Hong Kong's top restaurants: Bo Innovation, Wan Chai – old-school modern
Alvin Leung’s ‘X-treme Chinese Cuisine’ tasting menus take diners on an imaginative stroll down memory lane, with the Demon Chef’s modern deconstructions of old Hong Kong favourites
“Demon Chef” Alvin Leung first contorted my brain in 2009 with his improbable creations at Bo Innovation. For years after that experience, I described to anyone who would listen how mind-bending I found his laap mei fan Chinese-sausage ice cream and xiao long bao, which came not wrapped in dough but in a delicate seaweed membrane that burst with juicy pork-dumpling flavours.
Back then Leung’s molecular concoctions conjured up culinary wizardry the likes of which I’d not encountered since Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. So it was with childish excitement that I revisited Bo Innovation, in its “new” Wan Chai location, recently.
Accompanying me was a guest old enough to recall cha chaan teng meals in sepia hues, which was just as well because Leung, in his restaurant setting and dishes, has made a concerted effort to evoke Hong Kong of yore.
Two “Hong Kong Story” tasting menus were offered to show off Leung’s “X-treme Chinese Cuisine” – expensive (HK$1,980 for 10 dishes) and very expensive (HK$2,380 for 14 dishes). We had one of each, and shared the offerings not included in the less-pricey option. That included Air, a chemistry experiment producing foam with hints of Florida Water cologne, century egg and raspberry (my guest applauded the drama; I thought it soapy, literally); and Baby Food, which recreated a spam and egg sandwich, with black truffle in a jar (he loved it; I gagged).
That was where the divergence of opinion ended, although I would have preferred a more leisurely serving pace: it was a Friday evening after all and the restaurant, despite its three Michelin stars, was not full.
Beginning with Childs Play (sic), which was egg waffles in a paper bag, we loved the playfulness and new sensations. This version of the popular sweet street snack featured savoury chives, yet still qualified as comfort food.
Other highlights included the caviar and smoked quail egg dim sum, clothed in crispy taro; Lotus (black cod and lotus seed purée in a subtly scrumptious broth); and Organic Long Jiang Chicken, the best risotto I’d ever tasted. Leung’s version (made with wood ear fungus, shiitake and lotus leaf) was intensely flavoured and rich without being creamy.
“Bamboo” (foie gras, miso, green apple) was the evening’s standout for my guest, who described it as “succulent, tender and beautifully cooked”. Had we chosen the wine-pairing menu (an additional
HK$1,100 each), he would have accompanied the dish with a sweet white wine.
To make things difficult I asked for something other than foie gras. The sweet potato substitute – served as a solution to my “allergy”, as our smiley waiter put it – produced a sweet/salty power combo that jiggled my taste buds.
Leung, who made a fleeting appearance during the evening, once told me that he doesn’t play mad scientist, mix things together and hope for the best. Elements of comfort must be in every dish, he said. That was true for most of the dishes, including the sweets, like the Bo Baba (rum baba, chestnut, sugar cane and little jelly jewels), and Chinese-style petit fours, including mini fried sesame balls and walnut cookies.
We probably would have appreciated the desserts more had there been fewer dishes in the lead up, but that is a backhanded compliment. Our evening was an experience, and one made even more memorable by the unintended sideshow. In a flat facing the restaurant, a workman dressed only in small shorts painted a wall under the light of a naked bulb. Ah, Hong Kong.
Bo Innovation, J Residence, shop 8, 1/F The Podium, J Senses, 60 Johnston Road (entrance on Ship Street), Wan Chai, tel: 2850 8371
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