pride ourselves on getting ready for these things like Olympic athletes for the 100metre finals. (Or perhaps the marathon may be more appropriate). But we made our first mistake when we went to Street-Xo and La Gabinoteca for lunch. It was a rather large lunch, we were only in Madrid for a few days but I thought that if we finish eating at 3pm and are not having dinner until 9pm that'd be enough time. For any other meal then yes, probably. But this is epic, and nothing could quite prepare us for what lay ahead.
DiverXO is quite unassuming from the outside, our taxi driver didn't spot it, it's moving location soon anyway. We were shown through the preparation area and onto a lovely corner table with a fabulous view over to the kitchen. Just being here was a miracle in itself, we made the reservation several months previously and we were very lucky even then. The interior is stark and modern with cute model pigs with wings everywhere and black butterfly patterns stuck to the walls.
A beautiful Albarino the sommelier recommended.
We went for the full 11 course menu for €170. This was called the 'Peter Pan & Wendy Menu'. Indeed. It started off with a playful "It's showtime" A beautiful little corn, popcorn and "sour spicy explosions, umami, sweet and acids". This essentially involved us throwing little sweets making them splat on the 'canvas'. The food is served on white canvas like boards. All this is a fair indication that we were not in any conventional Michelin Star restaurant. 
The first proper course was a Coconut soup with clams, scallops and beans served in a half coconut. It was pleasant enough though it didn't blow us away. Then we were told you can eat the coconut 'flesh', it was plastic gel like with very little flavour. 
We really enjoyed the Sardines course. It is quite confusing though as all too often, they'd add extra bits, occasionally telling you; don't eat the bit yet!' In this case, they sprinkled tiny little crispy sardines over it at the table.
Kokotxas pil-pil was a stunner of a dish. I asked on twitter the other day if you could get Kokotxas (hake or cod throats) in the UK, it seems difficult but not impossible. It's another one of those things that the Spanish tend to keep to themselves. This had foie-gras in it, and the texture of the creamy fish was simply excellent.
The next course I think was a very rich Sheep's tongue.
Quite honestly, when they're telling me what the dish is I'm exactly the same as when listening to directions. I simply don't take it all in. 
To follow was one our favourites. It started off as a little joke. A tiny beautifully prepared dish of baby Prawns. They asked; did you enjoy it? 
Then they told us, 'no this is the actual course!' The full size version appeared but with huge juicy prawns. Probably the finest I've ever eaten too. We sucked the juice out the red head with real relish.
A super baby Iberico rib followed. Stunning.
Cod a la Bilbaina.
Cod tripe, spider crab, bacon, chives, soffrito sauce
Olive emulsion, bone marrow, papaya.
Rabbit served three ways.
We were starting to flag a bit now. This food is very rich with bold, punchy, intense flavours and it keeps coming! Mrs Bacon reluctantly threw in the towel and I followed with just one dish to go. We were absolutely gutted and saw it as a personal failure on our part. However we were able to finish with two superb desserts. The one I remember most of all is the one with Coconut Snow on it, as there are two little secret holes in the canvas. 
After paying the eye watering bill I made a go for the exit, I was half way out when Mrs Bacon shouted me back. Chef David Muñoz wants to meet you! She shouted as she was hugging the man! It was such a lovely touch. He'd seen my tweets in the day and knew we were making a big mistake eating that much at lunchtime! If I could do it all again, I would, but I'd starve myself all day as nothing is quite like this, it's almost an overwhelming experience.
The food David Muñoz is creating is completely idiosyncratic. An analogy that comes to mind is punk in music, kicking the door down in 1976, and like that, it appears to come from nowhere. (Appropriate as he has a mohican).
DiverXO is completely unique, unconventional, surprising, intense, and bewildering, quite unlike any other we've been to. But the most important bit is that it simply works. This may sound overblown but that can't be helped, it's how I feel about it. Eating here and StreetXo changed our view on food just little bit, just as El Bulli did, and that's priceless.

To see David Muñoz and the team at Diverxo in hi res click here.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Ziya Asian Grill, Rusholme, Manchester.

I'm intrigued by the idea of high end versions of 'ethnic' food especially posh Chinese and Indian restaurants. Probably because we don't really have any in Manchester right now. So when I saw Ziya Asian Grill had just opened in Rusholme, it made its way straight to number one on my to-eat list. It's obvious that they are looking at being more upmarket just by the prices on menu, and the décor looked pretty damn smart too.
 We went on Sunday evening. There certainly seems a fair few people with money in Rusholme judging it by the expensive looking massive cars in the nearby car park anyway.
Ziya Asian Grill is modern and clean inside, think more Living Ventures than the usual Indian restaurant 'bling'. It feels much more like a contemporary space than most around these parts, certainly in Rusholme. It is interesting that they chose Rusholme rather than say Spinningfields. Mughli apart, there's has been very little to impress here, a lot of places seem to be stuck in the past. In this case though, it soon becomes clear that we're dealing with a very professional team that have thought hard about every aspect of this restaurant including their place in the market.
Private dining rooms upstairs.
True to form, we started off with a few pints of lager. It's always cold bland Cobra (or Kingfisher) isn't it? Why? At more than £4 a pop for a pint of cooking lager, it's a little hard to swallow. I managed it though.
The Poppadum Basket (an assortment of crisps served with an array of house chutneys £3.45) was nicely presented, a taste of how they're trying to do things a little differently. I missed my favourite yoghurt sauce though.
After much discussion (the menu is really interesting and very different from the norm) we had; Peshwari Lamb chops, marinated for thirty six hours in a blend of figs and spices enriched with sour cream). These were £15.95 as a mains, but I managed to negotiate a half portion for around half the price I think. They were stunning, as good as any I've had. It's obvious that they've been working on getting these right. It shows, they were not overdone either, beautifully cooked tender soft meat, they really were superb.
Slightly less impressive were the prawns. Although beautifully presented, the Hyderabadi Prawns (butterflied sweet water prawns, married with a melange of southern spices, finished in the tandoor) were a slight disappointment.
At  £7.95 for three little ones, I'd expect them to be up there with the best prawns I've eaten. They weren't. They were pretty good alright but when you're paying top dollar, expectations are duly raised accordingly. They need to be creamy and fresh and tender, these were slightly over done I thought. The manager kindly knocked them off the bill. (I am being super picky here and they've only just opened, I'm sure they will perfect things as time goes on).
I also tried a taste of a Dinabite (fresh jalapeno chillies filled with cumin cheese, coated with gram flour batter and deep fried £4.95). This was really spicy even for my mate who likes his curries mega-hot.
I'd never in a million years order a korma, it's a curry for people who don't like curries. But I was persuaded by Antoine Mano, the manager after I enquired about signature dishes. I'm so glad I did. Lamb Khorma (chef khan’s family recipe, medium spiced, slow cooked lamb shoulder in original khorma style £14.95) really was terrific. The lamb, tender and on the bone; gorgeous. Much more like a nihari really and not at all sickly sweet.
I also very much liked the Coastal Prawn Curry (butterflied king prawns simmered in a hot tomato gravy, 'the essence of Indian coastal cuisine', £15.95). It was incredibly hot and spicy, at the top end of my heat limitations. Like all the food, it had a freshness, a 'clean' hot flavour. Everything is cooked individually from scratch, a rarity in Indian restaurants I'm told.
The Garlic and Coriander Nan (made to order with fresh coriander, garlic and green chilli £3.45) was pretty good too.
The bill came to £70 for each couple with drinks.
Overall, we really liked Ziya Asian Grill, the service from manager Antoine Mano was top notch, (you can tell he's been in the industry for a while, working for the Living Ventures group). It's also a very enjoyable contemporary space to be in. It does feel much more of a special occasion rather than going for the usual post pub curries.
The food we had we thought was definitely on a par with our favourite Mughli. But there's the rub. They're clearly pricing themselves on the next level up. It was a bit of debate if we would go back to be honest. We decided on balance that yes we would, the menu is just too interesting and the food is too good not to want to return to try more. But the proviso is, is that it is expensive and it only just about justified the extra cost for me on this visit. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you're happy paying that bit more for top quality service, atmosphere and food and they can deliver it each time.
100% paid in full apart from the prawns that were knocked off the bill.
Ziya Asian Grill on Urbanspoon