Friday, March 12, 2010

Demon's Food, Bo Innovation Hong Kong

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.

Clockwise from bottom left picture: Cauliflower risotto with black truffle and duck juice; Fried rice with "lam choi" or Chinese spinach preserved in olive oil; A tiled mosaic of the Demon Chef himself graces the entrance to Bo Innovation; Ballottine of chicken "beggar style" in lotus flavor; Black truffle "fun cheung" and Molecular xiao long bao. 

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.

Clockwise from top-left picture: Tempura John Dory with "yun nam" ham sauce, winter melon, morel and honey coated lotus seeds; A cup of foamy cappuccino to close the meal; Modern Chinese table settings; Dessert of water chestnut cubes, rice cake ice-cream and pickled ginger powder; "Lap Mei Fan" and Toro with foie gras powder and freeze dried raspberry powder.

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.

Bo Innovation
Shop 13, 2nd Floor, J Residence,
60 Johnston Road,
Wanchai, Hong Kong.

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25 comment(s):

Belle@Ooh, Look March 12, 2010 at 5:10 PM  

Even though I've heard of Alvin Leung, I would not think to visit his restaurant in HK. Until now! Great photos and description of the meal :)

Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella March 13, 2010 at 5:22 AM  

Thankyou for taking us there with you! I saw him at the World chef Showcase and he was hilarious and a natural showman but I had never seen his food "in action" until now! :D

joey@FoodiePop March 13, 2010 at 8:36 AM  

I'm glad a Sydney food blogger has finally reviewed this fascinating place! So much cheaper than El Bulli and easier to get into too. ;-) I've heard mixed reviews and I guess most people are polarised by the food. That's great!

The Ninja March 13, 2010 at 10:18 AM  

Now these are the sort of dark satanic mills I would enjoy...

Got to love it when $30 can get you such an exquisite banquet. And a bunch of sexy photos too.

Phuoc'n Delicious March 13, 2010 at 10:38 AM  

I love the concept of molecular cuisine; it combines my love of food and science together!

I've never heard of Alvin Leung so thanks for sharing this experience with me. Photos look amzing as always.. And $30 for an amazing meal.. Not bad!

Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial March 13, 2010 at 10:52 AM  

Wink, that xiao long bao is amazing! Am I right - it's the photo that looks like an egg yolk? I've only had xiao long bao for the first time in Sydney (I've had it in Sing before) at Taste of Shanghai on NQN's recommendation.. :)

Thanks for this post - fascinating stuff!

Mark @ Cafe Campana March 13, 2010 at 11:11 AM  

Every dish in your post looks awesome. I think its great that modern chefs are using both their brains and their hearts to make quality dishes.

Trissa March 13, 2010 at 11:29 AM  

Hi Foodwink - am kicking myself for not discovering your blog sooner. I love your pictures - have been reading each post this this morning! I also wish I had known about Bo Innovation when I was in HK in Feb! I'll be back! :)

foodwink March 13, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

Hi Belle - Thanks! Despite the t.a.c.k.y. taglines, I think Bo Innovation is definitely worth trying :)

Hi Lorraine - The pleasure is mine :) Good to know that he's so much fun in person! Alvin Leung does have some pretty clever ideas.

Hi joey - I've read about the not-so-good reviews too. When it comes to molecular gastronomy, I think an open mind is a necessity! The xiao long bao and lap mei fan are my favourites, while I find the mains less exciting.

Hi Ninja - Forgot to add that there's a 10% service charge. But it's still relatively cheap!

Hi Phuoc - Thanks for your lovely comments. Have you experimented with molecular gastronomy yourself? You're perfectly qualified for that!

Hi Celia - Yes! The egg yolk looking thing is the xiao long bao. Isn't the concept amazing?!

And ahh, isn't NQN a wealth of information? My favourite restaurant for (real) xiao long baos is Din Tai Fung at World Square. You've got to try them!

Hi Mark - Very well said. Gotta appreciate the depth of thought that went into conceptualising and realising the dishes.

Hi Trissa - Thanks for your lovely comments! You've just made my day <3

pierre March 14, 2010 at 12:32 AM  

hi there
i am amazed about the technique and quality of chefs in Asia : that's really gret to sahre with us !! Cheers from a french foodie in Paris Pierre

Anh March 14, 2010 at 1:50 PM  

Such delicate and beautiful food! Your photos and descriptions are to die for. :)

Amy @ cookbookmaniac March 14, 2010 at 11:19 PM  

I have heard a lot about Bo Innovation. I will definatley pay a visit on my next trip to HK. He definately looks like a demon but I bet he is a huge softie on the inside.
Thanks for sharing

foodwink March 15, 2010 at 11:34 PM  

Hi Pierre - Merci beaucorp! Your blog looks amazing by the way.

Hi Anh - Thanks for your lovely comments <3

Hi Amy - You really should! Besides the $198 set lunch, there's also a $680 degustation menu. Thanks for dropping by.

Adrian @ Food Rehab March 16, 2010 at 12:48 PM  

check out that egg yolk atop the xiao long bao...amazing. What a great experience!

Phuoc'n Delicious March 17, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

No I haven't unfortunately.. We have access to dry ice and liquid nitrogen all the time but the main issue with obtaining it is due to transporting these media. You can't take liquid nitrogen in confined areas otherwise it could EXPLODE!

Maybe once I finish my research career, I gotta open up a molecular cuisine restaurant heheh.. Now that would be awesome!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) March 18, 2010 at 4:28 PM  

Wow what a fantastic meal. The xiao long bao looks incredible. I've never had the pleasure of eating his cuisine but his reputation for innovative food surpassed even more than I ever expected!

Renita March 18, 2010 at 6:48 PM  

This place looks amazing. Lovely opening picture. Thanks for a great post!

foodwink March 18, 2010 at 8:46 PM  

Hi Adrian - Isn't it? When I first read about it in the Gourmet Traveller's magazine, I knew that I had to try it! Thanks for dropping by :)

Hi Phuoc - Just let me know when you did! I'll be your first customer :)

Hi Helen - It was a great meal - the xiao long bao and lap mei fan being the most memorable. Thanks for dropping by

Hi Renita - Thanks for your lovely comments!

JT @ March 21, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

Oh wow, looks like an amazing experience. Thanks for blogging it! Even though I just ate lunch, I'm now hungry!

foodwink March 21, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

Hi JT - The pleasure is mine! Thanks for dropping by.

Ms Curious March 23, 2010 at 9:31 AM  

This place looks very interesting! Do you need to book a long time in advance?

And I'm waiting for more post about HK food so I can check them out when I'm there next week.

Beautiful photos as usual.

foodwink March 24, 2010 at 10:19 PM  

Hi Curious - I don't think you need to book a long time in advance, but booking is definitely recommended.

Just send them an email at Please note that they are close on Sundays (!!!) and only open for dinner on Saturdays and public holidays.

More posts on HK are coming soon. Promise!

Elaine@Three Wise Pigs April 11, 2010 at 10:52 PM  

How long before have you booked in advance? I'm thinking of trying this place when I go to HK in a few months! Awesome pics by the way!

foodwink April 13, 2010 at 9:13 PM  

Hi Elaine - We booked about a month in advance, but that's more for convenience rather than due to any anticipated wait.

I would suggest you to book as soon as possible. Having said that, the restaurant wasn't full at all when we were there for lunch on a Monday.

Hope you'll enjoy it!

Anonymous January 6, 2011 at 1:00 AM  

Great review of an amazing restaurant! I went there last summer and tried the tasting menu, defintely a very memorable meal.
read my review on my blog here:
-the Sommerlier

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