Friday, October 30, 2009

Bo Innovation

Alvin Leung is the tattooed, long-haired demon chef of Bo Innovation, the 2 Michelin starred restaurant famed for its take on molecular gastronomy. Dinner there can cost upwards of HKD1000, so good friends and I settle on the HKD198 lunch. On the day I finally sashay over to the second floor of a side street in Wan Chai, who do I see lording it over the kitchen but a chef with long bangs and tattooed arms in a sleeveless black chef's uniform -- so for a moment there I thought the demon chef would be cooking our lunch. But on second glance I realize it's not him, which is a bummer but totally understandable given that we were there for the less expensive and less varied lunch set.

Appearances of chefs aside, the all important question is: Did Bo live up to its reputation? I'm not an expert on molecular gastronomy, having eaten at El Bulli only in my dreams, and I have yet to muster the courage to splash on Bo's dinner chef's menu or tasting menu, so I can't say my opinion truly counts. But for those who are interested, let's just say I didn't die and go to foodie paradise, but I would go back for dinner. They should turn down the air-conditioning though. It was a freezer inside. The pinpricks of sunlight that danced on our skin when we left were oh so welcome. Maybe we should have eaten on the casual terrace outside.

We were greeted by this unique place setting with a diagonal fork rest.

My companions and I ordered the set lunch with different dishes so we could taste them all. This was my friend M's savory foie gras bread pudding, which was tiny, rich and had a hint of 5 spice powder.

Two golden orbs of scallops with dollops of fragrant kaffir lime sauce peeking through. This dish was an easy favorite. Imagine a bite of soft scallops followed by an intense flavor hit from the tangy, zesty, creamy sauce.

P's foie gras potsticker. A lone piece of luxury. It tasted like potsticker with foie gras inside. Decadent. I really can't be more poetic or descriptive than that.

Porcini "fun gor", deep moss green steamed dumplings filled with exquisite porcini mushrooms. A sensual, inspired creation that could convert a carnivore. Slippery sliced porcini encased in a thin, light, dumpling wrap.

"lap mei fan", steamed rice with preserved meats in normal restaurants, but Bo is anything but normal. Steamed rice is reincarnated as rice krispies, and preserved sausage is not to be seen, but tasted. The white ice cream underneath the krispies was redolent with the flavor of sausages and Chinese wine. There was also a hint of duck powder. Texture and temperature wise this dish was a revelation. One expects the krispies to be sweet, like the cereal, but it's bland, and the ice cream is anything but. It's as if they distilled the essence, the soul, of a Chinese sausage and magically transformed it into tongue-numbing cold ice cream. A fascinating dish, but it will do nothing to tame hunger. So men with big appetites beware, this restaurant is not for you.

Oxtail "xiao long bao" with avruga caviar. The best looking of the lot but the least attractive to our taste buds. I prefer the genuine xiao long bao. This one had a too-thick skin and insipid broth, like an older fowl with a tough exterior and tasteless meat.

Starch du jour: rice with fish roe. 2 words: more! more!

Duck with green salad and crispy taro. Not a memorable dish, except for the sweetish sauce and the hidden duck meat inside the taro shell. Now that was a nice surprise since I was wondering how one itsy-bitsy piece of duck leg could possibly tide me over for lunch!

"Ballotine of Chicken beggar-style, lotus flavor". Now this is something I would order again. Beggar chicken in Chinese restaurants is more of a showy dish than anything, flamboyant in presentation but lacking punch. Not so with this winner. Each bite begged (no pun intended) to be savored, the sauce was something you wanted to lick, if you were in the privacy of your home.

24-hours cooked pork lasagna, a quail egg yolk sitting pertly atop. P beamed when she saw the egg. As hinted at by the name, this dish was composed of many layers of pork slices that probably bathed gently in a vinegar and sugar braising liquid (an upgraded Chinese adobo). Now after 24 hours in a gentle bath, it's only right that one feels soft, smooth and silky, which was how the pork felt on the tongue. Sometimes, though, it's a case of too much of a good thing-- this dish was too sweet, the seasoning too intense, we all felt bored after a few bites.

Dessert was a simple affair: a chocolate pastry boat filled with souffle. The sprinklings you see on the side are not reddish cocoa or colored icing sugar but a berry dust (I'm guessing raspberry). I've never encountered such a crackly shell in my life! Each time my fork or knife came near a small bit would jump onto my napkin. In case you're wondering, I would pick the bits up and eat them. They were delightful, after all.