StreetXO: And ‘xo’ what? (February 2017)

Chef David Muñoz apparently runs one of the best restaurants in Madrid. Like so many others before him, having conquered his home territory, it is now time to take on London. Against this background, Muñoz is clearly going for something very different at his Mayfair venue. Whether it is good, however, remains to be seen. Many things irritated from the outset even prior to the visit. In particular, no website, so one is left guessing totally as to what to expect. A quick look on the internet shows several reviews, but mostly extreme (in both directions). My conclusion is Muñoz is aiming to shock and arouse controversy. This is fine, but not really the reason I go out to eat. Next, my concern centres on how to pronounce the restaurant’s name. My comrade and I, on arrival, our told ‘xo’ is supposed to sound like ‘show’, although it came out from our host’s mouth more as ‘so.’ Again, I was forced to ask, why would I come to a restaurant for a show; surely it is more for the food? I was also confused, arriving at 12h30 on a Friday lunchtime, why the place seemed to be deserted. After all, we are not in Madrid, where the fashion is to eat later, and this StreetXO is, supposedly, one of London’s current ‘on-trend’ restaurants. Like Alice in Wonderland, everything seemed a bit wrong and slightly surreal: not just an empty restaurant, but waiters dressed in straitjackets and a menu full of dishes with cryptic names and very liberal use of punctuation (excessive exclamation marks in particular). Perhaps this is why there is no website – if people saw the menu at the outset, they may be put off visiting. All in all, a bad start. The meal was somewhat redeemed by the food, although StreetXO undoubtedly puts more emphasis on presentation (show) than on substance. Our scallop was amazing, light and peppered with a spectrum of unique and different flavours. Beyond this, I remember display over precisely what I ate, the experience perhaps most epitomised by the pig’s ear dish. It arrived on grease-proof paper (a cost-saving technique if ever there were one) and came liberally adorned with strawberry hoisin, supposedly intended to resemble splattered blood. A nice touch, or just a joke, in slightly poor taste. I remember what it looked like, but not what it tasted like. Thinking back, three days on for our meal, I could make similar observations about the other dishes too. Full marks to Muñoz for inventiveness, if nothing else. At least, the meal was relieved by a great wine, Xi from Pingus, priced reasonably too. Would I go back? Well, only if just to demonstrate to an unwitting guest how diverse – and perhaps awfully wrong – the London dining scene can be.