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
Toro, foie gras powder, raspberry
Hairy crab, aged Zhenjiang vinegar
Nitro, shao hsing ginger tea
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
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 soufflé, lightly sauced with some aged Zhenjiang vinegar. The soufflés 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.
Shop 13, 2nd Floor, J Residence,
60 Johnston Road,
Wanchai, Hong Kong.
P.S. My camera battery crapped out so I had to ask Bo Innovation for a few photos for this post.