I first heard about Bo innovation years ago on an episode of No Reservations. When Bourdain visited the restaurant, he referred to head chef Alvin Leung as the ‘Ferran Adria’ of the east. This piqued my interest in the restaurant and I have since been keeping up with news about the restaurant. Chef Alvin has since gone on to be somewhat of a tv personality, appearing and promoting his restaurant on numerous shows, including the most recent segment I saw of him on Bravo’s Around the world in 80 plates. In the show, he lambasts his wait staff with a volley of vulgarities that even Gordon Ramsay would be proud of, although they were seemingly not doing anything wrong, apart from being a little slow to react to his demands. Although I feel that he is needlessly abusive, whether or not he takes on this personality for the camera is of little importance to me, what matters to me is the food
Dead Garden – Morel, Caterpillar fungus, green onion, lime
What looks like a miniature garden turned out to be the best dish of the day. A morel powder sitting over a green onion and lime cloud(more of a mousse texture), with chinese caterpiller fungus completing the (slightly gruesome) illusion. The enoki mushrooms were dehydrated till crisp and had a strong umami flavor, I remember seeing Wylie use this technique somewhere, to make them look like twigs. The combination of the spring onion-lime cloud and crunchy morels was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and texture. The refreshing spring onion foam brightens up the palate, adding a citrus lime note to cut through the richness morel. The caterpillar fungus added a nice crunchy mouthfeel to each bite. I thought the dish could have been plated to look a little more appetizing, but maybe this was done intentionally to shock the diner? Regardless, a good start to the meal. Good-v good
Saba – Sesame, ponzu cloud, ginger, parfum de hong kong
Served over a metal bowl with the smoky effect of dry ice carrying the “perfume of hong kong” eminating from within. I would like to think that the perfume might have contained drain water that was procured near the harbour, metane, fermented fish, or maybe even a combination of the three. Considering how ‘extreme’ chef Alvin Leung is, I wouldn’t consider it impossible. The oiliness of the Saba fish really melted well with the sesame oil to form some kind of delicious, wonderfully fragrant mutant oil. The ponzu foam actually carried a good amount of ponzu flavor, and of course it worked nicely with the fish. Ginger cleansed the palate at the end. An artful balance of Chinese and Japanese ingredients. Good
Xiao long bao
I love the idea of this dish, a molecular version of a xiao long bao, with the stock used to make xiao long bao spherified and encapsulated within itself, with no need for any of the pastry, served with a sliver of ginger to pay homage to the way the classic dish is eaten. Despite so much anticipation around the dish, I found it to be largely disappointing= it wasn’t particularly well spherified, either made with too much alginate or it sat too long in the calcium bath, which lead to it being too gummy and viscous for me, plus it was under seasoned as well. Okay
Black Truffle Cheong Fun
I ordered this as a side without realizing that it would show up later in the meal. The texture of the Cheong fun was good, but I’ve had better in Singapore. What I like was the they bothered to roll small pieces of diced truffle into the Cheong fun, so that when you cut into it, you could see tiny pieces of truffle embedded within each layer. The truffle sauce wasn’t overpowering and the Cheong fun was actually a very good vessel to carry its flavor. Okay-Good
Har Mi – Lo Mien, Chili, Kankio
Har mi noodles had a much punchier dried shrimp flavor than the version I had in Singapore during the savour event; its a pity that I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the noodles. The noodles were a little dry as well, although in their defense, an entire teapot full of (tasty) oil was provided, to be added as and when the diner sees fit, the clogged arteries come as a freebie. The spiciness from the oil was present but never overpowering. Despite its faults, I did quite like the dish, it felt comforting and familiar. Okay-good
Cod – Saffron Miso, sauterness, seaweed
The saffron miso sauce tasted a lot like something fruity, almost… Passionfruit-like, and I couldn’t figure out why. Its a strange combination of flavors. and they didn’t really work well for me either- the crisp seaweed added a pleasant burst of salty flavor, but the (strong) alcohol in the Sauternes jelly didn’t really go well with anything and just completely wrecked the dish because it was so pungent, to make matters worse, the cod wasn’t particularly well cooked either. Bad
The foie gras was cooked in a ‘shao ya’ (roasted duck) style, and it did take on a nice glazed effect, while retaining a bounchy texture.. The concept behind the dish is sound, the saltiness from the mui Choy ice cream balances the sweetness of foie, the sharp pickled/briny taste of the mui Choy cuts through the richness of the foie, the cold ice cream contrasts the warm roasted foie, but the portioning of the dish was imbalanced and despite rationing the amount of foie on my plate, I was left with a big chunk of ice cream left, which doesn’t sound like it is a big deal, but it is so strong and salty that it was almost inedible on its own. Okay-good
Saga-Gyu Beef – Black truffle, soy, cheong fun
The beef was expertly cooked- soft, a medium rare, and a very thin seared layer on the edges, unfortunately, it still had a bit of connective tissue within the meat which made it a little tough to break down when chewing. Despite this, it had the most wonderful nutty flavor, everything I’d expect from A5 grade beef. The soy sauce was gelled with some kind of hydrocolloid, and gave the sauce enough thickness to be lathered onto the meat. The truffle and the soy worked well together, it wasn’t a bad dish. It just felt a little one dimensional, pairing soy sauce with beef and truffle, it just felt a little too…. simple? Okay-good
Strawberry – Wolfberry, Pineapple, Chinese Green tea
This consisted of a strawberry jelly, wolf berry sauce, pineapple granita, freeze dried pinapple, and Chinese green tea ice cream. The jelly had a wonderful consistency, very wobbly and melted almost instantaneously on the tongue. The soft texture contrasted the crunchy freeze dried pineapple as well. The green tea ice cream tasted good on its own, but no matter what I tried to eat it with, it just clashed and didn’t work with any other component for me. Its a pity because it felt like this could’ve been a great dish. Okay-good
Mandarin Orange, almond foam
Before the waiter could explain the dish, my impatience got the better of me and I stuck my face straight into the smoking pot. Right as he said the words ‘served with the smell of incense’ I immediately got hit with the strong aroma you get when you visit temples. Not the least bit appetizing, but at least they saved it for the end of the meal. The almond foam was dense and had a surprisingly strong flavor, but hardly anything to write home about. Okay
My meal at Bo has been a long time coming, it’s almost as if I have observed the restaurant and chef from afar for a long time before getting the opportunity to dine here. It seems that there are two schools of thought about Bo, you either hate it, or you love it. And while I can say that I didn’t have a bad meal, I did leave feeling pretty disappointed. The only dish that really impressed me was the lime-spring onion cloud dish, it showed innovation and it followed through with execution.
All the other dishes were either well executed, but weren’t particularly interesting (beef), or had an interesting idea, but fell short on execution(mui Choy and cod). I has always had doubts about the place, but after holding onto their two stars for two years in a row(after dropping to 1 star in 2010), I assumed that they had finally found their footing(despite the reviews still being very mixed)- unfortunatel, the food I had didn’t reflect this, it doesn’t feel like a polished product, and some of the techniques used seem to be geared to shock and awe diner, and these these techniques don’t necessarily serve to make the meal a better experience.
I wouldn’t return to Bo, a bulk of their menu hasn’t changed over the years, and if the meal I had is an indication of quality of the rest of the menu, then doesn’t really warrant a return. Back when Bourdain visited Bo, it was one of the pioneer molecular gastronomy restaurants in asia, these days, there are far too many other molecular restaurants in Asia, perhaps chef Alvin had better cash in on his fame soon.