I had Bo Innovation in Hong Kong on my eat-list for Feb, but this list is getting worryingly long so I was hoping to slim it down by trying out Alvin Leung's London version of his 2-michelin star worthy creations. Dinner was looking steep, especially when I have Shiori lined up the following day, so we opted for the wallet-friendlier lunch.
Located between Savile Row and Regent Street, Bo London screams posh; I wouldn't expect anything less from the proud self-taught chef. Like other michelin-star chefs, Alvin Leung makes frequent appearances on HK tele, but the controversy-
addicted attracted chef likes to go the extra mile and have his face enlarged and printed around the place... Thankfully his London restaurant is much lower key, with mellow honey lighting and dark green walls to strike an elegant tone.
For lunch we could choose 2 dim sums each and a main course.
Black truffle XO har gau
I don't think I have seen a smaller har gau.
Despite the size, these were brilliant; thin springy case with sweet, bouncy prawns and slight crunch from diced chive. The XO sauce gave it a small twist, but didn't overpower the truffle and natural flavours from the prawns. That said I can't say XO sauce and black truffle went particularly well together, and It could do with a bit more prawn juice.
Black truffle taro croquette
The miniature theme continues, this is about 1/3 of a normal croquette. I have a soft spot for taro croquette, and these gold leaf topped versions did not disappoint. The flimsy case was perfectly fried to delicate brittleness, and it cracked open to release strong truffle aroma and a runny filling of taro cream. Despite the pronounced truffle fragrance, flavours were quite meek and the taro could do with a touch more seasoning. Otherwise perfect.
Foie gras potsticker
I'm not sure why, but the server said they ran out of potsticker and had to replace with wor tip (or dumplings or gyoza). But.. wor tip is potsticker. Well, from an HK-er perspective anyway. And if they were different, shouldn't the restaurant have the curtesy to check if I was okay with the change before shoving it on my table? Hmm...
Anyway. The foie gras was heated to an almost-liquid state, hidden in these perfectly pan-fried dumplings. The potstickers were flavoursome, especially with a small kick from the balsamic reduction, but given the shrunken size, the skin was too thick with the relatively meagre filling. It could do with porking up slightly to get the ratio back in balance.
Chilli crab fun gor
This was our favourite of the lot. It was packed with shredded crab meat, oozing with sweet seafood juice. The heat was suppressed, it only came right at the end as an aftertone, but just enough to give it a memorable punch. Unlike traditional fun gor, it didn't have water chestnuts and nuts for bite, but didn't need it with such delicious crab meat.
Scallop peas, crispy woba, jolo
Yea I know this doesn't look much, but it's our main course. 2 scallops. Those who watch Hell's Kitchen would know Gordon Ramsay serves more scallop and risotto as a flipping starter...
The two meaty scallops were cooked to perfection, gently charred on the edges with a succulent, creamy centre. The small chucks of crispy rice gave more substance and contrasting textures, but again slightly lacking in taste. Though beautiful, it wasn't a dish that I found particularly exciting or memorable, because the assembly is so familiar. That said I usually have it as a starter rather than a main.
Quail beggar style, lotus leaf, yellow lentil
There are various versions of the story behind beggar-style cooking. The one I know of was that a beggar found a chicken and had no condiments to cook it with, so he covered it with lotus leaves and slow-roasted it under the soil, infusing all the earthy-flavours into the meat.
The quail was tender, more cooked than the typical European rareness, but still gamey. With the jus, the subtle fragrance from the lotus leaf was faint, but the bird was absolutely delicious. We did originally wanted to opt for the suckling pig, but Billy interestingly advised against it, suggesting the execution has yet to be perfected. Anyhow we were happy to have chosen quail.
After we finished our mains and ordered our desserts, the "starch" arrived. This left us completely puzzled. Unless Chef is used to serving a savoury pre-dessert as a palate cleanser, why now? After we checked with the Maitre d', it turns out the fried rice is supposed to come with the mains, it just so happens the kitchen took a little longer than expected. Okay...
The rice was textbook-perfect; each grain greased, but not greasy, subtly fragranced with olive leaves and perhaps a bit of seaweed, good mix of veggie crunch and chewy bounce from rice. An essential dish faultlessly done.
Sex on the Beach
By going for this controversial-looking dish, we donated towards a charity for AIDS. I guess that made the condom tastes sweeter...
There is no doubt about chef's originality and fearlessness with this edible used condom. I heard about his 'Sex' savoury dish in Hong Kong, which sounds even more exciting, but we only get this sweet version in London.
Condom was made with raspberry jelly and condensed milk as the, erm, you know. If only it really tastes so sweet! We thought the best bit was the hidden lycee sorbet underneath the biscuit crumble. There was so much wow and surprises in this dessert, we loved it.
I am assuming Bo London is aiming for high-end fine-dining, with £7 for two pieces of kid-size har gau, cheapest tasting menu at £98 a pop, custom-made crockery, credit card reservation and £80 penalty for no show, it all shouts expensive. That said service wasn't quite up to the fine-dining standard, and I'm not sure if these are teething problems, or cultural differences.
After I checked into my reservation, both the receptionist and server were waiting for my coat, then the server took my coat downstairs and the receptionist turned to check another guest in, leaving me lost in the middle of the room. As I waited for Olivia, I couldn't help feeling flustered; staff were dashing around the relatively small dining room constantly, criss-crossing each other hurriedly, mustering instructions to each other, while there were only 3 occupied tables. It lacked the elegance and pace, the ability to set the ambience and mood to enjoy a dining experience.
The manager was great, very familiar with the menu, good with conversations and made some good recommendations. But he needs to slow it down, put more positive spin on the language and definitely train the greener staff on the dishes, so they don't just mutter the name of the item and run off.
It's been less than a month since Bo London opened its doors, and I guess some issues are understandable. It is, however, a shame when a potentially extraordinary meal gets charred by a collection of little things, which are all easily fixed.
Alvin Leung a Kitchen Demon? I haven't seen anything revolutionary yet. From this experience, the brand is somewhat exaggerated. I can see he created an exciting menu with some bold, innovative and expensive injections to the classics, but the outcome was far from mind-blowing, let alone 'living on the end of a bungee rope' (chef's words). Perhaps Leung is going too easy on London, maybe things need turning up a notch and fine-tuning. I have seen much more exotic items like "rice with preserved meat ice cream" on his HK menu before. Why not show us what you've got? We Londoners are well up for it.
It's still worth giving it a go, afterall the food was interesting. I guess to truly appreciate Alvin Leung's talents and see if he lives up to the 'Chinese Heston Blumenthal' title, I need to check out the well-oiled Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.
4 Mill Street
Tel: 0207 493 3886