A quick search for molecular gastronomy in Hong Kong will undoubtedly lead you to Bo Innovation. This two Michelin starred restaurant regularly makes Hong Kong’s top-ten restaurant lists. Chef Alvin Leung Jr (aka The Demon Chef) whips up ‘X-treme Chinese Cuisine’ but also finds time to pop out and chat with diners. We booked ahead to get a table on a busy Saturday night and negotiated the difficult decision of which menu to try. We opted for the thirteen course chef’s menu, which was more straightforward than the tasting menu and left us the more expensive chef’s table menu to try next on our next visit.
The service was excellent, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. When describing the dishes, key ingredients (such as the trio of peppers and dried mui choi (mustard greens)) are brought to the table, allowing diners to see and smell them before tasting them in the dish, which added a further layer to the multi-sensory experience that is a meal at Bo Innovation. The courses were appropriately sized, some served neatly on a Chinese soup spoon for ease of consumption. The serving of the courses was well-paced, and did not feel at all rushed. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff – they even keep shawls on hand for chilly diners.
In place of the usual bread basket we shared a paper bag of gai dan zai (egg waffles – a Hong Kong street food) enhanced with mustard and iberico ham. My husband the waffle connoisseur would be quite happy for all restaurants to replace their bread with waffles so he could start all his meals this way.
An amuse-bouche of oyster with spring onion, lime, ginger ice and seaweed followed which was a wonderfully refreshing way to start the meal. Next up was saba (mackerel) sashimi with sesame and ginger and topped with a foam of ponzu (a japanese citrus-based sauce). We ate this while ‘parfum de hong kong’ (a rosewater scent) drifted over the table. I’ve been unconvinced by attempts to add a scent component to courses at other restaurants, but the rosewater worked.
On to foie gras, served with a delicate wing of mui choy (mustard greens) suspended in mui choy flavored ice-cream over a crispy ginger crumble. A masterful combination of flavours, textures and temperatures and a new take on foie gras.
Back to seafood with har mi lo mein, (shrimp oil noodles) with chilli and kaniko (crab roe), a delicate but spicy dish – perfectly balanced.
A trio of tomato tasters appeared next; a whole, peeled sous vide cherry tomato with a touch of pat chun vinegar (Chinese black vinegar), a fried tomato dumpling with lam kok (fermented Chinese olives), and a green tomato marshmallow. I was delighted to discover that you can make more than fried green tomatoes with a green tomato. I enjoy dishes where a key ingredient is presented a number of different ways, partially as it reminds me the theme ingredients used in TV cooking show Iron Chef. All three takes on tomato were wonderful; the cherry tomato was so juicy we were advised to eat it whole to avoid squirts of tomato juice. The tomato marshmallow was my favourite and was so clever and unexpected that this course was my second favorite of the night.
The signature dish ‘molecular xiao long bao’ was my favourite. Xia long bao is a Shanghainese classic soup dumpling, but here it appeared on a Chinese soup spoon the size and consistency of a separated egg yolk, with a sliver of preserved ginger making it look like a malevolent reptilian eye. It sure didn’t taste like one, popping in the mouth and releasing a burst of xiao long bao flavored liquid. It was somewhat like the sensation of eating roe, popping them to release the flavor. I am looking forward to trying this again on my next visit.
Image courtesy Xin Lee 88 @Flickr.
More seafood done perfectly in the next dish, lobster with star anise butter, corn, sea urchin and chanterelles. The lobster was succulent and flavorsome and the star anise butter was a nice twist.
Next we were each served a test tube of bubble tea. Through a thick straw we sipped spicy chili bubbles (tapioca) which mixed with layers of astringent hawthorn and creamy mango. The combination of spicy, tart and sweet flavors set this apart from any bubble tea I had tasted previously and gave me some ideas for tweaking my mother’s lemon sago recipe.
On to the main, a tender bite of organic ‘long kiang’ chicken served with an artistically arranged baby carrot, charred sprig of spring onion, and stalk of pencil asparagus in a pool of sand ginger cream. The seven-years aged acquerello rice was cooked Chinese style in yellow chicken stock in a claypot, reminiscent of a simple risotto.
The first of the dessert courses was ‘Memories of Cha Chien Teng’ which was designed to recreate a trip to a Hong Kong coffee shop where you might enjoy French toast (with a generous slathering of peanut butter, jam, corn syrup and condensed milk) together with a mug of ying-yang, the unique Hong Kong mix of tea and coffee. A square of egg custard was drizzled with corn syrup and served with condensed milk ice cream on a bed of French toast crumble, and soft nuggets of peanut butter and jam. The ying-yang was served with one side of the cup filled with hot milky tea and the other side with cold milky coffee, similar in concept to Fat Duck’s ‘hot and iced tea’. I haven’t yet developed a taste for ying-yang, but the combination of flavours and temperatures was a unique and interesting sensation.
Dessert course two was another theme ingredient dish, a trio of sweets all using peppercorns. A sliver of pineapple was served dusted with long pepper. As Australians we are used to pineapple being served as a savoury item with pepper in a burger or on a pizza, but it was interesting to try this combination as a dessert. Pink peppercorns nestled on a bite-sized meringue – this was delightfully different and worked so well I just may scatter pink peppercorns on my next pavlova. A scoop of burnt coconut ice cream enhanced with white pepper rounded out the trio of peppery desserts and the cold temperature, creamy coconut and spicy pepper was another unusual but delicious combination.
Dessert course three was accompanied by the scent of sandalwood. A Chinese soup spoon of mandarin topped with Chinese almond cream and sprinkled with ginger. A refreshing mouthful and simple and elegant dessert, like a sophisticated Wimbledon strawberries and cream.
The final dessert course was petit dim sum, a steamer basket containing ma lai koh, a steamed sponge cake and a birdcage-style cake stand of delicious bite sized desserts such as osmanthus jelly, macaroons, a sesame ball, a red date marshmallow and liqueur chocolates. Despite their miniature size and appetizing appearance we were too full to finish all the petit dim sum, but were able to take the travel-friendly items home to enjoy the next day.
One of the marks of a great meal is that it inspires you to cook and this meal certainly inspired me to try some changes to dishes such as pavlova and lemon sago that I have been making for years. As an Australian with limited exposure to authentic Chinese cooking, I hadn’t previously tried dishes such as gai dan zai (egg waffles) or xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup dumpling) and possibly couldn’t fully appreciate the way in which they had been ’x-tremed’ the way others diners could. I would love to try Bo Innovations take on some of my favorite Chinese dishes such as char sui bao (pork buns) and even that old western staple – sweet and sour (gwailo) pork. I’ll be back to Bo Innovation as soon as I can manage it to explore the rest of the menu and the new additions.