This is going to be a blogpost with lots of pictures. Seriously.
A quick show on how small the servings were.
Let’s dissect the Tasting Menu. First of all, the Lunch Tasting Menu was the most affordable part of all the degustation menu that Bo offered that showcased the entire repertoire. At HKD850++ (up from HKD450 pre-Michelin 3* days), this was a “bargain”.
First off the list – Hokkaido Scallop, Shanghainese Jolo, Woba, Sugar Snap Peas, Lemon. The scallops were served at room temperature, slightly seared but raw enough to be called sashimi. Sprinkled with rice crisps, the firm and sweet scallop sat on a thin layer of citrusy jello. It gave a hint of vinegar (Shanghainese Red Vinegar I was told, but I don’t remember Shanghai being famoous for vinegar, well…), but the overall taste was overpowered by the lemon. Good start, woke up the appetite. This was paired with an excellent New York Sauvignon Blanc 2015 from Pau Manok.
Next dish – Bellota Bellota, Kinki fish, Tofu, Tomato Gazpacho, Morel Mushroom, Scallion. Bellota-Bellota is the brand of choice for top quality Jamon Iberique. Ironically, its French and not Spanish, but they have been providing the Jamon for a long long time. So Alvin Leung’s association with them was demonstrated in this tiny dish (the pyramid of food stood like a small pebble on the beach, that’s how small). Paired with a sliver of poached Kinki fish from Japan, small piece of tofu tempura, a dash of tomato puree and a slice of Parmesan cracker, this was a delicately plated dish with no distinct flavour. The ham provided the salt, but the rest of the ingredients did nothing to highlight the star in this dish. And where’s the Morel mushroom? It was there, lying sordidly in the pile, lost in its way.
There was no bread to accompany the lunch. Instead every table was given a bag of GaiZai Peng 鸡仔饼. It was a common eat in HK, where it was usually made of pancake batter and filled with sweet or savoury custard or bean paste. Here it was given the 葱油饼 Scallion Pancake treatment, that made it a really crisp biscuit between the meal.
Next, Britanny Lobster, Wonton, Tartare, Har Mi Oil, Semi-dried Tomato, Black Truffles. A friend once told me that lobster has no cholesterol and is the healthiest of all shellfish. That made it my favourite crustacean. Here, it was combined with another crustacean called Har Mi. Har Mi is tiny sun-dried salted shrimps and Chef Leung extracted the essence into an oil
This was the flavour on the lobster tartare. Truffle paste on the lobster ravioli, garnished with self-made dried tomato and Har Mi sprinkles. I liked this, a lot. Because of the Har Mi Oil. This was paired with Deux Roches Pouilly Fuissé 2015, a crisp semi-dry white that complemented well with the lobster.
Here’s the dish that started it all – Molecular X-treme Xiao Long Bao. Chef Leung is not a Cordon Bleu chef by training. He was an Engineer. He liked to break things apart and build them back. So he got fascinated by molecular cuisine spearheaded by Chef Ferran Adrià that took the culinary world by storm. And then he created this Xiao Long Bao and Bo Innovation was built on this foundation. A sliver of Moschino red ginger on a gelatin case filled with a liquid. Unable to place what the liquid was, I gulped the entire Xiao Long Bao, hoping it would invoke a nostalgic taste of the best Xiao Long Bao. Anticlimax. I just ate a jelly ball of thicken stock.
After a disappointing Molecular Xiao Long Bao, next came Duck Foie Gras, Preserved Chinese Mustard Green, Walnut, Aged Zhenjiang Vinegar. A French classic made with Oriental ingredients. The balsamic vinegar replaced with a heavy taste Zhenjiang vinegar. The usual reduction was made with Mui Choy.
Chef Leung has continued a theme of expensive-cheap ingredients in the same dish. With the Brittany Lobster, he paired the expensive lobster with its cheap cousin the Har Mi. Here, he paired the Foie Gras with the simplest of all vegetables, the Mui Choy. Surprising the effect was great, the earthy, salty taste of Mui Choy gave the fatty duck liver a familiar yet distant flavour. I wanted to say braised pork belly, but the foie gras texture and strong taste suggested otherwise.
So with the Foie Gras, we ended the appetiser portion of the degustation lunch. A bartender then served a palate cleanser just before the main courses.
Instead of the usual sorbet, Chef Leung gave everyone a cocktail of Moutai wine, calamansi, and egg white. Mou Tai was served in a really cheesy ancient wine vessel called a Zhun 鐏. Firstly, I hated Moutai. And this cocktail did not cleanse the palate, but basically killed whatever was coming later. What was he thinking? Moutai?
The first of two main courses – Haida Gwaii Wild Cod, Fermented Black Bean Miso, Honey, Ginger, Indian Lettuce. For the uninitiated, Haida Gwaii is a seafood producing region of New Zealand facing the Pacific. This, in essence and plain English, was New Zealand Cod caught off the coast, not farmed, marinated with miso and pan fried served on a puree of greens. Indian Lettuce? That’s 油麦菜. How much more expensive sounding did it get once you gave the right wordings to the ingredients.
The next dish was A3 Saga-Gyu Beef, Black Truffle, “Cheung Fun”, First Press Superior Soy. First Press Superior Soy or 头抽 is the first harvest from a pot of soy sauce. It enhances the flavour of any dish you try to cook and I have been trying to get my hand on a bottle. A3 was not the best cut but I liked this cut because for a steak, A5 is simply too fatty. The Cheung Fun or Rice Flour Rolls is a childhood comfort food. You eat it for breakfast, you eat it for tuckshop breaks, you eat it with lots of sweet and sour sauce. Done the same way with a black truffle sauce and drippings from the Wagyu, it brought a smile as I ate it. Paired with a Duclaux Côte Rôtie 2010, a dry red with enough tannin to build on the Wagyu.
Once upon a time, shark fin soup was featured in Chef Leung’s menu. But since the anti-shark fins movement took root in HK, the dish was taken off the menu. And came No Shark Fin, which was a dessert from eggnog, white chocolate, cranberry, chestnut and agar agar strips. Still served in the traditional shark fin soup bowl though. Paired with a sweet dessert wine Schlossgut Diel Riesling Kabinett 2012. Only 666 bottles specially for Bo Innovation, as Chef Leung was also known as the Kitchen Devil 厨魔.
A la Carte
Yes, they had a la carte menu for lunch as well. Langoustine — Black truffle, cauliflower risotto, salty duck egg sauce, pickled cauliflower, english mustard foam, duck jus. Overall this was a very well thought-through and executed dish. The langoustine was given the tempura treatment, and then given the every popular salty egg sauce. The mustard foam did nothing as it wasn’t mustardy enough. But the cauliflower was a good touch, in two different forms – as a pickle and as a condiment. I was disappointed it was not in the tasting menu and became A La Carte instead.
The Chicken Bowl – “Bo” Chicken Rice with shaved dried Abalone. Another classic in Bo Innovation. It’s a Italian style risotto dish made Oriental with chicken stock and shaved abalone.
Chef Leung had specially treated the abalone (or has he?) and used it like truffle.
The dried abalone was shaved a la minute over the risotto and then served. You got the savoury taste of the dried abalone. As abalone is an ingredient that borrowed taste from the other ingredients, it was not missed in the dish as the complex flavours of the chicken “porridge”/risotto was so memorable. Definitely another great dish.
Why, I think a la carte was great, and the tasting menu was really just an experimentation with the clientele to see what to put into a la carte.
Next was an a la carte dessert aptly called Coconut, even though there’s no hint of coconut. A almond soaked sponge cake with white fungus and frozen Goji berry with scattering of cranberry bites. And I though it as coconut ice cream, then turned out to be just plan milk ice cream.
Next went in the pina colada snow – nitro-frozen pina colada and when introduced just fogged up like dry ice. Nice presentation and effect. Great end to the lunch.
One of the star is about the ambiance and the dining experience other the food and services. You need to have the ambiance that defines and accentuate the whole experience. The details at Bo was reflective of Alvin’s Baby Boom years in an explosive Hong Kong, when the economic boom made HK the leading dragon of the 4 Asian Dragons. People made so much money in the stock exchange that they were inventing dishes like 鱼翅捞饭 (Sharkfin Soup with Rice).
Even the toilets were aptly named Bruce Lee and Susie Wong. No prize for guessing which is the Male or Female toilet. Enter the dragon, you were greeted with the gazing eyes of Bruce while you pee. Sketch of the famous scene in Game of Death where Bruce fought his most famous disciple, NBA great Abdul Kareem Jabbar decorated a discrete side of the wall. It looked big in the picture, but it was more like a 3R photo, something you would miss if you did not look.
The lunch service was decent. It had the usual detail description of every dish served and the back story of the creation of the dish that you came to expect at every Michelin 3* fine dining. Lunch’s Tasting Menu was a bargain at HKD 850++ (2017) and a good starting point before you leaped into the mind-blowing HKD 2500++ evening degustation menu. If you were tracking, it was HKD 430 in 2014 for the Lunch Menu. So every year they retained the stars, the price went up.
I wasn’t a big fan when Alvin started his restaurant directly opposite the old HK Police HQ in Mid-Levels. I did not believe he should be chomping cigars in his restaurant while the customers were eating. He was compared to Adrian Ferria a lot for the same deconstruction approach to cooking, which Alvin did to precision given his engineering background. I was not impressed with the Xiao Long Bao, it was memorable but not “wow”.
Fast forward 7 years, and all the accolades later, I revisited the place at it’s Johnston Street (more like Ship Street, if you want to find the entrance) location. If you asked me was it worth it, I would applaud Alvin for an innovative approach to Chinese cuisine. He did what Ferria did to Spanish cuisine, but his lack of formal French cooking training showed in some rough edges on some dishes.
Lunch was a good choice, not because it was cheaper, but it was also when they launched some new dishes, to test the market if you will. That was when you appreciate why he is given those accolades. Some new stuff I really liked. But on his set pieces, like the Xiao Long Bao and Mou Tai, they showed aging and did not catch up with the rest of the dishes.
However Michelin judges consistency in delivery as one of the criteria, so it would be detrimental to an “innovative” place to keep changing their signature dishes. Even Ferria got so fed up and decided to close El Bulli and go into really experimental stuff. And with the trend of Michelin stars being returned and requests of chefs to exclude their restaurants from this guidebook, you know the Michelin model is broken.
Another disappointed Michelin experience. Or maybe I was expecting too much.
Michelin 3* 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
J Residence, Shop 8, J Senses Entrance on Ship Street, 60 Johnston Rd, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2850 8371
Date visited: Nov 2017