Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bo Innovation - X-treme Chinese perfection

We've been attending the 2015 'Chefs Talks', organised by the Fringe Club and Slow Food Hong Kong, where Hong Kong's best and most popular chefs come along and have a candid chat with an audience.  They've been really good.  One that I was really interested in getting along to was Bo Innovation's Alvin Leung Jnr, but fate wasn't on my side and I missed it due to work commitments.  SC on the other hand was able to get along and hear Alvin's view on the world, which was apparently quite amusing!

As fortune would have it, when I suggested that we book a table for arguably Hong Kong's best restaurant, we were able to secure a spot at the Chef's Table the following Saturday night.  With three Michelin Stars and a string of other accolades including appearing in the San Pellegrino Asia's Top 50 restaurants (#28) and the World's Top 50 restaurants (#97), restaurants don't get much better.

Fronted by a man that's been called the 'demon chef' (well, he calls himself the demon chef), Alvin Leung presents as quite the character.  Walking out of the elevator that took us from Ship Street in Wan Chai, we were greeted by a large wall mosaic of the demon chef himself.  Once we'd walked the dozen or so steps to the front of the restaurant, we'd been greeted warmly by many of the multitude of wait staff on hand to make our night's dining experience a memorable one.  

We were the first to arrive and from our prime seat at the chefs table, we got a great view of Alvin marshalling the kitchen team for the evening.  It was clear to see that his reputation as a demon in the kitchen was well deserved, with the odd expletive laden comment about the food preparation that demonstrated his very high expectations in the kitchen.

The menu at Alvin Leung's Bo Innovation is labeled X-treme Chinese cuisine and blends the history of traditional Chinese cooking and turns it on it's head with contemporary techniques that border on molecular but are much, much more.  With a background and history in engineering, Alvin's previous life manifests itself in his approach to cooking, with a precision and attention to detail that is staggering.  

The chefs table is essentially a spot at the bar, and with room for six it was quite cozy.  In front of us was a purpose made place setting, constructed of marble and steel (one of the many accessories designed by Alvin) and the Chef's table menu, which listed our no less than fifteen courses for the evening.  No sooner had we sat down with drinks on the way, then one of the team of chefs gave us a warm welcome and explained that the meal would be starting immediately.

Our first course was titled Air and was perhaps the most spectacular course of a meal that reached the heights that only very few restaurants are able.  Presented on a log from the original Hong Kong harbour that had been purchased by Alvin some time ago, two spoons of aerated century egg and pickled young ginger seemed to hover in thin air waiting to be devoured.  Based on traditional Chinese flavours, the combination was both sweet and savoury at the same time and was so light, it just danced on the tongue and after a few seconds, only the memory remained.

Next was the simply named Caviar, with a name that only told half of the story. A generous amount of Northern Chinese caviar sat atop a smoked quails egg that was engulfed in crispy taro and topped with gold leaf.  Beautifully presented on a bespoke 'silver tree', the dish was to be devoured with one bite.  The salty flavour of the caviar blended with the sweetness of the quails egg and the crunch of the taro, all combing for another memorable dish.

There was a little slice of our former home with the next dish, Oyster.  A massive and plump Coffin Bay oyster was at the heart of the dish, which was simply and beautifully presented with thin slices of Ox tongue on a Sichuan green sauce.  I'd been a little nervous about the dish, with all of my previous Sichuan experiences leaving me battle scarred.  The beauty of a chef at the top of his game is that balance is so important and there was quiet restraint in the dish, with the three component pieces working in complete harmony.  The Ox tongue was delightful, especially when eaten with the oyster and the Sichuan sauce giving only a little heat, which remained on the palate for some time but wasn't a burn.

We had some debate about the next course of Bamboo, with the main component being a very creamy foie gras that had been initially cooked with, then finished off with a couple of drops of 'chu yeh ching' (a very strong liqueur).  The foie gras sat atop some expertly pickled Indian lettuce stem (much like bamboo shoots) and was indeed a wonderful dish and incredibly smooth and creamy, with extra complexity from a couple of drops of the 'chu yeh ching'.  Our debate raged about whether it was the best foie gras we'd ever eaten.  SC was positive that it was, while I still had fond memories of our Vasco Fine Dining foie gras experience (see post here).  Irrespective of 'best ever' tag, it was a fine example of cooking.

Each of the dishes had a wonderful story attached, with one of the chefs delivering the dish and then explaining the history.  An excellent example was our next dish of Umami, or the sixth taste. The dish was prepared by cooking prawns in oil for 48 hours to extract all of the umami flavour, then the noodles were cooked in the 'hard mi' oil for maximum flavour.  Accompanying the noodles was a lightly seared pice of toro tuna (the best part of the fish) and with instructions to combine the two with each bite, we set about eating the exquisite dish.  The toro was soft and so subtle that the flavour of the umami was distinct on the back of the palate, where it lingered for some time.

We were presented with a couple of baby spoons, Hello Kitty for the girl and Peter Rabbit for myself, before a jar of Baby Food was placed in front of us.  Like no baby food you've ever seen, our next course was the essence of Singaporean chilli crab.  I'd recently had my first experience of chilli crab during a recent trip to Singapore and laughed at the baby food interpretation, mainly because you'd normally wear a bib when eating (like a baby).  I loved the thinking behind the dish, with the chilli crab experience delivered in a bottle, it emotionally took me back to my first experience.  Thankfully, the chilli was not overpowering and none of the Alaskan King Crab flavour was lost, amazing.

Right up to this point, our meals had been delivered by one of the team of chefs, but we'd started up a conversation with Alvin (largely on the back of his trip to Rockhampton) and the next half dozen courses were explained by Alvin himself while we chatted away about food, his philosophies and his pretty funny time in Australia.

It was signature dish time with perhaps the only full nod towards Molecular gastronomy, we were given the background to the cha siu bao, which was a beautifully simple sphere of cha siu, developed by spherification.  With instructions to put the whole sphere in our mouths before bursting, the dish packed an incredible punch with flavours that were immediately recognisable but in a format that was alien.  Without giving too much away, Alvin always chuckles at the so called signature dish, mainly because for a chef of his talents, there is not that much to it!

Alvin's tutelage continued with Tomato, yet another simply yet elegantly presented dish compared of textures and flavours of tomato.  Presented on a bespoke frame designed by Alvin that represented a scroll, the dish was designed to eat from right to left (just like Chinese text). First bite was an heirloom tomato with skin removed and cooked in 'pat chun' Chinese vinegar, with the natural sweetness of the tomato shining through, it was complimented with the sweet acidity of the vinegar.  I was delighted that the second bit was quite delicious, manly due to the inclusion of a tapenade of fermented Chinese olives, which were much less harsh than an Italian tapenade.  Lastly, and bringing the dish together was a marshmallow with a distinct flavour of tomato.  A vegetarian course that was delicious.

Fish course was Red Mullet with a black garlic and black bean smear, coated chilli, yuzu and mullet roe.  It was perhaps the simplest of the courses to date, which gave us a little bit of respite from the interesting and challenging X-treme Chinese cuisine we'd consumed so far.  The mullet was expertly cooked, with the puffed scales providing some crunch to the dish.

Up next was another Sichuan based dish of Blue Lobster with Sichuan hollandaise, chilli shoot consomm√©, Chinese leek dumpling and charred corn.  It was a beautifully presented plate of food, notable with a 'demon chef' designed plate and it's bright colours.  Alvin seemed particularly proud of the dish and it's exquisitely balanced ingredients.  Pouring the consomm√© over the dish as he explained it's provenance, we were amazed that the heat of the Sichuan hollandaise was dispersed into the other flavours, which left the perfectly cooked lobster as the standout ingredient.

Alvin's engineering background came to the fore when explaining Mao Tai.  Based on an incredibly potent Chinese alcohol (53%), the dish was a cocktail presented in a specially designed receptacle that insured customer involvement.  The Mao Tai was softened with hawthorn, lemon grass and passionfruit, which was a good thing after being told how to consume the dish.  It was one of those head back moments that the pure alcohol would have scorched the through, but instead left a warm glow and an aftertaste of passion fruit and lemon grass.

It was hard to split out the next two dishes, which competed as my favourite of the night. Abalone was the Bo Innovation version of a risotto, using aged acquerello rice, which was able to soak up the incredible chicken stock that made the risotto as creamy as any I'd ever had. Included was chunks of abalone and razor clams, which provided some texture and contrasting flavour from the super creamy and intensely flavoured acquerello rice.  In my entire life, there had been only one other risotto that had been this good and now that memory will be supplanted with a new one!

After the abalone, Alvin left us to mix with the other guests and overlook his kitchen, which left one of his head chefs to explain the next course of Saga-Gyu.  Paying homage to the street food of Hong Kong, the incredibly tender meat was accompanied by some truffle infused Chinese pasta rolls and was eaten street food style with a wooden skewer.  It. Was. Delicious! Seriously great food, with such simple cooking there is no place to hide and the Saga-Gyu left me wanting more.  Luckily, SC was pretty full, so I was able to snatch the last little bit of her meat!

Pre-dessert time and it was the simply named Almond, a solid gel of new almonds like tofu floating in an Okinawa black sugar syrup with hints of cinnamon.  With instruction on smashing the almond gel so we could get a bit of the bitter sweet almonds with each mouthful of the black sugar.  It was strangely almost savoury in its flavour, sure, it had a sweet undertone, but not overly so.

Our last course was the dessert of Coconut, a fairly complex mix of palm sugar, coconut water, chocolate, pina colada, cherry and pandan.  The plate initially came with chocolate soil made with coconut and berries, square jubes of punchy cherries, a pandan puree and some ice cream topped with a coconut marshmallow.  If that wasn't enough, a spoonful of nitrogen frozen pina colada was added to the mix, which transformed the dessert to classic status.  It was a busy plate but seemed to work really well, with a mix of sweet and bitter combing for an overall satisfying way to finish a meal.

Of course it wasn't really the finish to the meal with a birdcage of petite four based on eight treasures was the penultimate pleasure, with our final act to select a bag full of house made lollies from a 150+ year old lollie tin.....  It was the little things!

Look, I'm not going to lie to you, this was the most expensive meal we've ever had, which includes meals at many of the top 50 restaurants in the world (including current #4 Eleven Madison Park see post here).  Having said that, I thought the value was there and the absolute memorable experience we'd had, and I'm glad we opted for the chef's table (which has the most extensive menu at the restaurant). Although having a lot of time talking to Alvin helped with that feeling of value for  money.....

As for the overall experience, our wait staff were incredible, super friendly and there every step of the way, our every need was catered for.  The team of chefs were incredibly well drilled and even though the kitchen was packed, there was an economy of movement that was beautiful to behold. There was one chef there that was almost too cool for school, with his dark glasses, high pony tail and tattoos, he was almost too cool to do anything but be cool...

From the moment we entered to the very moment we left, the whole Bo Innovation experience was superb.  Does it deserve it's reputation?  You bet!  If you're looking for one of those once in a generation dining experiences, there are a only a few around the world.  The Michelin guide only issues three stars to restaurants that represent exceptional cuisine "worth a journey".  Bo Innovation is most definitely worth a journey.  

Alvin marshalling the team early in the evening - with his too cool for school chef in the background
Instead of bread we were given this savour element of spring onions and Chinese ham, reminiscent of egg waffles
With his engineering background, Alvin designs most of the receptacles with dinner
The nitrogen frozen pina colada 
Alvin mixing it up with the guests
A parting gift of lollies
In a 150+ year old tin!
Alvin in the middle of Wan Chai

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I was truly NOT impressed with Bo Innovation (not pointing the finger at Bo as he wasn't there when I had dinner there). When I first made the reservation I have mentioned that I am pregnant and requested no raw, unpasteurized food and certain cheese to be in my dish, given the reservation was made 2 weeks beforehand.

    Before we started the meal, the guy who introduced the menu had told me they understand my situation and no need to worry. I asked to go through the menu just in case there are any misunderstanding, but was reassured by him that they got it.

    As I waited for the dishes worry-free, the Air dish was no problem. When they served Caviar, they told me instead of the smoked egg they made it scrambled. They had the tone that they made it just right and perfect. In shocked I still had the caviar on top, understand it would be a waste for anyone to cook up such a delicacy, I stayed calm and asked them to check if the caviar was pasteurized. The answer from them was an "I don't know and I don't bother to find out" and I just think that they don't understand what the word "pasteurized" means in English. I sort of let it go and let my husband eat the caviar instead. Minus 10 points there.

    Then I again insist to go over the menu again so they don't do something stupid and mindless again, as they are the people who is making the food and should understand how such food are made and where the food came from. Going over the menu they said the foie gras will be cooked a bit more to ensure it is not raw in the middle, oyster will be taken out and will give a couple more slices of the beef tongue, and the toro tuna dish will be modified to something else as it would be a waste to cook the toro to eat that dish.

    So the Oyster and Bamboo dish came out as they said and was edible (in terms of my "requirement"). When they came out with the modified version of the Umami, instead of the Toro they gave me Parma ham.... Are they stupid? As chefs wouldn't they even know the minimal basic of how such food is made? It was a cured meat, means it was done AND stayed raw, I don't even need to get into the detail of the bacteria scientific talk here, but c'mon, did the term "raw" or "unpasteurized" not associated with cured meat? I made sure I didn't blow up as this meal was treated by my cousin and I didn't want him to feel bad, I simply gave up and just told them to torch the damn meat instead of asking them to use their non-existing brain to give me another dish.

    Paying over HKD 2,380 for the Chef Table Menu with their stupidity simply is not worth it, not even counting that some of the people who work there have such a stuck up attitude just because they work at Bo, and let me repeat, they work there, not own, so no need to have such a snooty attitude.


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