Bo Innovation, Hong Kong – the Picasso of cooking?
Hong Kong chef Alvin Leung Jr obviously isn’t a shy lad. On the website for his restaurant Bo Innovation, he says he does for Chinese cuisine what Picasso did for art.
The philosophy here is ‘X-treme’ Chinese food (his term, his spelling). Leung wants to challenge long-held perceptions of what Chinese cuisine looks and tastes like. Leung has also been known to refer to himself in various media reports as the ‘demon chef’. This tattooed wizard with streaked hair (his current publicity shots have it a nice shade of purple) is one part cook, one part rock star. Could his establishment possibly live up to the hype?
Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband, on the penultimate food experience of this month-long international sojourn, opted for the ‘smallest’ tasting menu – only nine courses, not including amuse bouche and petits-fours. Three courses in, we were wondering how quickly we could return to Hong Kong to try the full-on 14 course extravaganza. It was just that good.
Leung, who also has a restaurant in London, is a self-taught cook of extraordinary skill. The finesse of some of these dishes needs to be seen and tasted. If you’re not in Hong Kong, hop a plane. Immediately.
The cooking is matched by the service which is knowledgeable and passionate. The various Chinese sauces and vinegars that feature prominently throughout the menu are shown to diners at the table. Some, especially for the dessert course, had been infused with other elements, most notably at that point in the dinner, vanilla.
But Greedy Girl is getting ahead of herself. Bo Innovation was ranked 90th on the 2013 list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants, one of only three Hong Kong restaurants to make the cut. It’s in the Wan Chai district on Hong Kong Island and although its address is listed as Johnston Street, forget about that. The entrance is in a small side lane, Ship Street, quite a long way back from Johnston. In any event, it’s a short stumble from the Wan Chai MTR station.
Offered an al fresco table, Greedy Girl was tempted for a nanosecond. The humidity in Hong Kong is ferocious and without some kind of breeze, outdoor dining would be quickly oppressive.
Ordering a delightful bottle of Bollinger, we settled on the food, quickly deciding from around five choices for our ‘main’. Make no mistake – this isn’t the place for a nice Peking duck and special fried rice. There are some ‘classics’ in evidence – xiao long bao for example – but as you can see from the picture here, the only traditional element of the dish is its name. But more on this course later.
First up was the amuse bouche. The paper bag was ripped open at the table to reveal a spring onion-infused take on the waffle. This was light and subtle although gluttonous husband added salt at one point. Greedy Girl, definitely feeling the effects of gorging for a month, popped a few of the bubbles but left most for him.
To the menu proper, next up was ‘sesame’. Again this was presented with a flourish. The serving dish emanated plumes from a secret compartment of dry ice. Not just a gimmick, it was part of the dish, described as ‘perfume de Hong Kong’ – a rose-scented mist. Underneath a sesame foam, sat two little discs – one of compressed cucumber cured in ‘chinkiang’ vinegar (the bottle was presented for us to see) and cured mackerel or ‘Saba’ to use the name the waiter gave it, the fish having been sourced in Japan. Delish.
We moved then onto foie gras. This was served with ‘mui choy’ or preserved mustard greens – a very unusual pairing but it worked brilliantly. Even the little crisp sticking up out of the foie gras and the quenelle of ‘ice cream’ were both made of it. Apparently mui choy is most often prepared alongside pork or chicken. This was a treat for the senses – the coldness of the ice-cream alongside the warmth of the seared foie gras was delightful.
Up next was a sashimi scallop. This was such a pretty dish. Served with crispy woba (some beautifully crunchy crumbs – gluttonous husband says the waiter said this was made from dried scallop), Shanghainese ‘jolo’ sauce (sweet and sourish with a little kick) and sugar snap peas. What a combination. Soft, crunchy, tangy. Not a trace remained in the bowl.
Next up was ‘molecular’ – the xiao long bao pictured at the top of this blog. This was just utterly extraordinary. So we were looking for a dumpling – but this is an incredibly clever gel that bursts in your mouth, releasing the most flavourful pork broth Greedy Girl has ever tasted. The ‘traditional’ dipping sauce of vinegar and ginger? That’s the little red line piped on top of the ‘dumpling’. Greedy Girl asked if she could have a box of these ‘to go’. Initially the waitress thought she was serious and said the restaurant doesn’t do ‘take out’ but then cottoned on to Greedy Girl’s sense of humour.
We then went to ‘tomato’ – cherry tomato served three different ways. We were advised to start from the right of the plate. First was a slow cooked tomato infused with ‘pat chun’ Chinese vinegar. Next, a yellow cherry tomato was topped with fermented Chinese olives (created as crystals spooned over at the table) and finally a ‘marshmallow’ infused with green onion oil. Yum – or as they say in Cantonese, ho mai.
It was time for our choices. Greedy Girl took the langoustines. Such vibrant colours in a perfectly-executed dish. The langoustines were soft and tender and complemented by an English mustard foam, salty egg, a touch of black truffle, cauliflower (florets and a distinctive purple puree) and a couple of dots of duck jus. Greedy Girl is sounding like a broken record but it was so good.
This is the ultimate fusion food. Some ingredients were absolutely Chinese, others were very western. Techniques were both French and Chinese. Alvin Leung Jr is not only an incredibly talented and imaginative chef, he’s also scored two Michelin stars for his food. This is one of the world’s great culinary experiences and to have an impact on Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband’s tastebuds after a month of gorging in some excellent restaurants is no mean feat. Another one for the foodie bucket list.
60 Johnston Road, (Lift on top of Ship Street) Hong Kong