Hong Kong: Molecular Gastronomy
Hello all --
Any recommendations for restaurants that do "molecular gastronomy"? I've been reading the threads on this board about Bo Innovation. Are there any other places worth a visit?
On the topic of Bo, has anyone eaten there recently? The Bo Innovation posts on this board are all a few months old. Would I need to book for dinner or can I just turn up? (I'll be dining solo).
Many thanks in advance for the advice. :)
Although there are several restaurants that do incorporate 'basic' molecular cooking techniques into their dishes (a good example could be carrot/ mango caviar used as garnish), the restaurants that employ intensive molecular gastronomy will be Bo and Kee Club. The latter is a 'members only' restaurant, and IMHO it is not really that impressive. I would rather recommend Bo. Since Bo received two Michelin stars recently, it may not be easy to book a table. I suggest you make a reservation in advance.
I was very disappointed by Bo Innovation. Two of us had dinner there Wednesday evening, Dec. 10, with high expectations due to its new two-star Michelin status. The food is indeed innovative, although the service was mediocre. What was Michelin thinking? I have had meals at three-star (Alain Ducasse) and two-star (Michel Rostang) restaurants in Paris... at Michael Mina in San Francisco, etc. The quality of the preparation, the culinary artistry, the flavors and the service were impeccable and befitting their Michelin status. Bo Innovation falls far short of those standards.
The new location in Wanchai is cheerful and unexpected. There is outdoor terrace seating as well as indoor seating. Terrace dining is rare in Hong Kong. Admittedly, diners are surrounded by high-rises, some of which have laundry hanging out the windows. But that's Hong Kong. A call for reservations at 3:30 yielded a choice of 7:15 or 8 PM. About half of the indoor tables and about a quarter of the outside tables were occupied over the two and a half hour meal. Blame the economic downturn, perhaps, or perhaps because it was mid-week. Staff was friendly and accommodating.
We elected the chef's tasting menu -- 13 flights for Hk$1,080 plus 10% service charge. The menu consisted of: Thousand year old eggs with super sour lemon foam, cherrystone clams with "fu yu" foam, smoked quail egg smothered with caviar and a crispy taro chip, tong ho (a Chinese vegetable whipped into a soup that resembled cappuccino) and accompanied by a salted fish crouton, toro (fatty tuna belly with foie gras powder and freeze dried raspberry), peas (with Sichuan "jo lo" sauce), a dish labeled "molecular" (in reality a Shanghai style xiao long bao pork dumpling with a transparent skin to hold the filling and juice - it appeared to have no skin whatsoever - amazing), hairy crab (a Shanghai hairy crab roe souffle that was actually "en croute" and not a souffle (with marinated star fruit and aged chinkiang vinegar), foie gras (with sticky rice foam, lotus flavor), Iberico Presa (pork cheek done sweet and sour style with lychee jelly), wagyu (Australian beef served over black truffle soy cheung fun), a pre-dessert (black sesame ice cream, red bean sand, ginkonuts foam and mango chip), and dessert (a quartet of Hong Kong sweets -- creme brulee, a jing dui (fried sesame seed ball filled with chocolate instead of the traditional bean paste), a flute of walnut foam, and what I recall was an apple-flavored dessert.
The presentation style was very contemporary, using Chinese soup spoons or oblong glass trays. Several of the courses were meant to be consumed in one bite.
The chef clearly is living up to his reputation to be innovative or molecular. Some hit the mark; some do not. Part of the reason is the bad...
The bad: Pacing of service was rushed. When one goes to a two-star rated restaurant, you expect this to be a three-hour, relaxed experience. During the first half of the meal, the next course would suddenly arrive barely after you have savored the previous one. The wait staff (never a consistent server) would quickly announce the course in English, occasionally using Cantonese to explain native ingredients -- we speak and understand restaurant Cantonese. But it was rushed, with no opportunity for questions. It was a slam-bam-here's your next course-disappear routine. The service lacked refinement and professionalism -- not even a hint of enthusiasm for the creativity behind each course.
For a meal that cost US$317.00 for two (excluding wine but including bottled still water), this was a major disappointment.
The location in on the 2nd floor of a residential tower called "J Residence." The address is 60 Johnston Road, Wanchai. However, the entrance (stairs or lift) is actually on Ship Street, a small street running between Johnston Road and Queen's Road East. We overheard a well-dressed local complaining about the difficulty in finding the restaurant. I thought the website made it fairly clear.
I will try to post photos when I have time. I wanted to get my thoughts posted while my impressions were fresh.
Please keep in mind I'm not a food snob. I love Hong Kong's dai pai dongs and mall eateries as much as I enjoy fine dining. This is my third trip to HK this year -- and I've been visiting at least once a year since 1977. I think HK has some of the best food in the world. That said, Bo innovation needs to polish its act if it to retain its rating and if it is to give chef Alvin Leung his just due. There is clearly a disconnect between what's happening in the kitchen (somewhat visible from the dining room but blocked by a partition) and what's happening in the dining room. In these challenging economic times, be wise with your money. There are better meals with better service to be had in HK and in the rest of the culinary world.
I too have eaten in the Michelin star restaurants you captioned above and as such we should be on the same wavelength.
Firstly, my thanks to you for a wonderful, interesting and detailed review. From your write-up and photos, I have a clear appreciation of the inventiveness, plate presentation and quality of service. The former, resembles very much like Ferran Adria trying to cook Chinese, whilst the latter is your typical Hong Kong Chinese approach to western fine dining! Ha! BTW, I too have similarly sub-par experience whilst dining at Pierre. However, when it comes to Bo's food, whilst reading your write-up, I have difficulty deciphering and still a bit unsure about the 'degree of yummyness! ' of them. Of the 13 dishes, were there any stand out, taste-wise? Did any particular dish 'blew' you away? By analysing your description of the food, I can see where Alvin Leung is coming from for a lot of his dishes. Casing point, the thousand year egg and super sour lemon foam is nothing but a variation of the 1000 yr egg and pickled ginger theme, whilst the cherrystone clam and 'Fu-Yu' foam is just a 'de-constructed' version of the Chinese ' Heen-Gai' fermented clam sauce, very often use as dipping sauce for fried carp fish balls.
The timing of your post is immaculate since I was planning to join up with Singapore CH - Fourseason in HK around early March and give Bo a try. Now, may be we'll have second thoughts and use the money for some high end Chinese food instead?!
I think your comments are pretty bang-on. I loved Bo when I discovered it in 2004/05, but stopped going around 06 after they moved to their previous location on Ice House St. Although this could be due to the fact that I went to El Bulli in 06 and had the real deal...
I was initially blown away by things like "lap mei faan" deconstructed into ice cream + rice crispies, the hairy crab "souffle" that you mentioned, and other dishes. But after a while you realize that many of the dishes remain the same, so the thrill of dining there is drastically decreased.
Service has pretty much always sucked, but I noticed that it got worse so I stopped going. I cannot imagine how people thought it merits 2 stars, as I'd barely give it one...
That being said, I was hoping to revisit the place with Charles and FS when they are in town. Let's see if I have reason to revise my opinion.
As you mentioned, when I visited their relocated Wanchai shop in June, more than half of the dishes in the chef's special course were the same as before and I was like "huh?". I myself had also experienced El Bulli before I experienced Bo in Central, but I was far more impressed then. So I think it may be due to their 'unchanging' hence rather somewhat dull menu for returning guests. However, for first goers it may be impressive? May be... :)
I tried to get a reservation for this week (any date and time) by emailing them through their reservations page on their website a couple of times earlier this week. But no response, so Bo won't be on my agenda this trip.
Not sure whether they aren't checking their emails or are all booked up or what.
I guess your best bet is to call for a reservation.