Bo Innovation Hong Kong

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According to the new edition of the Michelin Guide Hong Kong & Macau, it seems that the culinary scene has shifted. Out with the French, and in with the modern Chinese. Two major examples of restaurants affected were Bo Innovation by “Devil chef” Alvin Leung, said to be ‘experimental Chinese’, and winning its third star; while its French-classic rival, Caprice was downgraded to two stars from three.

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Finding the restaurant was not hard to find, it happened to lie next to a local hot-spot favourite, James Atherton’s 22 Ships. Up the private elevator you go and you find yourself on the second floor. At first, I thought I hadn’t arrived in the right place. It was very ‘cool’ with an outdoor terrace, lounge/chill/house music which did not exactly reflect a 3-star standard in my view.

Maybe I’m too traditional…We had a choice of sitting outside, but instead chose the inside dining room as it was a bit chilly. Passing through the automated glass doors (which reminded me of entering in a local sushi-joint in Tokyo), the small but bustling kitchen was in the middle of dinner service without the star-chef Alvin Leung, a poster of him shadowing the staff.

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On cool autumn days, you can ask for a table here for al fresco dining. For those who opt to dine inside, you can watch the chefs putting the finishing touches on your meal in the semi-open kitchen.

Chef Alvin Leung describes his food as “X-treme Chinese”. What’s “X-treme chinese”? Well, Leung describes it as a modern and innovative interpretation of local Cantonese cuisine. Molecular gastronomy tricks are used throughout the meal and though is able to dazzle diners with whimsical plays of local traditional dishes and deconstructing everyday Chinese dishes; the food to me wasn’t very tasty in general. Sure, he uses spherification techniques, and the sponge-cake made from a plastic cup in a microwave technique, but seriously the food is mostly cold and tasteless.

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Guests are presented with 2 different menus: Chef’s Menu (HK$1080) and Chef’s Table Menu (HK$1680) with the different between the two: one has foie gras and white truffle served and the other does not. Having wanted to see a bigger variety of dishes, one of each was picked for the evening’s meal.

Here is what was served:

Hong Kong-style Egg Waffle  spring onion-flavoured.

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This was served in place of the breadbasket. The paper bag was ripped open at the table to reveal a spring onion-infused take on the waffle. Something I grew up eating. A fun idea and and interesting waffle.

Mao Tai Sour

This refreshing drink was made from Kweichow Maotai, one of the most revered of its kind where the tastes were reminiscent of pear, walnut and almond.

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It was tart due to the The addition of the lime, egg white and grenadine. The drink was served in a goblet, reminiscent of ancient times.

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A metal holder had to be picked up and the drink was tipped into the mouth. A little uncomfortable as it had to be tilted almost 90 degrees.

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Crispy Taro dumpling with caviar 

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Perched on what seemed a metal bird’s nest, this was one of my favourites. A hong kong favourite during dim sum, the taro accompanied well the smoked quail egg and the salty caviar. A taro dumpling on steroids.

Dan Dan Noodles with chili pepper, pine nut, crispy egg noodles, preserved chinese mustard, iberico ham 36, ikura, green apple

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A very odd dish with various ingredients. The noodles were crispy and served with preserved vegetables but the apple seemed random and so did the iberico ham. The foam of the preserved chinese mustard seemed overbearing.

Foie gras and Mui Choy

Foie Gras with “mui choy”, an interpretation of the traditional Chinese dish of pork belly braised with sweet preserved mustard greens (mui choy).

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The seared foie gras was imported from France, and it didn’t have an overpowering gamey flavour, nor did I find it too rich as I usually do. It had a caramel-taste to it. The dehydrated mui choy sheet was crispy, and the mui choy-flavoured ice cream was quite a pleasant accompaniment to the foie gras.

Preserved mui choy…

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Scallop with Shanghainese “jolo” sauce, crispy woba, sugar snap peas

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An average entree with juicy raw scallops and crunchy peas which had been peeled. The drizzle of jolo gave a good sour taste to it.

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Jolo is a fermented red rice vinegar with a sweet and sour taste with a kick.

Molecular “xiao long bao” – one of the signature dishes at Bo Innovation

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The idea of this dish is great, a molecular version of the xiaolongbao. The stock of the dumpling is spherified and encapsulated within itself with no need for any of the pastry, served with a sliver of red ginger to pay homage to the way the classic dish is eaten. Despite so much anticipation around the dish, I found it to be largely disappointing. It wasn’t particularly well spherified, either made with too much alginate or it sat too long in the calcium bath, which lead to it being too gummy, plus it was under seasoned as well.

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Tomato with “pat chun” chinese vinegar, fermented Chinese olives “lam kok”, marshmallow with green onion oil

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I did not appreciate this dish at all. It stood out to me the most but flavour was not on par. The red tomato had been stewed in “pat chun” (a sweet black rice vinegar).

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One bite released all the flavoured juice within the tomato. The middle piece was garnished with dehydrated fermented Chinese olives, and honestly I don’t remember much of this The white marshmallow had the texture of a soft meringue but the savoury flavour of a tomato with a shot of green onion oil within it. The least appealing and least favourite. It lingered towards the next dish. A shame.

Red Fish with Yunnan ham, mandarin peel, potato, shiitake mushroom, onion puree

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The fish well-cooked and of high quality, the shiitake mushroom chip was fun to eat. That’s it.

White Truffle with duck egg yolk, “cheung fun”, yak milk cheese (HK$480 supplement)

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Despite the additional price to pay, this dish was stellar.

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Mixing the rice noodle, egg yolk, milk cheese (and I don’t like cheese) with the white truffle was an indulgent savoury course. The white truffle shavings were gorgeous and generous.

Lobster, Sichuan hollandaise sauce, charred corn

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With everything we’ve had so far, the lobster became like just another dish.The lobster was chewy, perhaps overcooked but the flavour excelled with the sichuan chill hollandaise sauce. The shell-fish broth was thick and delicious though. Not a stand-out dish.

Sweetbread, oyster sauce, seaweed, artichoke, pickled pearl onion, spring onion

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The sweatbreads with oyster sauce and artichoke was juicy and dlavorsome. The oyster leaf added a strength to the dish.

Two types of meat dish:

Organic “Long Jiang” Chicken with 7 years aged Acquerello rice, yellow chicken stock, wooden fungus, sand ginger

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Well cooked and very traditional. Nothing ‘experimental’. The most rustic of the bunch.

Saga-gyu Beef, Truffled tendon, Chinese chive, daikon, aromatic bouillon

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The next course was a play on the Taiwanese beef noodles. The beef was marbled and fatty and the truffle was infused in beef tendon soup.

Almond, genmai tea, okinawa black sugar, cinnamon

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A sweet fine tea with almond sphere. Another play of a typical dessert. Light and simple

Coconut with palm sugar, young coconut, chocolate, pineapple

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A bizarre mix of desserts. Too many flavours on a plate.

Eight Treasures Petit Fours with the Eight Treasures Tea (a blend of eight ingredients that varies depending on where you get the tea from. At Bo Innovation, the Eight Treasures Tea was made with chrysanthemum, Chinese red dates, Chinese wolfberries, dragoneye fruit, rose buds, lotus seed and mandarin peel).

Inside the bamboo steamer sat the Wolfberry and Tianjin Pear Crystal Bun and the Osmanthus Steamed Sponge Cake.

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On the top level of the birdcage were (starting from top left in a clockwise direction) the Chrysanthemum Meringue, Red Date Marshmallow, Dragon Eye Coconut Jelly, and Mandarin Peel Chocolate Truffle; and on the bottom level were the Rose Macaron with Lychee Butter Cream and the Lotus Seed and Pistachio Sticky Rice Dumpling.

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Again too many flavours and too many surprises.

The service was slow, not to mention a mistake on the wine and what seemed to be no-knowledge on wine choice and accompaniment by the head sommelier.

It is not for everyone, just like any molecular gastronomy. I don’t even like calling it “molecular gastronomy” because the word has such negative connotations these days because it has been so misused and abused, but it is what he does here.

You must come here with the right mind-set. You can appreciate the technique here (if it’s done well) but it is not the same type of “good” as mom’s home cooking.

I had Bo Innovation on my Hong Kong “bucket list” for a couple years, so I knew what to expect. I was prepared for my food to be manipulated. As a trained engineer, Leung is able to manipulate the food and uses science but to me, they were more ‘gimmicky’. What foods were molecular besides the xiaolongbao by the way? I guess the menu is inspiring but can be lost in translation, especially if you haven’t grown up with the foods. But having grown up with the foods, I guess I didn’t like the fact that they were manipulated so much. So, why did I come, especially if I knew that? I don’t know, I guess I wanted to be mesmerised or hypnotised.

The meal was meant to surprise. Boy, was I surprised!
Bo Innovation

Address: Shop 13, 2/F J Residence, 60 Johnston Road, Wanchai

Telephone: +852 2850 8371

Website: http://www.boinnovation.com

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