May 2008

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

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14 thoughts on “Bo Innovation

  1. Oh, man! Even the somewhat minimal effort in presentation does not make these dishes look any more appealing. Those are the saddest spring rolls, salmon and crispy duck I’ve ever seen! Poor you. *hugs*

  2. Wow, I’m so sorry for you two to have to suffer with such mediocrity! I saw the same “No Reservations” episode and thought how much I would love to go to HK to just try that food. And I’ve been looking forward to your post since you previously had mentioned it. Makes you wonder how much they did for the TV cameras vs. what paying customers really get.

  3. “XO sauce”
    the first time I was in Hongkong, back in 1999, I was offered “XO chicken”. I told my server “why the hell I want extra old chicken?”… The rest is history.. LMAO..

  4. Tia – I was afraid the pictures would convey deliciousness. I’m glad you see the truth 😉

    Htran – BO DOES NOT KNOW TASTY. I can’t believe I left that cliche out of my post!

    Tina – I can’t believe how boring Bo’s current menu is compared to the stuff Bourdain got served. It’s almost like night and day.

    Bern – lol 😉

  5. gastronomer, I often have the same problem where the pictures don’t convey the true story of how tasteless the pretty food can be… Your meal sounds so disappointing, which makes me sad as I love the name demon chef and the concept of innoseki sounds very cool! I hate it when the website address hasn’t been updated too. But that chocolate filled sesame ball looks delicious…

  6. I live in HK and have eaten at Bo several times at the old restaurant… I have to admit that I find the lunch time menu very boring too but at dinner the place comes to life and the food is a lot more exciting. The lunch menu is supposed to follow a more traditional Chinese dim sum vibe while dinner is where all the experimental cooking takes place. All the people I have gone with have said it is one of the best meals they have had in HK and I agree. I think you will find that they are not officially open at the moment and only really serve food for the serious followers who know that the restaurant is not yet completed… Unfortunately I think you caught Bo at its worse and if you were to return in a months time after their official opening I think you would find a different story!

  7. I ate at the old one a few month ago at the chef’s table and it was EASILY the best dinner I’ve had in the three years I’ve been in Hong Kong. I went shortly after I saw the Anthony Bourdain show on youtube and had most of the dishes that were served on the show, surpirsed you had such a negative experience.

  8. HKMix and Roy – Your comments are making me think otherwise about abandoning Bo, but unfortunately I won’t be back in Hong Kong anytime soon. Hopefully the restaurant will work out all the kinks in the mean time and I’ll grab a table for dinner the next time I’m in town.

  9. I’m surprised at some of the above comments, I have eaten at Bo several times (old and new) and think the dimsum is creative and tasty. My favourites are ox tail xiaolongbao and the garlic wonton with duck egg foam (but my expat colleague didn’t like the consistency of the egg foam). For dinner, we always get the chef’s table – it’s really interesting watching him work and he’s pretty funny too! The must tries are pork lasagne which melt in the mouth, and the quail’s egg with taro crust. He also has a great three salad combo but it wasn’t on the menu last time. I really like the new outdoor area too! You should def give it another chance next time you’re in HK.

  10. Wow…for lunch, Bo Innovation sort of steps down a knotch… your meal was $148 HKD whereas a normal dinner is around ~$500-$1,200 depending on which menu you get. I really liked Bo Innovation, after all they have two michelin stars..

  11. I visited Bo Innovation and my tasting menu was completely different – very high end and creative. Your experience and photos are so strange…looks like a bad chinese restaurant.

  12. I’m surprised too, I just went last night for the chef’s menu and the offerings were delightful. And trust me, I’m Chinese, and I’ve eaten …everywhere.

  13. I would love to drop by Bo’s next time I go to Hong Kong and try the sesame balls if they still have that in their menu. They look soft and chewy, not the kind that sticks to the teeth I hope?

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