Date of Visit: August 30 2013
You say ‘Boo’, I say ‘Bo’, whichever way you say it, a restaurant review is a subjective matter.
Having read various mixed reviews on Chef Alvin Leong’s BO Innovations, I managed to convince Mom to test out the maverick chef’s self-proclaimed ‘X-treme Chinese cuisine’ on her Lunar birthday. The Chinese is a lucky race to have 2 birthdays – a Lunar and a Gregorian – so if you miss one, you can easily make up with another! 😜 (We celebrated Mom’s Gregorian birthday here).
What Alvin terms ‘X-treme Chinese cuisine’ is essentially combining traditional Chinese recipes with scientific molecular gastronomy techniques – in what I call ‘Thermomix magic’, a nifty and super-expensive all-in-one kitchen appliance.
Naturally, in order to understand whether Alvin had accomplished what he set out to do in his ‘X-treme Chinese Cuisine’, one should already have a background in traditional Chinese cuisine. In my opinion, who else makes a better judge than Mom who has intrinsic knowledge of Chinese cuisine to be able to discern the subtleties of traditional Chinese cooking under the guise of modern molecular cooking – and explain them to me?
A little bit on Alvin: He is the controversial self-promoter who prided himself the ‘demon chef’ or 厨魔, tattooed in Chinese characters on his forearm. An acoustic engineer by training, he ditched engineering to become the second self-taught chef in the world – after Heston Blumenthal – to be awarded a Michelin star.
Likewise, Bo Innovation’s Chinese name, 厨魔, literally means ‘kitchen demon’. It has won many restaurant accolades, having remarkably debuted with 2 Michelin stars in the inaugural Michelin Hong Kong & Macau Guide in 2009, since then it had lost 1 star then bounced back to regain 2 stars in 2012 and 2013. This year, it is hanging onto No 15 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013 and No 90 in the World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2013.
The restaurant is located on the second floor of a semi-residential building – J Residence in Wan Chai, which is fast filling up with trendy restaurants. Access is via a dedicated elevator accessed from Ship Street which opens up directly to the patio. Guests are greeted by a giant black-and-white mosaic portrait of Leung pontificating in his dark shades.
The compact dining room seats around 60 people with an additional outdoor patio seating. The interior is very sleek – black reflective surfaces, glossy white table-tops and shiny copper hexagonal lightings overhead with a large screen print of a blurred neon lights of Wan Chai to add a splash of colour. For the inquisitive guests, there is an open kitchen/ bar to check out the action. (Unfortunately, on the day of our visit, Alvin was not around. We assumed him to be in London, for his much-hyped new restaurant opening).
Service at the restaurant was certainly fantastic, even my bag received attention – begetting the question to sit on a chair or swing on a bag-hanger? (Either way, no dirty ‘pat-pat’)
There is a choice offor a Set Lunch or a Degustation at HK$780 (+10%). We chose the Degustation.
Interesting place-setting – one is able to choose to dine Western or Chinese style. (I went Chinese!)
We ordered a half-bottle of Pink Kiss Wein from Willi Opitz which came in a gorgeous black bottle with a giant red lipsticked label. We thoroughly enjoyed this pink Austrian rosé, and thought we did well in picking this wine as it paired marvellously with the food we were soon eating. It had a lovely nose with haunting rosehip and strawberry fragrance and a palate brimming with lively, fresh, cranapple acidity.
Service was fantastic! Ooops… I’ve said it before. The service crew was friendly and very professional. Both the waiter and waitress took turns to explain each dish clearly and bringing out samples – in the process of making us informed diners.
The garden/ soil theme seems to be a popular theme in gastronomy nowadays – I have came across a couple of edible garden themes this year, the most memorable is the Flower Pot at Mandarin Grill (here).
Alvin’s Dead Garden is made of dehydrated mushrooms on top of avocado-onion butter: Air dried crumbled morel mushrooms representing dirt; caterpillar fungus, a kind of fungus that is sometimes used in traditional Chinese medicine, laying like a worms on top of the soil to create a creepy surreal effect. Enoki mushrooms (‘trees’) have been deep-fried then dipped in liquid nitrogen to intensify the flavour as well as to make them shrivel and crispier.
We were advised to eat the ‘trees’ first, then the ‘worms’, then mix the remaining ‘soil’ with the avo-onion butter ‘earth’ before eating. I must say, the smooth creamy avocado and green onion mousse was the perfect accompaniment to the crunchy morel crumbs, sweet with a slightly acidic kick, the Dead Garden thus set scene for a truly memorable meal to come.
Scallop – Shanghainese ‘Jolo’ sauce, crispy woba, sugar snap peas
A beautifully presented moreish (aka small) dish of barely seared Hokkaido scallops – nice, firm and very flavourful – served with crispy woba (or crispy burnt rice which were leftover in rice pots in olden days before the invention of rice-cookers) and snappy sweet sugar peas. The dish was drizzled in the ‘jolo’ sauce (fermented red rice vinegar) which has a sour taste albeit spicy kick!
Foie gras – ‘Mui Choy’
There is pomp in serving this course, first came the dragon stand to hold the clay-bowl (harkening to ‘mui choy’ fermentation pot, perhaps). Then the the foie gras, ice-cream and mui choy were brought out in a clay-bowl. The waitress also brought out a pot of mui choy to show us – in case we don’t know what mui choy is – this is sweet preserved mustard greens. The foie gras was BBQed in same tradition as char siu, imparting a caramelly fragrance and was delectable, unfortunately mine had a stringy piece of membrane in it. We were instructed to eat the mui choy first then the foie gras and ice-cream together. The mui choy was dehydrated then compressed to look like a piece of thick seaweed, it had a sweet-savoury taste and a very nice crunch to it. The idea of the salted ice-cream was to bring out the sweetness of foie gras, supported by the caramelised ginger. A very well-executed course, dented by a major faux pas of a chipped bowl (in a Michelin restaurant, mind you!)
Har Mi – ‘Lo Mein’, Chili, Kaniko
This course is ‘lo mein’ tossed in har mi and garnished with tiny shrimp roe (kaniko). The specialness in this course lies in the har mi (dried baby shrimps) oil which Alvin concocted by infusing har mi in the oil for 3 days before distilling it. Personally, I did not find anything remarkable about this course, the noodles were so-so, not the springy ones that I remembered fondly from here.
Did I mention that Alvin is artistic as well? He designed these cups – and the cute caricatures of the demon with chopper!
Molecular – ‘Xiao Long Bao’
Finally, the famous molecular xlb that made Alvin’s name – the moment I have been waiting for! The xlb takes its presence in the form of a spherified bubble, dotted with sweats of pork oil perspiration and a strip of red ginger. We were advised to eat the whole thing with our eyes closed to properly savour the xlb. Our views settled on the skin being too thick, the filling too gooey. Mom reckoned that the vinegar was too bitter and left a rough after-taste. However, I think I recognised a hint of xlb aftertaste. Success? 😃
Langoustine – English mustard, salty egg, cauliflower, black truffle, duck jus
I skipped this shellfish, for a fish substitute. Beautifully plated, I am sure this is a winning combination of langoustine with English mustard and salty egg.
Cod – Sauternes jelly
My substitute was a cod wrapped in sauternes jelly,dressed in yellow miso and seaweed. I remembered the cod being overly done, but otherwise, it was a tasty combination.
Saga-Gyu Beef – Black truffle, Soy, ‘Cheung fan’
I also remembered this dish well. The sous-vided beef was cooked medium-rare, a good piece of beef but nothing out-of-the-ordinary. The cheung fan was very salty being drenched in soy sauce. The strip of black truffle sauce only accentuated the overly saltiness of the course by leaving a strong aftertaste.
Strawberry gelato and orange profiteroles.
The final course – the dessert was totally unremarkable. While the strawberry gelato and white chocolate bark makes for a classic pairing, the cocoa nibs did nothing to uplift the dessert plate especially when I presumed the profiteroles to be stale. 😢
Although we ordered coffees, we did not get the petite fours presented in a birdcage – if you squint your eyes and try your hardest, you can see the metal birdcages hanging over the bar area (2nd picture)- perhaps because we were only paying half the price for a degustation dinner? Anyway, this I can live without since we are going to Mrs B Cakery to pick up a real dessert! 😍
Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting meal, but nothing overly ‘x-treme’ about it, then again, I had been to Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo (here). I am somehow desensitised with the hype surrounding spherification and liquid nitrogen. Taste-wise, the food at Bo Innovation all have strong tastes – in part from the use of vinegars and soy sauce – I am guessing because Alvin smokes cigars?
At HK$780 (+10%) for a degustation lunch or HK$288 (+10%) for a Set Lunch, it is really up to you to call it a “Boo-” or a “Bo-” Innovation.
I leave you with…
Bourdain’s HK visit of Demon Chef, Alvin Leung of Bo Innovations