Sunday, December 11, 2011

The boys of Bo Innovation

The guys behind Bo Innovation

In Hong Kong last week, I went on a fabulous foodie binge because it's truly a great culinary destination. There are so many good restaurants to choose from within a few square kilometers, and many of them are pretty world-class. So out the window went the calorie counts and cholesterol worries as I penciled into my schedule 4 two-star Michelin restaurants and a one-star Michelin restaurant, plus a very good lunch at the Hong Kong Club, into what was basically 3.5 days in Hong Kong.

I spent one very pleasant evening out of my three nights in Hong Kong at Bo Innovations, a casual eatery in Wanchai with a two-star Michelin rating and a charming terrace right smack in the middle of high-rises that was adequately warmed up even in winter by heating lamps. I'd been looking forward to trying Bo Innovations out as I'd heard quite a lot about it.

"It's the type of place you either love or hate," said one friend, while another remarked: "You're going to that restaurant run by the Demon Chef." Yes, Bo Innovation is run by celebrity chef Alvin Leung who calls himself the Demon Chef.

That alone is enough to scare anyone, I think, about the type of food found here. But actually, the chef means this in a fun way. He likes to call himself the Demon Chef because he's fond of teasing people, he's mischievous and he doesn't mind breaking rules. That's what a demon does. It's the devil that's the bad one.

And -- guess what? There's a Devil Chef in the kitchens of Bo Innovation as well. He actually has tattoos all over his arms and he goes around with a dark bandana and dark glasses -- at least this was how he looked when I saw him. I didn't even need to ask which one was the Devil Chef.


Jordy Navarra -- the Pinoy at Bo Innovation

There's also a Filipino chef at Bo Innovation named Jordy Navarra -- look for him if you go -- and apparently he was at Enderun and he's also trained at the famous molecular gastronomy restaurant Fat Duck in England. "How did you end up working here?" We asked him. He said: "I ate here and I liked it. So I asked them for a job."

Bo Innovation itself is a small place and it's the kind of restaurant that's basically informal, but you can come in anything you wish and still feel comfortable, as long as it's not a long gown and diamonds.

On the night we were there, the place was full, mostly of couples and groups of businessmen. But there was also a couple with a young son in tow, and they had the tasting menu while the son had a very big plate of pasta done Bo Innovation-style.


They must be aiming for a third star as their service is very attentive and out of everything I ate in Hong Kong last week, this was the most detailed of food preparations.

Dinner here is an exact science and there's even a particular order they recommend you to eat everything in; this reminded me of Fat Duck although Bo Innovation is much more enjoyable because you get real food and not just a hint of it.


We had the 16-course Chef's Table Menu, which is truly a whopper of a meal even if every course is in bite-sized portions only. And to accompany our food, we decided to do the wine pairing course as well, and we were served at least eight different kinds of wine.

Now I do food and wine pairings for meals all the time, but I have to say that the wine pairing at Bo Innovation is really accurate and enjoyable. Nothing they served was over-the-top expensive, but everything was very good and perfect for each meal.

The chef even has his own wine labels -- yes, he makes his own wines in Germany -- and the two private labels I tasted were very nice. And just in case eight wines weren't enough for us, the #2 chef came out and poured us some very strong Chinese liquor as a post-dinner drink. I smelled it before I tasted it, and thank goodness I was forewarned.

I told the chef: "You can run a car on that stuff." It was 52% strong.

The demon's own label

52% strong Chinese liquor


But back to the food. First, it's not cheap. Be prepared to pay up, especially for the tasting menu. But I think it's worth it because you won't find food like this, at least of this standard, anywhere else in our part of the world. I can think of a few copycats who'll try out a molecular gastronomy dish or two, but I don't know of any restaurants of this caliber in our neck of the woods.

Everyone thinks that Bo Innovation is all fusion because there's so much experimentation going on. But actually, the boys at Bo Innovation don't think so themselves. One of them said: "We're not really fusion. I'd say we're more of modern Chinese. In fact, Chef Alvin describes us as extreme Chinese. We're certainly 100% Chinese food. We use mostly Chinese ingredients, we serve very Chinese flavors, we use traditional Chinese cooking techniques."

And it was 100% enjoyable. So the next day, when my friend asked me whether I loved it or hated it, I was firmly in the former. I said: "I loved it. Experimental but still classic and delicious. I'm going back there again then next time I'm in Hong Kong." Hopefully, that'll be sometime soon.

"I like to challenge people's expectations, to surprise and excite them.
My aim is to have people say 'That was the best meal I've ever had'
and I just work backwards from that."
- Chef Alvin Leung

Chef's Table Menu

Spring onion, lime, ginger snow and parfum du Hong Kong
This was a single plump oyster served on dry ice.
And no kidding, it literally smelled and tasted like Victoria Harbour.
Not that I've tasted Hong Kong's habour;
but this is exactly how I imagine it would taste like.

Smoked quail egg, crispy taro
This was fantastic with the private label white wine
of the Demon Chef

36-month-old Iberico ham
in a roll and then stuffed
with morel, vermicelli and gazpacho
This was my personal favorite.
I loved the taste.

with "mui choi" Chinese pickles
Everyone loved this dish.

Shrimp from Spain,
half raw and half mixed with mayonnaise inside
and served with noodles and chili

Three kinds of tomatoes,
and two of them in very strange forms
but with an unmistakable taste

A deconstructed "xiao long bao."
It was amazing how this tasted exactly like xiao long bao,
with the Chinese vinegar included

Wow. This was a Singaporean chili crab
in a souffle, with all the crab meat underneath

served with pickled ginger
This actually took the place of the sorbet
and basically we had to eat bubbles flavored with Century Egg
on top of dry ice

Beautiful slices of snapper with bits of dried Hunan ham,
mandarin peel and chanterelles

A juice slice of abalone
on a bed of potato gnocchi
served with seaweed and citrus

in a spiced consommé with daikon (Japanese radish)
and truffled tendon

This was an excellent dessert.
Pineapple in all forms was served with butter cream
and peppers.

Sandalwood smoke flavored this dessert of
ice cream with Chinese almonds and orange chocolate

Chocolates in dim sum form
and old-fashioned Chinese candies in a dim sum basket
Chocolate dimsum in a basket

Old-fashioned candies in a basket --
including White Rabbit

Shop 13, 2F J Residence
60 Johnston Road
Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel (852) 2850-8371


Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


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