Up until this past Fall, it had been nearly two decades since there had been a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Madrid. According to El Pais, the Spanish capital "had not enjoyed that honor since 1995," when Zalacaín was downgraded. But the Michelin Guide announced on November 20, 2013, that chef David Muñoz and his restaurant DiverXO had finally brought the honor back to the Spanish capital. Months later, Muñoz made his own big announcement: This week, he revealed that DiverXO will move into the NH Eurobuilding hotel in July.
Muñoz spoke to Eater by telephone yesterday to explain why he decided to move DiverXO and how earning that third Michelin star helped keep the restaurant in Madrid rather than London or New York. Muñoz also explains his plans to launch a ticketing system to help deal with the influx of bookings, and he talks about how DiverXO — a restaurant where cooks are known to finish dishes at the table and which the Michelin Guide itself describes as "[a]n interesting restaurant that breaks with established traditions" — is a different kind of three-Michelin-star restaurant. And that's not all: Muñoz also has a London restaurant in the works that he says "will be like the Cirque de Soleil of gastronomy." Here now, the interview:
Why did you decide to move DiverXO?
We will open the new one on July 15. We're changing the location because the restaurant now is so small. It's 220 square meters, and DiverXO needs a bigger space to make everything we want to make in the restaurant. Now we're making 28-30 covers per service; in the new location, we will make 38-40. But the space in the new one will be 550 square meters, so it's going to be a huge space to make everything we want to make.
Was this move something you'd been considering doing for a long time?
After the third Michelin star, everything was easier.
Yeah, we wanted to change the location since two years ago, but the main problem with that is we had to be looking for a proper agreement to make DiverXO like I would like it to be in the future. After the third Michelin star, everything was easier. You know, we were talking with different people to move DiverXO — we were even talking with some people in London and New York — because in Madrid no one understood our proposal. But, again, after the third Michelin star everything moved faster and was easier.
Why didn't they understand your proposal?
DiverXO is not a real business. We are 30 people working for 30 customers, and all the money we get from the restaurant, we spend each month. It's not a proper business. We were looking for an agreement with a brand or, in this case, a hotel, but we didn't want to lose our liberty. So the proposal was quite difficult for somebody to understand because they have to give us the space, and we just wanted to pay a small rent. The hotel will have the only three Michelin star [restaurant] in the city located in their own building. They will get a strong mark on that.
DiverXO, Madrid. [Photo: Official]
That's true, a big win for the hotel. And what changed then with the three Michelin stars that made people see your restaurant differently?
I really don't know. I really don't mind how people see the restaurant, actually. I always wanted to make the restaurant like watching it in my own mind. Everything that is inside of the restaurant is just my personal thoughts about how the restaurant should be in the future. If I'm thinking that the restaurant has to be decorated with flying pigs, I'm going to do it whether I have one Michelin star, two Michelin stars, or three Michelin stars.
DiverXO has its own thoughts about luxury.
I guess maybe people are coming to DiverXO expecting to find a three Michelin star restaurant in the regular way this used to be in the whole world, but DiverXO is different. From the beginning to the end. Not only in the food, [but] in the way we serve the food, in the staff working in the restaurant, in the concept behind the experience. I think people expect a real luxury about the experience, but DiverXO has its own thoughts about luxury.
What have you seen already since you achieved the third star? Have you seen a change in the clientele?
Well, DiverXO is full of bookings since five years ago. We used to have a big waiting list during this five years, so maybe now [that] more people are calling the restaurant, that waiting list is bigger. Maybe, as well, the pressure on the staff working in the restaurant and on me is a little bit bigger, but it's really not a big challenge for us. We are really happy with everything that is going on in the restaurant. We're just trying to improve in the way we think we have to.
Do you have any sense of how long that waiting list is or how much it has grown? How long does it take now to get a reservation?
We take bookings up to six months [in advance], so it's not taking longer than that. During this six months, lunch and dinner are fully booked right now. The waiting list, it depends. The waiting list could be 20-25 tables per service, even if it's lunch or dinner. Some people take longer to get a booking; some people just call in for tomorrow. Sometimes there are a lot of cancellations at the restaurant, and we just start to call the waiting list from the beginning to the end. Sometimes people on the waiting list can't come in the end, so we start calling everyone. So it depends.
Do you have a problem with no-shows?
We will make our booking system similar to Next and Alinea.
Yeah. Big problem with that. We will make our system similar to Next and Alinea in Chicago. We will sell tickets to people making a booking. If [someone is] making a four-person booking, they will have to pay four tickets for the booking. Then they will come to the restaurant and, on the final bill, we will remove that amount and they will pay just the difference. People will have to cancel 48 hours in advance. If not, they will lose the money.
Is that what you're going to do when you move to the new building?
Yeah. We will start with that in the new location.
How much will the tickets be?
I'm not sure. We're just making the concept now, and we're making a program just for our restaurant and our bookings. So I'm not sure how much we will charge for that. If people cancel their table more than 48 hours in advance, we will not give back the money, we will just move their table to another day and they will keep the ticket for sure. They will not have to pay again. We will give them a hand to find a space in the restaurant the day they want to come.
Okay great. Also, can you tell me about the day you learned you got the third Michelin star?
It was on the night before, at dinnertime. The president of the Michelin Guide came to the restaurant with the man in charge of the Michelin Guide in Spain. They came to take dinner. We didn't know they would come, the name of the booking was somebody we didn't know. So when they arrived at the restaurant the day before the Michelin show in Bilbao, we thought something was happening, but we didn't know yet. So we started service quite nervous. They finished dinner and they asked my wife, who is the maitre d' of the restaurant, to speak to me. I came out of the kitchen and went to their table, [and at] that moment, they told me we won the third Michelin star.
I didn't tell anybody because they asked me to keep it a secret. I just told my wife and one of my partners. So we went the day after to Bilbao for the Michelin show, and it was a crazy day. A happy day, but a crazy day. A lot of people [started calling for] interviews, calling the restaurant, my mobile. I was really happy, really excited, but it was a crazy time. And the craziness is from that day until now. It didn't stop.
I bet. And you're the only three-star in Madrid?
Yeah. There hasn't been a three-star in Madrid in 18 years.
StreetXO, Madrid. [Photo: Official]
Wow, well congratulations. And, finally, how is the London restaurant coming along?
The London restaurant will be StreetXO, which is quite different from DiverXO. StreetXO is like an Asian-feeling restaurant, but with a chef who has three Michelin stars. I think we'll be something totally new for the city, and this is difficult to achieve in a city like London that is constantly making new concepts. We'll be a big bar with an open kitchen. The bar will host at least 80 people and then there will be some more people just sitting around, up to 120 covers.
StreetXO will be like the Cirque de Soleil of gastronomy.
But it will be like the Cirque de Soleil of gastronomy because they will not be waiters or sommeliers. Everyone working in the restaurant will be chefs. Everything has to be [a] gastronomic experience. [There will also be] loud music. I think it will be something crazy, like a party of all gastronomy.
And that opens soon?
We have to be open before August 1. We hope to be open the beginning of July.