Bo Innovation

On my recent trip to Hong Kong, my lovely wife S and I had what was easily one of my best meals this year. We had both heard a lot about Chef Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation over the years. Some good, some not so good. Some outstanding. Which is often the case with chefs trying to push the envelope, i.e. trying to do new and very different things to familiar and classic foods. They’ll win over some very loyal fans who are totally blown away by the chef’s new ideas and his or her abilities to turn these concepts into delicious food. But this kind of chef will alienate just as many customers. And, of course, a good share of other diners will be impressed without really understanding what they’re eating. Alvin Leung is most definitely this kind of chef. And I very much belong in the first camp; that is, I am total fan.

Bo Innovation is a chic, medium-sized restaurant set on the second floor of a small side street in Wanchai, one of Hong Kong’s busiest neighborhoods. In addition to the tables that fill the space, there is also a small, raised counter facing the kitchen that can seat up to eight diners at a time. Guests who choose to eat at the counter must opt for the tasting menu, which changes regularly, and is pretty damned amazing.

What I like best about Alvin’s food is that, while it is modern and even experimental at times, it is also fundamentally Chinese, often taking direct inspiration from traditional and well-known dishes, and ingredients. Alvin, the self-styled “demon chef”, has essentially created a new, smart, sexy and beautiful Modern Chinese cuisine vocabulary. The great thing is that Alvin’s dishes do not fall into that culinary pit of despair that has ruined way too many an ambitious yet slightly misguided chef, i.e. fusion food. Alvin’s dishes are representative of a singularly evolving cuisine.

The menu that S and I enjoyed two weeks ago is reprinted below.

Tasting Menu 18 October 2010
Pat chun, pomelo, pineapple
Caviar, smoked quail egg, crispy taro
Ma Po tofu
Roses, foie gras, mei kuei lu, pickled daikon, peas
Har mi, lo mein, chilli, sage, carabinero wonton
Kokumi, matsutake
Toro, foie gras powder, raspberry
Hairy crab, aged Zhenjiang vinegar
Nitro, shao hsing ginger tea
Beggars chicken
Molecular xiao long bao
Red braised, baby artichokes, sweetbread, abalone, lettuce
Hunan ham, honey, cod, chicken jus, peas
Sag-gyu beef, black truffle, cheung fan, braised green onion
Sex on the beach
Sandalwood, almond, hawthorn
Shui jing fang, banana, vanilla, caramel, raisins
Petit dim-sum

As you can imagine, the menu text barely does justice to the complexity and depth of some of the dishes. And I need to apologize because I am not going to describe them all. Instead, I’ll just tell you about the ones that blew my mind.

My favourite course of the night was Alvin’s hairy crab soufflĂ©, lightly sauced with some aged Zhenjiang vinegar. The soufflĂ©s are served in small Jaener Glas Wagenfeld egg coddlers, which are among my all-time favorite serving/cooking vessels. The souffles themselves are assembled at the open kitchen facing the dining bar and baked a la minute. The taste and the texture are simply perfect, unctuous and savory.

My next favourite item was the molecular xiao long bao. Here Alvin has used the technique for making skinless raviolis popularized by Ferran Adria and used the juice/soup from a xiao long bao to create an amazing single mouthful. He’s also magically inserted a sliver of pickled ginger into the “dumpling”, giving it a slight flavour hit that works perfectly.

A dish that both S and I loved was Alvin’s reinterpretation of the traditional Chinese dim sum dish, Woo Kok, which is a fried taro dumpling filled with some minced meat. Alvin’s version is stuffed/topped with a smoked quail egg and caviar. It is another ridiculously satisfying mouthful of food.

I also really loved the red braised sweetbread, cooked in an abalone sauce and then served next to a baby abalone so that diners can experience both the original flavor of abalone and then how it can enhance other foods.

At the end of the day, everything we ate at Bo was something really special. The experience sitting at the counter and spending a good bit of the night speaking with Alvin was equally memorable. He’s a wizard-chef and a really unique person. And I for one am happy that guys like him are doing their own thing, forging new culinary paths in our part of the world, not caring what critics, naysayers, and others who just don’t get them might say. Because I get his food. And I love it.

Bo Innovation
Shop 13, 2nd Floor, J Residence,
60 Johnston Road,
Wanchai, Hong Kong.
+852-2850-8371

P.S. My camera battery crapped out so I had to ask Bo Innovation for a few photos for this post.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his two kids!

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18 Comments

  1. JanJan @ Cooking for My Love 3 November 2010

    The molecular xiao long bao sounds reall exciting!

  2. foodbin 3 November 2010

    Read that his sex on the beach is a top seller !

  3. julie 3 November 2010

    that looks and sounds incredible. would die to try that molecular xiao long bao!

  4. Jill 4 November 2010

    You make it sound amazing. I would want to be one of the eight who gets to taste everything. I love to eat food I have never tried before. I can not wait to visit. Without knowing it, this is going to be one of my first stops when I get there.

  5. Lincoln 4 November 2010

    He has pushed the envelope and succeeded! He innovates with our Asian palate in mind. I look forward to my next visit!

  6. stephen peepels 4 November 2010

    This restaurant is not worth your money or your time. The service is incredibly intrusive, and half of the dishes were nothing but weird. They are trying to be innovative, that’s for sure, but the net effect fails miserably. Everyone in my party of four annoyed that we had given up a Saturday evening to eat 12 courses of foam and fluff. Just because something is fancy does not make it good.

  7. Ian Low 4 November 2010

    the xiao long bao looks fantastic! is this the el builli of asia?

  8. Michelle Parks 5 November 2010

    Aun! Long time no see. Michelle Parks here, remember me and my company, Bamboo Communications.
    I moved (with Ogilvy) to NYC (am now with BBDO). Married to an American and just had a baby boy in April.
    I LOVE your blog, recipes, photos etc..>I’m so glad I stumbled upon it and found you.
    Michelle x
    PS let me know when you and S are ever in NYC.

  9. Macarons 5 November 2010

    Wow…usually not a big fan of foods such as these, but those xial long bao looks pretty good…

    But going by stephen’s review,…doubt I would waste my time. I hate places such as the ones he described!

  10. Maxi 6 November 2010

    An experience I’ve got to try. Great thing I’ll be in hongkong in a couple of days. jeez, can’t wait!

  11. kh 8 November 2010

    Trying out Alvin’s menu in Jakarta this coming weekend.

  12. Michel Lu 15 November 2010

    Perhaps it was a bad night but both my partner and I really didn’t enjoy the meal at Bo Innovation about a year ago.

    Maybe a bit harsh here but I felt that his culinary understanding and technical skills were superficial. There didn’t seem to be a flow or build up.

    If there wasn’t so much hype and expectations, it might have been a better experience.

    Just my thoughts.

  13. david 16 November 2010

    A chef’s explanation does it for me.

  14. vicki 16 November 2010

    It is very nice to read- but I’m not sure- to eat..

  15. David 18 November 2010

    Skill is also required to make the customer salivate

  16. Amanda 21 December 2010

    I just wrote a mixed review here: http://doublyhappy.blogspot.com/2010/12/eating-hong-kong-bo-innovation.html. But now that I read your review, I’m thinking I should give the full tasting menu a chance . . . .

  17. theSommerlier 5 January 2011

    great review, INSANE restaurant. i went there in the summer and also tried the tasting menu.
    i just wrote my own review here: http://thesommerlier.typepad.com/blog/2011/01/a-pact-with-the-devil-bo-innovation-wanchai-hong-kong.html

  18. Charles 10 April 2011

    I have to agree with Stephen, although unfamiliar with this restaurant, that most inovative meals tend to be in my opinion … more show than go to use a motor trade expression.

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