Straight after eating at Bo Innovation I glibly described the food as being like that by a “naughty schoolboy who is not as talented as he thinks he is“. Having thought a bit more about our meal the problem is it is worse than that.
Bo Innovation is for those of you who haven’t been entangled in the Alvin Leung (the “demon chef”) star bandwagon is the Asian version of Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adria. Molecular gastronomy done to classic Asian dishes. You’ll soon hear more about him if you live in London as he will be opening a restaurant there to foist Emperor’s new clothes on people.
I normally write reviews pretty soon after eating at a restaurant but for this one I let my thoughts marinate and I have found myself more and more angry at the experience. This meal cost around 1,500hkd a head (£120) with a couple of glasses of wine and the entry level menu. The food thought it was cutting edge, unfortunately it was derivative or a way to do nothing particularly worthwhile with good ingredients.
I think half the problem with Bo Innovation is the hype behind it. This is meant to be the *wow* in Hong Kong where you get interesting molecular gastronomy from a cigar chomping chef superstar (Alvin Leung). Everything is based around quite how special Alvin Leung and the cuisine he bestows on you is. You get a tiled narcissistic picture of him when you enter and then the waiters disclaim to you that “Alvin is quite special” and “you should prepare yourself for a surprise“. Here in Hong Kong he is seen as somewhat of a white horse to show how modern and interesting Asian food can be against the onslaught of imported Western names. I mean this is where Anthony Bourdain eats when he visits.
However, when I went in person to the restaurant a couple of weeks before to book (and you needn’t bother as you can get a reservation on the day) I asked if Alvin would be there in person in the near future. The receptionist proudly stated that “Alvin will not be here in November or December as he is away cooking at shows and doing presentations“. It was obvious that this was meant to impress me by showing how famous and popular he is. Unfortunately I don’t care about that. All I could think was that here is a restaurant where the head chef isn’t going to turn up to work for two months…. Hmmm.
And this went on through the meal – some kind of misguided belief that this really was ground breaking cuisine and much better than it actually was. But it really isn’t. What came out was old hat. And using techniques such as molecular cooking is no excuse for ignoring the need to produce a good enjoyable dish. I mean look at the “Molecular XLB” two pictures above, that is a straight rip off of Ferran Adria’s Molecular Olive (pictures in a review of El Bulli hotel here for comparison). That said it was also one of the few highlights of the meal so thank god you can’t copyright dishes.
All the other dishes were, quite frankly, a touch average and tricks such as liquid nitrogen couldn’t rescue them. The picture above is of the liquid nitrogen ice cream which was served as a palate cleanser and is now such a widespread trick that you actually have an ice cream shop in London solely specialising in such stuff (Chin Chin Labs). More importantly it wasn’t particularly enjoyable – like freeze dried aerated ginger. Other “innovative” dishes suffered from this flaw. One I particularly remember/ regret involved a soup of Chinese vinegar in which stringy foie gras was dunked and had the three of us at the table coughing. We tried to like it but it wasn’t different, it was just annoying.
For mains I had the sweetbread which was another 100hkd supplement but which was a gutless little dish that made me wish I was eating at St John’s instead and Jen had the Langoustine (above). Apparently the Langoustine was fine and made nice use of raw cauliflower.
In a fit of madness I ordered a further supplemental dish, the Dragon Eye. It tasted like a shredded Bounty bar with blue cheese on top.
The saddest thing about the meal is that the best dish was the dessert. In itself this is no reason for shame but all the dessert was, was a banana liqueur pudding or “Bananas Foster”. The least showy of the dishes was, in fact, the most tasty one.
So… as is fairly clear Bo Innovation is a big no for me. I still wonder how I would feel about it if you took away the tiled picture of Alvin Leung, dispersed some modesty into the air and actually had a chef who turned up to work . It would also help if there wasn’t such a hope or expectation in Hong Kong that Bo Innovation is great or that it rivals the Blumenthals and Adrias of this world. Because it doesn’t and Hong Kong doesn’t need it to. Hong Kong has food in spades that blows away 90% of the countries in the world and dishes which you can buy for street food prices that are above and beyond 3* Michelin jaunts in France or Spain.
- Price – 1,500hkd a head or more without alcohol
- Shop 13, 2/F J Residence, 60 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
PS Bo Innovation used to have 2* Michelin but lost one in the 2010 guide.