I've never met anyone with as much energy as David Muñoz, the Mohawk-sporting chef-owner of StreetXO, a fine dining, "not-fusion fusion" (I'll explain later) restaurant in London's Mayfair.
It's first thing in the morning and I've hauled myself across the city to the upmarket neighbourhood to meet Muñoz at his restaurant. He, on the other hand, looks impossibly perky. Side note: I've come from East London, he's just stepped off a plane from Madrid.
"I leave DiverXO [Muñoz's Michelin-starred restaurant in the Spanish capital] late at night and then get a flight to London first thing in the morning, where I spend a few days of the week," Muñoz explains. "I'm working seven days a week, 16 to 17 hours per day. Sometimes I go for a run after service. This is my dream."
The bags under my eyes grow heavier at the mere thought.
There is certainly something dreamlike about StreetXO. From the huge neon fish adorning the walls to the thumping music (I'm told it gets louder during service) and the smell of spices emanating from the buzzing kitchen, it's an otherworldly assault on the senses from the moment you descend into the basement dining room. The menu serves to further disorientate. Dishes have names like "Enjoy a trip between Andalusian and Bangkok's beaches" and "Almost a carbonara Xo style??"
I ask Muñoz to explain the premise of StreetXO in his own words.
"StreetXO isn't really fusion," he answers. "This is different, this is a concept where some of the ingredients and techniques are travelling around the world but in a very unique way."
And it's not street food, either.
"It's not street food but it's like a rollercoaster," Muñoz continues. "To me, coming to StreetXO is like going to a street food centre with the creative mind of a Michelin star chef."
But it is about flavour.
Muñoz says: "Anything that I'm doing is about flavour and different, creative combinations to make something unique. I think the most important thing when you go in as a customer to a restaurant is delicious food."
In Europe, Muñoz is well-known for this unique approach to food. He's been dubbed the "enfant terrible" of Spain's culinary scene, thanks to signature dishes like Pekinese dumplings, served on a sheet of greaseproof paper splattered with strawberry hoi sin sauce in the style of a Jackson Pollock painting.
Oh, and the bar at StreetXO does fishbowl cocktails. Is serving what is basically a pitcher of Wetherspoons piña colada Muñoz's way of making fine dining more accessible?
"I think it's a different way of understanding what fine dining is," he reasons. "Sometimes people think that to enjoy the fine dining experience, you must be in a restaurant that is very calm with white tablecloths but I think there's another way. At StreetXO, it's a rollercoaster and I think it's for everyone who wants it."
"I want to refine and redefine what fine dining is."
Muñoz tells me that his passion for creative, high-end food is something he's been harbouring since he was 12-years-old.
"My parents like to eat so they took me to the first creative restaurant in Madrid called Viridiana, which is still open today. Everything looked different and there was a plate made with brick pastry and you could eat the plate," he remembers. "That was very modern in Madrid 25 years ago and to me, it was mind-blowing. I fell in love with the restaurant, the chef, and with the food. I knew then that I wanted to be a chef."
As we move into the kitchen to gather the ingredients for a new StreetXO dish—"Chili King Crab"—Muñoz stresses the importance of knowing the cooking rules before attempting to break them.
"If you want to make something unique, you must first have the knowledge from the classic techniques. I've been learning my whole life and I'm still studying," he explains. "I worked at Hakkasan [a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in London] and learned classic Chinese techniques like how to make a proper dim sum and how to properly use a wok. After that, I can try and make by take on those things."
Muñoz starts preparing his take on the Singaporean chili crab dish and becomes completely absorbed in the task. He fries the crab meat with garlic and spring onion, his brow is furrowed in concentration, seemingly unaware of the hive of pre-service activity around him. The classic culinary techniques he spoke of earlier are applied to a succession of contrasting ingredients: buerre blanc emulsion is made with Txakoli wine from the Basque country and the chili sauce is spiked with chipotle.
As a kind of mic drop to end our interview, Muñoz pushes the finished Chili King Crab towards me. "Enjoy," he says, and walks back into the kitchen.
I think back to Muñoz's analogy of his food as a rollercoaster. I reckon it's a good way to describe all food—it just depends on whether you're a genteel Ferris wheel or "scream if you wanna go faster" kind of person.
At StreetXO, you're in for a Nemesis Inferno ride.