Shanghai-style soup dumpling xiao long bao as you have never seen before.
Top on our Hong Kong restaurant wish list is Bo Innovation. Heralded as Asia's answer to El Bulli, this one-star Michelin restaurant is the brainchild of Alvin Leung. A former engineer and self-taught chef, Alvin likes to brand himself as the "Demon Chef" (spot the tattooed Chinese characters on his arm). His food? X-treme Chinese cuisine.
And X-treme it definitely is. The Demon's forward-thinking menu showcases plenty of unusual east-meets-west and old-meets-new dishes. Most of all, it is a marriage between molecular gastronomy and Chinese cuisines that is, at most times, made in dragon heaven. All dishes are designed to shock and impress, both visually and gastronomically.
Exhibit number one: xiao long bao. Like little Red Riding Hood, the unsuspecting would not have guessed that Wolf was dressed as Grandma. But it was definitely the Big Bad Wolf. Using a technique called spherification, the soup that characterises a xiao long bao is encased within a thin envelope without a traditional flour-based wrapper. The ginger-based soup explodes as soon as it is consumed, with the thinly-sliced pickled ginger atop hitting the tastebuds afterwards. Very clever.
The rest of the meal is just as eye-opening. For HK$198 or around AU$30, one gets a choice of two entree dishes (dim sum or classic "bo" dishes), a main course, starch (rice) and dessert du jour. The xiao long baos can be ordered separately for HK$16 or around AU$2.30 per piece.
For entree, I order both the black truffle classic "Bo" dishes on the menu. The rice-less risotto is a refreshing combination of finely diced cauliflower, black truffle, chives and duck jus. The black truffle "cheung fun" is rice noodle rolls that are first coated in soy and black truffle and then pan fried.
My choice for main is the ballottine of chicken "beggar style" with lotus sauce. Beggar-style chicken is traditionally served whole, first wrapped within a lotus leaf and an outer salt dough and then baked. The Demon Chef's version is a modern interpretation that highlights the textural contrast between the tender, juicy chicken meat, crispy chicken skin, soft shiitake mushroom and crunchy bamboo shoot. The slight let down is the lotus-flavoured chicken jus, which is too mild for a dish that would benefit from stronger flavours.
The Engineer's choice of "lap mei fan" provides another memorable highlight. Traditionally, "lap mei fan" is a rice ("fan") dish cooked in a claypot with an array of Chinese preserved meat ("lap mei"). There is no sight of both in this dish. But like the xiao long bao, looks can be deceiving. Bo's interpretation is a spoonful of crunchy rice crackers infused with a distinctive "lap mei" sauce and topped with dried duck floss. Very, very delicious. And again, very very clever.
Then there's the dish that requires the use of a tweezer. Thin slices of toro with foie gras powder and freeze dried raspberry powder are first rolled with a tweezer before consumed. Our friendly waiter explains that the foie gras powder is prepared by slowly drying foie gras pieces in an oven for three weeks. Full marks for both the concept and taste.
Dessert du jour is Cantonese-style water chestnut cakes served with pickled ginger powder and "nian gao" (rice cake) ice-cream resting on a puddle of chocolate powder. The cakes are what they are, but the spicy ginger powder offers an interesting twist. We both like the ice-cream, but think that the chocolate powder is out of place on a plate of Chinese-influenced desserts.
So there you have it. My first molecular gastronomy experience through the trusted hands of a master of invention. I would go back for the xiao long bao and lap mei fan any day.
Shop 13, 2nd Floor, J Residence,
60 Johnston Road,
Wanchai, Hong Kong.