‘X-treme Chinese’? @ Bo Innovation, Wanchai, Hong Kong

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! ūüėú ¬†(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 ‚Äėdemon chef‚Äô¬† or Śé®ť≠Ē,¬†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, Śé®ť≠Ē, 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 РJ 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.

20130830-175807.jpg

Promotional B&W self-mural of the Demon Chef in mosaic

The compact dining room seats around 60 people with an additional outdoor patio seating.   The interior is very sleek Рblack 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).

20130905-135630.jpg

Interior of Bo Innovation

20130930-181121.jpg

A screen print of a blurred neon lights of Wan Chai.

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’)

20130905-135710.jpg

Bag hangar for my bag!

There is a choice offor a Set Lunch or a Degustation at HK$780 (+10%).  We chose the Degustation.

20130905-140725.jpg

Degustation Menu

Interesting place-setting Рone is able to choose to dine Western or Chinese style.  (I went Chinese!)

20130905-135723.jpg

Marble place plate: Choice of Chinese chopsticks or Western cutlery

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.

20130905-140010.jpg

Pink Kiss Wein from Willi Opitz, Austria

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.

Dead Garden
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.

20130905-135741.jpg

Dead Garden

20130905-135749.jpg

Dead Garden

20130905-135756.jpg

Dead Garden: Avo-onion butter with morel mushroom crumbs (soil)

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!

20130905-140019.jpg

Scallop – Shanghainese ‘Jolo’ sauce, crispy woba, sugar snap peas

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!)

20130905-140030.jpg

Dragon brass-stand

20130905-140039.jpg
Chipped bowl in a Michelin Restaurant??
20130905-140046.jpg

Foie gras – ‘Mui Choy’, salted ice-cream, caramelised ginger

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.

20130905-140105.jpg

Har Mi – ‘Lo Mein’, Chili, Kaniko

20130905-140111.jpg

Har Mi Oil

Did I mention that Alvin is artistic as well?  He designed these cups Рand the cute caricatures of the demon with chopper!

20130905-140128.jpg

Alvin’s artistic caricatures

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? ūüėÉ

20130905-140137.jpg

Molecular – ‘Xiao Long Bao’

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.

20130905-140151.jpg

Langoustine – English mustard, salty egg, cauliflower, black truffle, duck jus

20130905-141204.jpg

Langoustine – English mustard, salty egg, cauliflower, black truffle, duck jus

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.

20130905-140221.jpg

Cod – Sauternes jelly

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.

20130905-140231.jpg

Saga-Gyu Beef – Black truffle, Soy, ‘Cheung fan’

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. ¬†ūüėĘ

20130905-140245.jpg

Strawberry gelato and orange profiteroles.

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! ūüėć

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

Another Bowl of Noodles Please…@Olala, Wanchai

Date of Visit: February 15 2013

After yesterday’s most uninspiring ramen experience (here), mom took me to Olala near Admiralty. This is dubbed ‘Hong Kong’s most expensive noodles place’ with a bowl of noodles costing a whopping HK$150! ¬†To give you a bit of perspective via Big Mac Index, a Big Mac Extra Value Meal¬†here¬†costs a mere HK$21.

This noodles joint is in a tight corner-shop sitting around 16 people with double celing height and adorned with some unremarkable BW pictures.  Apparently this restaurant is also included in the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide!

20130215-203015.jpg

The Chinese calligraphy hanging over the wall says ‘ One Bowl of Noodles’, which is also the shop’s Chinese name

Pickled Salted Shanghainese Vegetables (Complimentary)
Smackingly good!

20130215-203027.jpg

Preserved Veg

Smoked Eggs HK$20
These are perfect smoked eggs in Shanghainese vinegared soy sauce with coargulating egg yolks. I must say the soy sauce is of premium quality as it left no briney aftertaste.

20130215-203021.jpg

Smoked Eggs

Beef Noodles Soup
This bowl of beef noodles soup brought me back to my childhood days where my gran took my brother and I to the Shanghainese ‘cha cha’an teng’ in Tsim Sha Tsui. These old Shanghainese noodles places are long-gone. But I remembered the tender soft beef brisket and springy noddles. Here, I was given a huge bowl of noodles in rich beef broth, 6 huge chunks of beef briskets and baby bak choy.¬† The soup was simply too delicious to not drink up. Although tea was offered I didn’t touch them and felt the guilty pleasure of a tummy full of beef broth when I left the shop.¬† Haha!

20130215-203034.jpg

Beef Noodles Soup

Fish Noodles Soup
Wow! The next time I’m back, I will order this. Mom gave me a taste of the broth. It was tantalizingly sweet from the fish-head and chicken stock (not MSG, mind you) coupled with the pickled vegetables, very reminiscent of our home-cooked fish-head soup (another piece of ancient history).

20130215-203040.jpg

Fish Noodles Soup

Check out the noodles – thick and chewy with a spring in each bite!

20130215-203047.jpg

Spring in my mouth!

Will I be back?  Most defo!