|Alvin Leung's (in)famous molecular xiaolongbao|
Does Alvin Leung or his restaurant Bo Innovation need any introduction? Well if he/it does, I'm not going to do it here. Just Google him or something.
Despite being one of Hong Kong's most famous chefs (especially on the international stage), it wasn't till recently that I mustered up the courage to throw some good money at one of his meals. I'd read enough about his molecular doo-da and frankly, was ambivalent. But of course I was curious.
He has a not-too-scarily priced dinner tasting menu of $680 for 7-ish courses (some come in 2 parts, hence the -ish), so when I was asked, I had an internal "What the heck, you can't bag it till you've tried it hey?"-type 2-second discussion and decided to go for it.
|Dead Garden - morel, catepillar fungus, spring onion puree, lime|
|True-8 Vinegar - foie gras, cherry tomato and ginger in Pat Chun vinegar|
(*I'm really going on a tangent here, but I feel confused about Pat Chun being 'translated' as "True-8". "Pat" indeed means eight, but "Chun" means treasures, (the Pat Chun website says it's "eight delicious dishes worthy of the Emperor"), though it has the same pronunciation in Cantonese (and Mandarin) as the word for true. Is it a clever pun, or bad understanding?)
Ginger parfait in a cube was served after, to mix into vinegar. It was layerish and just kind of just dissipated in the vinegar. I found myself trying to salvage flakes of it as quickly as possible so as not to lose them. Most attempts failed.
|Beggar's chicken - fried frog's leg in lotus dust/soil/powder|
The traditional beggar's chicken, as far as I know, is made with lotus leaf wrapped around the chicken, to impart some of the leaves' fragrance. Usually, it's really nice. This lotus dust was overpowering. Also, I thought beggar's chicken was always made in a salt and dirt case? Where I'm from (which, I presume, is the same place that Alvin is from), breaking the casing is kind of tradition. I didn't think beggar's chicken would be what it is without it. Anyway, maybe it's just me. The frog leg was fried to a nice golden brown, and it was juicy and tender inside. No complaints there. (Thank goodness, otherwise you'd have taken me for pretentious and anal by now. Ok, maybe anal).
|Cod (the yellow one) cooked sous vide, with white miso and sauternes, white tile is sake and lime jelly|
|Hairy crab "souffle" served with aged Zhenjiang vinegar (seasonal special - supplement of HK$150)|
|preparing the ginger and shaoxing ice cream thingy - for post-hairy crab 'recuperation', a la Chinese medicine/health philosophy|
|Ginger "ice cream"|
|Langoustine, with English mustard foam, salty egg sauce, cauliflower, black truffle peas, duck sauce|
Otherwise the flavours were overwhelming. The cauliflower wasn't tart enough to cut through the combined richness of duck sauce, salty egg and a not-very-pungent mustard. If I want salty egg yolk and fried seafood, I'd get 黃金蝦 (Shanghainese prawns with salted egg yolk batter/sauce). It's sad that a perfectly good piece of langoustine had to be overadorned as such. It's like seeing an adorable kid weighed down in jewels and fur.
|Dragon eye - longngan jelly and chunks of blue cheese, with shaved coconut ($80 supplement)|
|Shui Jing Fang|
You can definitely taste the alcohol here too, but the caramel softens the 'sting', as does the ice cream. The raisins were actually large-ish and jammy, a bit date like - not bad at all. Probably the only thing I properly enjoyed, like in a real food way, all night.
All in all, I thought it was a lot of showmanship for little real quality. I'm really sorry I couldn't like it more. I wish I could say Bo Innovation is an astounding, creative way of representing Chinese cuisine, but to me it just wasn't right.
The circus of flavours and techniques seemed to strip the meal completely of real, palatal enjoyment. The fun does come in/back in the form of discussion, so if you do go, go with good company who like to talk about the food, are curious enough to drop a few pretty pennies.
In this interview, Alvin says, "My objective is to introduce Chinese flavours to the whole world". I can see that, but taking it apart piece by piece, combining them with "western" ingredients and techniques in order to try and communicate to those unfamiliar with Chinese cooking? Nice idea, but the end product seems amateur and try-hard, especially for anyone who is already familiar with Chinese ingredients. Maybe my ideas about how they're supposed to be used are already too ingrained? Maybe, but this is how I see it - he's trying way too hard to be Hong Kong's culinary rockstar. Try-hards are annoying. Try-hard rockstars are just worse.
I don't think I need to go on and say that Alvin is no Ferran or Heston.
Basics like fried langoustine are not things I would expect to go wrong at a Michelin-starred eatery (ha, Michelin, whatever that means in this town**). Chinese cuisine, as much as they are about classic products like Pat Chun vinegar and medicinal philosophies, are also about making the most of fresh, seasonal flavours. Just look at the number of signs in restaurants around HK and China that advertise "fresh", "made to order" and origin of produce, for example. If you're looking to introduce Chinese flavours, that's what I think you should be going for, but I guess "fresh" just isn't rockstar enough.
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**I would trust Michelin for French towns and cities much more than I would for Hong Kong. It's a decent point of reference, but even with more local reviewers, the philosophy behind reviewing is essentially still western/French/Michelin. They're doing all sorts of weird stuff this year like adding sections for BBQ and congee in an attempt to localise, but the problem is, they're still looking at these places from a western perspective, which isn't wrong, it will just never be as 'local' as they so desperately want to be. Can't they accept that they won't be local and live with it? The notion of Michelin congee is just weird. Are there Michelin sandwich shops?