Monday, 4 February 2013

Bo London

A bunch of us went to check out Bo London last week.

This is Alvin Leung's foray into the London market following his success in Hong Kong with Bo Innovation - two Michelin starred and 52nd in Restaurant Magazine's 'World's 50 Best Restaurants' listings. In Hong Kong, Alvin Leung as styled himself as a 'Demon Chef', general rock and roller and master of what he calls 'Xtreme Chinese' cuisine. Certainly he may be one of the first to more successfully break down the fundamentals of Chinese cuisine and attempt to build something more modern and different, without the result appearing to be a trite form of cultural cut and paste. But as with all fusion it seems to me that it is hard to judge what true culinary symbiosis should look and taste like. Visually, Leung's cuisine resembles Western fine dining more than Asian banquet, but his dishes use Chinese flavours and are evocative of classic dishes and traditions. His methods appear to employ Asian and Western techniques, although I doubt you would see a wok in his kitchen, and more likely a sous vide machine and a dehumidifier.

Having been, and eaten, and thought, Alvin Leung's food is indeed very good. Pricey. But good. It seems to me he is trying to do two things - in Hong Kong he is trying to dare the conservative Chinese palate to accept new twists on a cuisine that is steeped in history and tradition. And in the West he is trying to demonstrate that a chef serving Chinese cuisine can move beyond Lazy Susans and monkey's brains and into the same space occupied by globally recognised masters such as Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse. Its a big challenge, and I'll be interested to see if he can achieve it.

We went for the Ode to Great Britain menu, despite some hard selling to opt for the 14 course Chef's Menu, priced at £138 and described as being more representative of his cooking at Hong Kong's Bo Innovation. Comparing the Hong Kong and London menus I found roughly seven dishes that definitely appeared on at least one menu in both cities, but since the 12 course Ode to Great Britain contained three of these, along with some newly developed dishes, it sounded more interesting. And cheaper.

Definitely looked like a dead English winter garden. And a nod to Rene Redzepi's dish at Noma of vegetables planted in malt soil. It was unexpectedly delicious - morel mushroom 'soil' over a foamy, light-as-air avocado and lime purée, littered with dried green onion (a very common Chinese veg) stalks and planted with dehydrated enoki mushrooms. Considering how mildly flavoured enoki are I was surprised to find them were very tasty dried. The savoury tang of dried mushrooms worked well with the lime and green onion flavours.
How could this not be my favourite dish? More Oscietra caviar than I have seen all year, and delicately piled on top of a sandalwood smoked, soft yolked quail's egg, nestled in fried taro like a luxury dim sum. Salty, eggy, smokey and crisp.
Raw mackerel, hint of sesame and salty sour ponzu foam. A lovely bite, though I missed the rose note mentioned in the menu. On the Hong Kong version it's called 'parfum de Hong Kong' - a play on Hong Kong not exactly smelling of roses?
Oops. A very fine take on classic xiao long bao - the steamed buns that contain a liquid soup as well as filling. These were meaty with kidneys and steak, balanced with ginger and fishy reformed herring's roe.
Tomato - part one. Peeled and poached in sweet Chinese Pat Chun vinegar. Sweet and sour, soft and savoury. 
Part two of 'Tomato' - a peeled soft cherry tomato encased in Chinese puff-like pastry, which exploded in your mouth in the same way a ripe summer's tomato does. A shame that tomatoes are not currently at their best, as in season no doubt its flavour would be even more satisfyingly intense. 
And finally (for tomatoes anyway), tomato marshmallow - a puff of tomato air. 
Juicy langoustine, chewy salted yolk, cauliflower-crunch and mild English mustard spike. An unusual composition and faultless.
A surprise extra course, introduced as a dish in development, with our thoughts welcomed. The salmon was too salty but otherwise delicious, cured in salted kumquat and served with firm yet bouncy wasabi noodles
Hawthorn bubble tea, with passion fruit purée, tapioca pearls and dramatic LED uplighting - lights, camera...
Pigeon breast, rich and meaty, with tortellini-esque dumplings labelled as Chinese jiaozi but very different in shape. These were quite stodgy and less impressive than the beautifully cooked pigeon and its accompanying broth. 
A far more elaborate toad in the hole than its original. The Chinese yorkie was a type of Chinese style fried batter which while wonderful in its own environment did not match up to the traditional Yorkshire pud. I enjoyed seeing lotus seed, leaf and root all appear together on a plate, but my Western friends did not appreciate the significance. While the dish was delicious it was hard to see any resemblance to classic Toad in the Hole, or any Chinese equivalent.
Beans on toast as you have never seen them before.
One of the four little dim sum we finished with - a classic glutinous rice ball with black sesame filling.
My favourite little finish - white chocolate with preserved mandarin filling - a really clever take on a classic Chinese preserved snack. Not everyone liked this, I think the flavour of the filling probably seems quite weird if you haven't tried it before.  

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