July 8, 2019

A long and excruciating dinner

Pin It

It has, once again, been way too long since my last visit to Bo Innovation.  I've been thinking about going to the "new" location ever since they moved, but somehow the place just doesn't come up enough in conversation with friends.

A few months ago Mama Bear pinged me and asked for her.  Bear and his BFF have been working on a cookbook with recipes from Vancouver area chefs, and the idea was to raise money for a local food charity.  They were looking for someone to write the foreword to the book, and Mama Bear asked me whether I had any contacts with Alvin Leung.  As a matter of fact, I did have a way to connect with Alvin, and The Manchurian very kindly helped put Alvin and Tigger together.  It wasn't long before Alvin very kindly lent his support to the project.

A couple of weeks later, Alvin held a talk for the launch of his book My Hong Kong.  I figured it was only right to show my support by buying a couple of copies and getting them signed - so I could give a copy to Bear.  It's an interesting book and clearly a labor of love - which Alvin said has been in the works for some 8 years.

The Manchurian pinged me last week and invited me to dinner tonight.  Apparently Bo Innovation is launching a new menu, and as I had turned down quite a few invitations from him, I figured I would try to make it tonight.

The 6 of us were placed in the Aberdeen Room, which is right next to the open kitchen.  It's too bad that the lighting here was so poor, because it definitely had an impact on all of my pictures tonight...

The new, concise I ❤️Hong Kong menu was already in front of us, and featured the outline of the top of Lion Rock (獅子山) running down one side.  It's pretty clear from everything around us that Alvin is really trying to showcase his version of the Hong Kong story.

Smell my granny - you gotta admit that this is a pretty strange name for a dish... and I cracked a poor joke about what might be coming our way.  As it turned out, this wasn't a dish to be eaten, but just the wet naps with which we were to prepare our hands and fingers for what comes next.

So this was to introduce - to young people and those who are not from Hong Kong - the Florida Water (花露水) so often used by our grandmothers' generation.  In this case it came from Two Girls (雙妹嚜) - a brand established in Hong Kong at the end of the 19th Century.  And yes, I did see Florida Water in my grandma's bedroom when I was growing up...

In addition to the regular menu, Alvin had apparently arranged for a few extras.  This included 5 bites which are classified by one of 5 colors, tastes, and elements.

Red, hot, fire - the cherry tomato came with pickled chili jelly.  Kinda like a chili jam but not too spicy.  On top we had dehydrated pickled chili from Sichuan, which were lit on fire to deliver a smoky aroma.

Child's play - the nibbles which form part of this course came presented on a board resembling those for children's games.  We were to blind taste them, then try to guess their identities from a list of 10 options.

Curry fish ball - trout roe on top of biscuit, coconut milk, and sour cream, but the flavors from curry powder was unmistakable.

Wonton noodles - it seemed obvious in retrospect, but none of us could get this one... Yes, there were deep-fried strands of noodle at the bottom, but the spherification contained a smoky dashi (出汁) that is meant to evoke the flavors from the broth of wonton noodles - which are made with shrimp roe and dried flounder powder (大地魚粉).

Sticky rice dumplings - the fragrance of the bamboo leaves were pretty unmistakable here, and there was salted egg yolk, green beans, crunchy bits of conpoy (干貝) and dried shrimp wrapped inside.

Gai daan jai (雞蛋仔) - with spring onions and ham.

Fried dace with black beans - another play on a nostalgic classic, this time the ubiquitous canned dish of dace in black bean sauce (豆豉鯪魚).  You've got some deep-fried kale - which ended up dominating the flavors - with some dace foam and black bean powder.  On the side we've got the deep-fried bones of dace topped with a little drop of black bean sauce.  Meh.

Molecular : "xiao long bao" - probably the one dish Alvin is most associated with.  The soupy pork dumpling has been deconstructed and presented as a spherification, with a thin strip of pickled ginger on top.

Caviar : smoked quail egg, crispy taro - the crispy, deep-fried taro mash shell contained a smoked quail egg along with some jasmine tea leaves.  To make it eye-catching and totally bling, this was topped with a dollop of farmed caviar from Heilongjiang Province (黑龍江省) in China and, of course, GOLD LEAF!

Green Eggs and Ham - obviously taken from the classic children's book from Dr. Seuss...

Opening the cover of the "book" reveals the contents of the dish...

The "egg white" was a jelly made of superior broth (上湯) and reminded me of the jelly in xiaorou (肴肉).   The creamy "yolk" was a combination of actual egg yolk with avocado and apricot. The ham (more like bacon) was house-cured and flavored with coriander and vinegar.  This was nice.

Aberdeen Floaters - once again, the name "floaters" don't exactly evoke pleasant images in my mind.  We've got a raw (or almost raw) carabinero tail topped with some finger lime caviar and diced spring onions.  On the side we have a powder made of soy sauce and chili, which tasted exactly like what Cantonese people would dip their blanched prawns in.  However, I really don't think this was necessary... especially when you've got that little bit of finger lime caviar delivering just a touch of acidity.

The "head" was a cone made with sesame, which had been stuffed with raw sea urchin and deep-fried prawn heads.

"Har Mi" - the glass vermicelli came sautéed with lobster stock.  Topped with some pickled hairy gourd (節瓜) and Alvin's home made dried shrimp (蝦米) oil.

Ode to the dragon - an hommage to the late Bruce Lee, with the visuals taken from his iconic yellow track suit with black tripes.  The inspiration came from the Shunde (順德) classic deep-fried milk, but this version was made by deep-frying cubes of "tofu" made with oyster stock and serving on top of some seaweed, then topped with a Japanese oyster, black garlic sauce, and oyster sauce.

Bamboo matrix - the serving plate shows the ubiquitous bamboo scaffolding still widely used in construction in Hong Kong.  On top of a chunk of grilled bamboo shoot was a layer of sauce made by combining foie gras with a "miso" made with Chu Yeh Ching (竹葉青) - a cheap traditional liquor found in most supermarkets and grocery stores.  The bamboo shoot with sauce was then put under a salamander to caramelize it - and this is like the traditional Japanese way of serving grilled bamboo shoots with miso on top.  We also have a piece of dehydrated bamboo pith (竹笙) skirt.

On the right we have a square of foie gras terrine which has been wrapped inside bamboo pith, topped with Sichuan green chili purée.   Served with black bamboo "ash" on the side.

The dish was finished with a spray of Chu Yeh Ching (竹葉青).

Gold, sweet, wood - paper-thin wafers of dehydrated golden beetroot, seasoned with saffron and cinnamon.  I definitely tasted the saffron.

60000 a year - supposed the number of babies born in Hong Kong each year.  The contents inside the baby food jars are meant to evoke the local classic dish of typhoon shelter fried crab (避風塘炒蟹).

We've got some Alaskan king crab, crab stock jelly, crab eggs, salmon roe, and deep-fried garlic with spices.  We've also got some crunchy cubes of some sort of fruit in the mix, along with some pea sprouts.  All taken with a plastic Peter Rabbit spoon.  I do wonder, though, whether the "crab egg" was a misnomer and was in fact flying fish roe...

Pat Chun - inspired by pig trotters braised in vinegar and ginger (豬腳薑) which is generally eaten after a mother gives birth, the dish's main feature is Pat Chun (八珍) vinegar.  We have a sous vide egg yolk, jamón ibérico, a cube of terrine made by stacking layers of pig's ear and pig trotter, a slice of black truffle, and Pat Chun vinegar foam.  Of course, the black truffle and egg yolk went very well together.

The imperial beggar's banquet - the name of the dish was inspired by the Rolling Stones' album Beggar's Banquet, although I did wonder out loud if there were a particular song which was the impetus... In terms of the presentation, the ingredients were delivered inside of a beggar's earthen bowl, but that was placed on top of a dragon-shaped frame to signify the son of heaven.

Alvin said that he wanted to take a simple dish and elevate it and make it fancy, so apparently this was a luxe version of chicken a la king.  Huh?  So we have homard bleu from Bretagne - with gold foil on top of one piece while caviar sat atop another - chanterelles, pickled pearl onion with red pepper sauce.  The matsutake (松茸) mushroom sauce came with Shaoxing wine (紹興酒) instead of Sherry.  Too bad I didn't really get much matsutake flavors... since it's not the best season.

The funny thing is that Alvin said that the caviar "makes it more royal, but doesn't do anything for the dish."  It's good to see a chef admit that a luxe ingredient was used in a dish for the sole purpose of making it seem more luxurious... without making it taste better.  Gotta give the guy points for being honest!

Blue, sour, water - as soon as I saw the jue (爵), I remembered how much I hated this on my last visit.  This palate-cleanser uses Moutai (茅台) as the base, so I have an instant dislike to it in spite of the calamansi juice and butterfly pea flower juice mixed in.  What's worse is that it's served in an impractical vessel... which requires the diner to tilt the vessel - along with his/her head - back nearly 90 degrees.  No likey.

Back on the street - inspired by the snacks sold in front of movie theaters in the old days, this method of serving snacks on paper with little wooden sticks can still be seen.  Here we've got sweetbreads which Alvin cut into pieces with scissors in front of us - just as a street vendor would.  These were swimming in a reddish sea urchin and Chinese mustard sauce, which had the creamy sweetness of sea urchin but came with a noticeable kick.  Sweet sauce and hoisin sauce on the side.  Accompanied by charred leeks and pickled radish.  I thought this was just OK, as the sweetbreads were a little more cooked than I would prefer.

The chicken bowl - we are nearing the end as the carb dishes come out, and here we have a dish named after the serving container it comes in...  It's a clay pot rice (煲仔飯) cooked in Lung Guang chicken (龍崗) stock using 9-year-old Acquerello rice... although it's wet and resembles a risotto.   Alvin decided to take pieces of dried abalone and shaved them with a Microplane that one would with bottarga.

Then he took out a piece of foie gras which he air-dried, an proceeded to shave that on top, too... and this was the final product.

We were asked to "scoop, not stir" so that the flavors of the chicken rice do not dominate.  Definitely very intense flavors, with lots of umami.

Beef noodles - so we have pieces of beef here but they were barely cooked.  The "noodles" were actually very thin strands of dehydrated beef tendon which have been deep-fried.  We've got chiffonade of black truffle, bell pepper, enoki mushrooms, and spring onions... all with a rich and flavorful milky bone stock.

White, salt, metal - the salted pineapple was frozen with liquid nitrogen tableside.

No sharks fin - in bowls often used to serve shark's fin we have strands of agar agar with peach resin (桃膠), tropical fruits like passion fruit and dragon fruit, as well as osmanthus flower syrup.  This was OK.

Black, bitter, earth - black beans coated with black olive and cacao powder, with ginseng tendrils which were pretty bitter.

Everything lotus - lotus flower and vinegar ice cream, lotus seed purée, lotus white chocolate, lotus root wafer.  Meh.

Finally, we have the set of petits fours - although they are 8 in total, representing the 8 treasures (八寶).

Chocolate with aged tangerine peel (陳皮朱古力)

Sesame roll with longan (龍眼芝麻卷)

Walnut cookie with salted egg yolk (鹹蛋黃核桃酥) - really good.

Wolfberry puff (枸杞包) - not bad.

Pandan put chai ko (班蘭砵仔糕)

Sesame puff with rose and strawberry (玫瑰士多啤梨煎堆)

Osmanthus sponge cake (桂花馬拉糕)

Jujube popcorn (紅棗爆米花)

Last but not least, we've got a small cup of eight treasure tea (八寶茶).

This was most certainly one of the longest dinners I have ever sat through, clocking in at nearly 5 hours in a space that was simply too warm. But that wasn't the only reason why I found it excruciating.

I was glad to have had the chance to try out a number of dishes which I have heard about, and also check out newer versions of dishes I've had before.  I think it's interesting that Alvin has created a menu to showcase and introduce to the world a number of things that he loves about Hong Kong.  Many of these are elements which he wishes could be preserved, and this can be seen from his book.  I did find, though, that some of the concepts seemed a little stretched or contrived - but it was still enjoyable overall.

Many thanks to Alvin and the Manchurian for the kind invitation.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails

TripAdvisor Travel Map