Archive for the 'Hong Kong' Category

Bo Innovation

Ever since The Astronomer and I decided to visit Hong Kong, I have been dying to eat at Bo Innovation. I first encountered the culinary genius of Alvin Liung, the Demon Chef, in a New York Times article entitled “In Hong Kong, Home Kitchens With Open Doors.” The article explored the delicious underground world of speakeasies that sounded irresistible.

”Bo InnoWhatti? You may well ask,” writes the engaging owner, Boris Yu, in explaining the concept of one of the most sophisticated speakeasies. The cuisine of Bo InnoSeki, located in the Central district of Hong Kong Island, is inspired by kaiseki, a traditional Japanese multicourse meal of small tastes prepared with seasonal ingredients. Mr. Yu prefers to call the food ”creative Hong Kong cuisine,” because it includes influences from France, Spain and China. Rather than using conventional place mats, the 12 to 15 courses are served in small plates and shot glasses set on a stainless steel tray or a ”stage” designed by Mr. Yu and his cook.

The chef, Alvin Leung Jr., who was formerly an acoustic engineer, is generally inspired for his innovative and original offerings by what he finds in the marketplace. Mr. Leung integrates simple local ingredients with foreign delicacies to create a compelling series of small tastes.

My second encounter with Bo Innovation was on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. When Bourdain visited, he was served meat and rice ice cream, Szechuan lobster in dumpling skin, gummies made from flowers, egg tarts and passion fruit.

Needless to say, I arrived at Bo with high expectations.

The restaurant recently moved from their location on Ice House to Wanchai and has yet to change the address on their website. In fact, The Astronomer had to do some sleuthing to find the new location. When we arrived for our 1 PM reservation, heavy-duty construction was taking place out front and there were zero customers in sight. Not the most auspicious signs, but we proceeded forward anyway.

Being the only patrons, The Astronomer and I had our pick of tables. We chose the one toward the back by a window. Since ordering a la carte wasn’t an option, we had the set lunch menu that included two dim sum items, a main entrée, rice or noodles and dessert ($148 HKD).

Our first dim sum item, steamed lamb sui mai with XO sauce, looked sort of gray and tasted not the least bit like lamb. The XO sauce was forgettable and didn’t help the struggling sui mai one bit. This disappointing start made my heart sink a little.

The duo of spring rolls filled with chicken, pesto and bamboo shoots arrived piping hot. The combination of pesto and bamboo is definitely unique, but overall, the flavors were pretty ordinary. The Astronomer loved this course much more than I did because its been much too long since he’s had his fill of muddled basil.

My favorite dim sum item were the deep fried scallops with kaffir lime and lemongrass sauce. Although the fried balls had a striking resemblance to tater tots, they were made purely of scallops. The innards were moist and contrasted nicely with the golden coating. The sauce tasted like Thailand.

My second-favorite dim sum offering was the foie gras pot sticker with cabbage and Chinese vinegar. The pan-fried pot sticker arrived crisp and chewy. The decadent filling played off the acidic vinegar surprisingly well.

For our mains, we chose the fish of the day (salmon) and crispy ginger duck.

The fillet of salmon with kumquat sauce was well-prepared, but so boring that I nearly fell asleep. Salmon paired with citrus fruit is so over-played. Bo, where’s the innovation? According to the waiter, the fish sat on a bed of “white asparagus,” which was completely false. The vegetable tasted like a cross between celery and cucumber and nothing like asparagus. However, compared to our second main, the fish was impeccable.

The crispy ginger duck with taro fritter and kumquat green salad, was truly horrific. I’ve had airplane food more palatable than this. The duck was under seasoned, dry as a bone and seriously tasteless. The taro fritter proved that not all deep-fried foods are intrinsically good. And as far as I was concerned, the kumquat salad did not exist. The only green on the plate was an undressed leaf of butter lettuce.

I must have been sending the kitchen some heavy ‘this sucks’ vibes because our waiter came over to ask how everything was. My response was ‘Where’s the kumquat salad?’ At this point, an onslaught of truffle-intensive freebies started arriving.

The shrimp and truffle dumpling arrived first. A valiant effort, but not very exciting. It tasted like an average shrimp dumpling with a hint of black truffle. Yawn.

The truffle and cauliflower “risotto” with chicken jus came next. Our waiter said that this was one of the restaurant’s specialties. The texture of the cauliflower was an interesting replacement for traditional arborio rice and the jus was flavorful. Innovative, yes, but not the most appealing combination of flavors.

The carbohydrate portion of our meal was definitely a highlight. The fried rice was dusted with tobiko, scallions and chilies. Not only was it aesthetically appealing, but it was delicious as well.

Our first dessert, crystal apple dumpling, was similar to the cauliflower risotto—innovative, but not exactly tasty. The gelatinous orb was mild and cinnamon-y, and the insides were not apple-licious enough.

Thank goodness the bitter chocolate filled sesame balls arrived because I would have left an unhappy camper. Unlike the bland orbs that proceeded them, these were rich and fabulous.

I should have probably waited until all the kinks of relocating had worked out before visiting Bo, but who knows when I’ll be back in Hong Kong.


Bo Innovation
60 Johnston Road
Wanchai, Hong Kong
Phone: +852 2850 8371

Eating in Hong Kong IV

The Astronomer and I started off our final day in Hong Kong with a run. I tried my best to find joy in circling city blocks, but I couldn’t lie to myself very well and stopped after ten minutes. The Astronomer braved the traffic and crowds and got in a solid forty.

After showering up, we grabbed some pastries for breakfast at a Japanese bakery nearby. The Astronomer chose a blueberry cheese one ($6.50 HKD). After several bites, he sadly realized that the only blueberries in the entire pastry were the ones on the top. No one likes false advertising.

My egg tart ($3 HKD) didn’t fare much better. Firstly, it wasn’t kept warm. Secondly, it was flimsy because the filling didn’t quite set. And thirdly, the crust was too crumbly. Sigh. Perhaps we should have stuck to the house specialties like Japanese cheesecake.

After our quick bites, we headed to Bo Innovation in Causeway Bay for our much anticipated lunch, which I will report on in a separate post. Here’s The Astronomer composing a postcard to his family back in ‘Bama as we waited for lunch to be served.

Even though our meal at Bo included two desserts, I procured an egg tart from the Happy Cake Bakery because I was in the neighborhood. I am convinced that this little whole in the wall makes the city’s best. Damn, I could sure go for one right now.

After lunch, it dawned on me that I still hadn’t purchased any souvenirs during my stay in Hong Kong. The Astronomer and I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for the perfect keepsakes for my mom and me. Although I was tempted by the tacky Mao wrist and pocket watches, I couldn’t bring myself to close the deal.

Afterwards, we headed to the Temple Street Night Market. On the way, The Astronomer bought an egg roll filled with daikon and carrots ($5 HKD) from a nameless stall. It wasn’t amazing, but it was deep-fried and thus pretty darn good.

The Temple Street Night Market ended up being a lame tourist trap, so we tucked into the Denny’s of Hong Kong (Jordan Road near Parkes Street, Kowloon) for an early dinner.

The Astronomer was in the mood for noodles and ordered a plate ($12 HKD). It had a bit of onion, a little soy sauce and a healthy sprinkling of MSG. Simple and satisfying.

We shared an order of pan fried dumplings ($12) stuffed with pork and scallions that were excellent. Although the boiled variety is healthier, the crispy skins are just plain yummier.

I washed the dumplings down with a wonderfully refreshing glass of cold sweetened soy milk ($7 HKD).

And for dessert we shared some sweet tofu ($16 HKD). The silken bean curd was served cold and topped with fruit cocktail. I must admit that the dessert looked quite ghetto, but it actually tasted really fabulous thanks in part to the fruit’s light syrup. Heavy syrup would have been too much.

On our post dinner stroll, I spotted a little joint called Hotel San Diego. I vow to stay here on my next trip to Hong Kong.

After Denny’s, we walked to the Kowloon waterfront to catch a little somethin’ somethin’ called Symphony of Lights, which is a nightly light display organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. The show stars the city’s skyscrapers and is set to music. I got bored after ten minutes. The skyline is impressive as is and doesn’t need the enhancement of lasers and muzak.

Here is the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, also located on Victoria Harbour. It’s a controversial piece of architecture due to its lack of windows. I like how it curves ever so slightly like the Wynn in Las Vegas.

Shiny happy people.

Here are the official mascots of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. From left to right – Beibei is the Fish, Jingjing is the Panda, Huanhuan is the Olympic Flame, Yingying is the Tibetan Antelope and Nini is the Swallow.

For our last supper, we went to Hing Kee Restaurant (19 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei) for some classic Hong Kong clay pot rice. The Astronomer and I shared a hefty clay pot with Chinese sausage and chicken ($25 HKD).

The flavors were homey and comforting. The sausage was lovely, as was the crispy rice at the bottom.

And lastly, we ordered a side of Oyster Cake ($20 HKD), which is more or less a deep fried omelette with oysters and scallions. It tasted really great, especially dipped in a mild chili sauce.

After dinner we explored a nearby mega mall and marveled at the 14-story escalator.

Coke was holding a special event on the ground floor of the mall to hype the upcoming summer games. Activities included taking pictures with the Olympic torch and running on treadmills. Guess which one The Astronomer chose to participate in? For running his heart out for one whole minute, The Astronomer was awarded with a stuffed hockey playing polar bear.

Eating in Hong Kong III

Due to the pollution in China, Hong Kong is oftentimes cloudy. Fortunately, we were treated to a rare sunny day on day three of our adventure. To take advantage of the cloudless day, The Astronomer insisted that we head to Victoria Peak.

The fastest way to summit is via the Peak Tram. A sunny day meant longer than usual lines, but we were well entertained by a ginormous shrimp mascot from Bubba Gump’s restaurant, which is located atop Victoria Peak.

Prior to hopping on the Tram, The Astronomer procured an Apple Cinnamon Roll ($16 HKD) at Pacific Coffee Company (St. John’s Building, Central), which is the Starbucks of Hong Kong. Although it cost a pretty penny, The Astronomer said it was totally worth it. I saved my pennies for later and filled up on raisin bran and apples back at the hostel.

A lovely view from Victoria Peak. Although the view of the city from the top is spectacular, the peak is ultra-touristy, especially with Madame Tousseaud and the Burger King hanging around. I can’t believe people seek out wax figures of celebrities and Whoppers while in Hong Kong. As if!

To change things up a bit, we walked down from the Peak via Old Peak Road. The descent ended up being quite steep, so I walked backwards a lot of the time to save my knees, which reminded me of this crazy hill workout I used to do in high school for cross country in preparation for Mt. SAC.

An hour later, we reached the bottom. Famished, we dashed to Wellington Street: the home of welly welly good food.

We decided to tuck into Dumpling Yuan (69 Wellington Street, Central), which is located right across the street from a restaurant called Nha Trang. Fancy that!

Wanting the relive the glory of our first night in the city, we went for some pork leek dumplings ($28) and soy noodles ($26). The dumplings were nearly identical to the ones we had at Wang Fu. Although we should have savored each morsel, we ended up scarfing them down because our blood sugar levels were dangerously low.

I intended to order cold soy noodles, but mistakenly pointed to the hot version on the menu when I placed my order. Doh! The Astronomer’s sensitive teeth appreciated the mix up. The thick soy sauce tasted slightly fermented and melded well with the noodles and veggies. Hot or cold, this dish is a winner.

After lunch, I was craving some sweets because I was way behind on my daily quota for egg tarts. Luckily, we stumbled upon Maxim’s Bakery (multiple locations). I decided to try an egg white tart ($6 HKD) for novelty’s sake. The crust was crumbly and cookie-like, which I didn’t appreciate as much as the flakey and buttery variety. The filling wasn’t as plentiful as the ones I enjoyed prior, but quite decent flavor-wise.

As I finished eating my mediocre egg tart, I spied a boy in front of the bakery enjoying a delectable chocolate-filled pastry. Since life is short, I marched back into Maxim’s and purchased an identical sweet for myself ($9 HKD). Boo yah! The chocolate concoction was unbelievable. The center was filled with dark chocolate, while the outer layers consisted of both sweet bread and chocolate cake. Sugar highs brought about by chocolate are the best!

Properly fueled, The Astronomer and I caught a ferry to Lamma Island. From Yung Shue Wan, which is located on the western part of the island, we ran five kilometres to Sok Kwu Wan on the opposite side. We passed by an inviting beach and lots of interesting food stalls, but were too focused (and full) to partake in the fun.

There were a slew of seafood eateries at Sok Kwu Wan, but we were in the mood for roast meat, so we hopped back on the ferry to Central for dinner.

The house specialty at Yung Kee Restaurant (32-40 Wellington Street, Central) is roast goose. These carcases hang out front to woo passerbyers. Roasted meats are a rare situation where shiny skin is a good thing.

Feasting on a whole bird seemed a bit excessive (even for us), so we ordered a rice and meat combination to share ($46 HKD). The roast goose was deliciously fatty and moist. The paper thin skin was crispy and had sweet hints of five spice.

The goose tasted even better with the addition of plum sauce. The glossy condiment coated the meat with its sweet and sour candy goodness. The sauce was so addictive that I asked for three refills! Once the meat ran out, I ate the remaining sauce with a spoon. Mmm…

The Astronomer and I heard that the roast pork was also outstanding, so we ordered a portion of that as well ($32 HKD). The thin slices of magenta-hued pork were much leaner than the goose and slightly less flavorful as a result.

To round out our meal, we shared a bowl of wonton soup ($26 HKD). The soup didn’t contain any fancy twists or turns, just well executed pork and shrimp filled dumplings.

For dessert, our waitress suggested we try one of the restaurant’s award winning offerings—black sesame pudding ($16 HKD). The set of two arrived in shallow clay bowls and were pitch black in color. The Astronomer took one bite and declared it not awful, but certainly not good. I, on the other hand, loved the stuff. The sesame flavor was deeply intense and tasted almost like bitter chocolate. The texture was simultaneously creamy and gelatinous. There’s nothing like being surprised by ugly looking food.

From Yung Kee, we MTR’d it back to Kowloon. Since The Astronomer had not yet indulged in a suitable dessert, we swung by Hui Lau Shan (71 Argyle Street, Mongkok). This cute shop touts on its storefront that it serves “healthy desserts,” which is another mark of development. We shared a refreshing mango pudding with extra mango ($30 HKD). The mango pudding wasn’t mango enough for us, but the extra mango made up for it.

Like all of Hong Kong’s establishments, Hui Lau Shan’s AC was on full blast. We usually don’t notice the chilly temperatures, but eating a cold dessert in a 60 degree room, especially coming from Saigon, was too much.

Before calling it a night, we had some waffle balls ($10 HKD) at the corner of Argyle Street and Tung Choi Street in Mongkok.

Served fresh out of the iron, the flavor was mildly sweet, while the texture had a bit of a chew. Although I’m not certain, I’d say there was probably some tapioca flour in the batter. A great ending to an even greater day.

Eating in Hong Kong II

Meet Christina Fok. I cannot read Chinese, but I gather from the visual that she used to be a chunky swimmer and now she’s a thin business woman. It’s good to know that it’s not just Americans spending exorbitant amounts of money on the quest to be thin. Is weight obsession a mark of developed countries? Sadly, I think so.

Uninspired by the weight loss ad, The Astronomer and I headed to Wing Wah Bakery on Nathan Street in Mongkok for our first treat of the day.

Wing Wah (榮華) has been around since the 1950s and is one of the two most popular Wife Cake (老婆餅; lou po beng) manufacturers in the city. Although there are a number of different varieties available, we went for the traditional one ($4 HKD) filled with winter melon paste.

The innards were sweet, but ordinary. The crust, which was comprised of layers upon layers of flaky goodness, was the star of the show. The layers were so light and delicate that pieces of it stuck to our lips.

The streets of Kowloon are filled with traditional Chinese medicine and dried goods stores selling all sorts of interesting stuff.

Here’s a closeup of some dried, silvery fish. I wonder what the Chinese use these little guys for.

I’ve only had one egg tart prior to coming to Hong Kong, but I made it my personal mission to find the city’s very best. Here is the first candidate from the 5-Star Bakery (Tougha Mansion, 502 Nathan road, Kowloon – $3 HKD). The crust was amazing—buttery and flaky, but the filling was so egg-y that I felt like I was eating a sweet quiche. A good effort, but certainly not the best. By the way, all the egg tarts that I consumed on my trip were served hot, which really ups the tasty factor.

The Astronomer grabbed a blueberry and cream doughnut ($7 HKD) that he loved. We were impressed that the filling was made of actual blueberries.

Two bakeries and one MTR ride later, we found ourselves at Kowloon Park.

I find parks set in giant metropolises very romantic. Here’s the flamingo pond inside the park.

After walking through the park and gawking at flamingos, The Astronomer and I headed to Causeway Bay. Our original plan was to try Bo Innovation‘s cutting edge Chinese cuisine, but the newly relocated restaurant was still under construction when we arrived. We made a new reservation for a few days later, but needed to reformulate our game plan for the time being. I didn’t want to think on an empty stomach, so I headed to my third bakery of the morning!

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Hong Kong has a lot of bakeries. The Happy Cake Shop at 106 Queen Street in Causeway Bay isn’t shiny and pretty like its competitors, but they make a helluva egg tart.

This here is my vote for Hong Kong’s best egg tart (I drew this conclusion after several days of intense research). The crust is flaky and oh so buttery, while the filling is sweet with just a touch of egginess. Served warm, the tart melted in my mouth and melted my heart.

The Astronomer also has difficulty thinking on an empty stomach. However, instead of a baked good, he decided that he needed something a lot more substantial. We walked two doors down to an eatery without an English name located at 108 Queen Street.

I sipped on a cold milk tea ($11 HKD), while The Astronomer munched away. The tea tasted like a heavily caffeinated and less sweet version of Thai iced tea. According to my friends at Wiki, “Hong Kong-style milk tea, often known as dai-pai-dong milk tea, is a beverage originating from Hong Kong. It consists of black tea sweetened with evaporated milk, and is usually part of an afternoon meal in Hong Kong tea culture.”

I forgot what The Astronomer ordered initially, but he was told by our waitress to go with something different because his choice was much too spicy for a white boy. I suggested that he try the Chicken Rice with Sweet Corn Sauce ($25 HKD) because it sounded interesting, and he surprisingly agreed.

The dish was comprised of a mountain of rice topped with chicken pot pie filling. It tasted very very mild; perfect for a Midwestern boy.

After our impromptu meal, we walked toward the Bowrington Road Market. On the way, I saw lots and lots of tasty roast meats.

I was quite full at this point, but I couldn’t help trying a new dessert at 111 Wan Chai Road. This breast implant look alike is called put chai ko and is a traditional Chinese red bean pudding. ($4 HKD). I took two bites, The Astronomer took one and we tossed it in the trash. Red bean pudding is a tasteless waste of space.

According to Cha Xieu Bao, Bowrington Road Market (21 Bowrington Road, Causeway Bay) is the home of one of the best noodles in Hong Kong you haven’t heard of.

It’s also home to caged live chickens. There’s something iffy about the juxtaposition of live and dead chickens in one small space. I kind of feel for the chickens.

We came to the market specifically for the curry noodles sold at Shop 3 (Hoi Kee Roastie Specialist 海記燒臘飯店). The numbers weren’t written clearly on the stalls, but we could tell by the heaps of dirty bowls coated with an orangey sheen that we were in the right place.

The Astronomer and I were really impressed with Hoi Kee’s curry noodles ($22 HKD). The broth was thick, a bit spicy and full of tender hunks of lamb. The egg noodles were tangly, texturally interesting and held on to the curry well. I can’t believe I never thought to pair noodles with curry. I now see the light!

The crowded streets of Causeway Bay. Isn’t it crazy how much Hong Kong resembles Chinatowns in the U.S. (i.e. Boston, New York, Philly)?

Roast geese just hanging out.

Next, The Astronomer and I ducked into Lee Kum Kee (38 Jardine’s Bazaar, Causeway Bay) for some sweet tofu sprinkled with “brown” sugar. The tofu was warm, silky and so very fresh. Really awesome stuff!

Afterwards, we explored the Delay No Mall. I found this super-cute all-over print hoodie that I desperately wanted, but couldn’t bring myself to pay $80 USD for it. The best part of the whole complex were the PacMan tiled walls on the bathroom entrances.

Afterwards, we hopped on the double decker trolleys and rolled to the waterfront.

Before checking out the convention center, we cruised by the Hong Kong Arts Centre to see if they had any exhibitions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything on display at any of their galleries, so we had to settle for a bright sculpture of a horse out front.

Here’s another cool piece near the front entrance.

The convention center, which is located on Victoria Harbour, is primarily made of glass. The monument outside was erected in honor of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China in 1997.

On our way back to Kowloon, I stopped by the Hoixe Cake Shop (55 Hankow Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) for one more egg tart ($4), bringing my daily total to three. The filling was good and sweet, but the crust was too oily. I am a mad man!

When we got back to Mongkok, The Astronomer and I went on a crappy run. Cities are great for just about everything but running. It’s a shame that our hostel was far from all of Hong Kong’s lovely parks. After our run, The Astronomer popped into a restaurant next to our hostel for a quick dinner.

He started with a steamed barbecue pork bun ($4). I didn’t take a bite, but The Astronomer said it was very good.

He finished with a bowl of wonton noodle soup ($15). The Astronomer commented that the broth was bland and the wontons had too much greenery.

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