Alvin Leung of 2-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong is a self-taught chef best known for serving condoms, second-best known for re-interpreting and pushing the boundaries of Chinese cuisine, and third-best known, perhaps, for being a Heston Blumenthal of Asia. The cuisine is defined by the term XTREME, which according to reports far and wide, suggests either utter genius or ludicrous gimmick. In London, however, Bo isn’t too bogus.
The 15-course tasting menu at Bo London is priced at £138 (currently served at dinner only), but there is also a more bearably priced lunch option – of 2 dim sum dishes, 1 main and 1 dessert – at £35. Also available at lunch is the concise dim sum menu with a price range between £5.50 and £28. The infamous signature dish *Sex on the Beach* – yes them condoms – is available at £8. The restaurant is pretty much a coarse granite cave with chairs not dissimilar to the certainly famous Danish restaurant. The service is helpful, genuine and informative.
The good & the (very) mad..
I went for the lunch option with add-on dim sum. Foie Gras Wrap (£15) was a dish of generously-sized, seared foie gras on a bed of fried vermicelli and crispy iceberg lettuce. The drizzle of “Abby’s Sauce” added sweetness to the buttery liver. Not a bomb of taste but lavishly enjoyable. Calamari Balls (£6), boasting dense and bouncy intensity from the mashed calamari paste, was far more delicious. There was a pleasant dimension, especially of fragrance, from the kaffir lime mayo, though it could do with more citric tang. Black Truffle Taro Croquettes (£6) oozed piping hot truffle-y emulsion. The enjoyment, however, ended at the aroma as the puffs did not taste of much. Steak and Kidney XLB (£6.50) arrived toppled with avruga caviar. The minced beef and kidney filling was unmistakably robust and soupy but also quite peppery; the XLB casing could have been thinner; the avruga did not do much. More successful was Sichaun Spicy Lamb XLB (£6), which leaked a polite dose of chilli and a lovely oily finish on the lips. I liked Black Truffle XO Har Gau (£7). The musty shrimp floss, in theory, went nicely with the chopped marinated truffle and XO sauce. In practice, it could also benefit from a thinner wrapping and a little more sauce.
Before my main of Wagyu Beef Cheng Fun (with £ supplement), I was sent a couple (free) signature dishes in the multi-course tasting menu from the kitchen
probably because I seemed to be taking an awful lot of photos. Bed & Breakfast was a flimsy basket of taro croquette with smoked quail and farmed Chinese caviar. The idea of the dish is constructed not only around the British term Bed & Breakfast but also Leung’s interpretative take on the pompous, traditional Chinese delicacy of Bird’s Nest. The luxury, of course, was well-matched and the attempt to promote ethically farmed Chinese caviar is commendable. Taste-wise, it was a posh croquette. The quail egg was crazily smoky; its slight elasticity caressed my tongue; and then it burst into gooey, yolk-y protein. The caviar could have had a more clearly pronounced taste if the smokiness was more finely tuned. Mackerel with “British Cloud” – a concoction of raw mackerel, citrus cream, ponzu and sesame foam, on a contraption of rose water and dry ice – was less promising. The dish cried for refinement as I could only taste the mackerel (acceptable but not the freshest) and the mayo-like cream. Back to my (paid) course of Wagyu Beef Cheng Fun, it was an utmost delight. There was an insanely good contrast of taste and texture. The melt-in-my-mouth Wagyu was skillfully seared, along with some crusty fat; the truffle puree was potent but not intrusive; the rolled gummy cheng fun was glazed in soy and (again) truffle and claimed umami richness. Together (and to me), it was pretty much an opulently playful interpretation of Beef Ho Fun and something definitely to go back for at Bo London. The fried rice with pickled vegetable could have been less oily.
For desserts I asked for “Sex”.
Leung’s name-making “Sex on the Beach” (£8), innitially conceived in support of AIDS charities, is a visually off-putting dish of fake condom, fake sand and fake jism.
If these were real, they would be less off-putting? While the original “Sex” was more of a savoury delight (made from mushroom, honey and ham, the London “Sex” was a sweet affair (biscuit crumbs, Sichuan peppercorn mousse and condensed milk ice cream). While I loved the zing of the peppercorn, it overpowered the spunk (and the other elements) on the plate. The condom itself had a good tenacity in its texture. The more visually pleasing dish of Rum Baba was just nice. The sponge soaked the alcohol nicely but could have been lighter; the fresh blueberries did not taste much. The real star of the dish was lychee sorbet – cleansingly sweet and exuberant.
Bo London does make quite an impression. On the one hand, I had some issues with my dishes. The execution could be more refined, and after the meal, I felt a lightly greasy aftertaste. (There could have been more acidity). On the other, this is the menu nowhere to be experienced in Europe (or even Asia?), contributing much to its uniqueness and potential. Leung’s interpretative approach to Chinese cuisine is inventive, relatively well-informed and.. believe it or not.. quite *fun*.
And that’s certainly not something to dislike..
4 Mill Street
Tel. 020 7493 3886