Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bo Innovation: The Perks of the Job

Finally, the much-delayed post about a meal so extravagant, it bordered on ridiculousness.

Wednesday, November 4th.

I found myself standing in front of the elevators at the front of J Residence. Anticipating though not really knowing what exactly it was that I was going to get. I had just received a call two days ago telling me that I was invited to try a “mind-blowing” (direct quote) menu at Bo Innovation. I didn’t really catch the name of the event… all I knew was that there would be a big-shot guest chef and that I had still never been to Bo Innovation yet (yes – shameful, I know) and I was being asked to go now. What was there to refuse?

I elevatored up to the second floor and was greeted by smiles behind a large white table out front. Asked for a business card and was handed back a nametag to pin onto my dinner jacket. A quick look around the restaurant – this was definitely not what I had expected. There must have been at least sixty seats set up taking up almost both the inside and outside dining rooms of the restaurant. I took a sip from my glass of sparkling chardonnay and looked at the menu for the night and gulped – I was in store for eighteen courses. No, I didn’t miscount… it was really, eighteen.

(Lobster Congee and abalone jelly)

Well, to be technically correct, it was actually a nine course menu, but each course was to be two dishes – one from Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation’s self-proclaimed “Demon Chef”) and one from guest chef and Australia’s 2008 Chef of the Year, Sean Connelly of Astral and Sean’s Kitchen. And as if that weren’t enough already, there would be one wine to go with each dish. Pressure. We began with an anything-but-frugal sashimi of smoked petrossian scallop, tuna toro, oscietra caviar and soy mirin jelly (Astral) and Chinese hybrid caviar, abalone jelly and lobster congee (Bo). The scallops were really quite amazing but I was taken by the lobster congee. It may not have been absolutely delicious but it was definitely an intriguing dish (in a good way of course). The “congee” had the texture of a thick paste but had an undeniably concentrated congee flavor infused with lobster. I can’t say I could really taste the abalone-ness in the jelly but the texture was a fantastic complement to the other components to the dish and the whole thing was just a beautiful burst of intense flavors on the tongue.

(smoked petrossian scallop, tuna toro, oscietra caviar, soy mirin jelly)

We then moved onto the miso soup, foie gras with quail egg wrapped in gold leaf (Astral) which was definitely one of the winners of the night in my book. The foie gras was so amazingly – delicate and silky smooth; the texture of tofu but the unmistakable earthiness of foie gras. I had a word with Chef Connelly afterwards, who told me the foie gras is added to the soup raw and is poached by the hot soup to give it that wonderful mouthfeel. Genius. And I loved how this little bite of magic was bathed in a comfortingly unfussy miso soup. Needless to say, it overshadowed the foie gras lettuce wrap with white miso Muscat sauce and rice paper (Bo).

(Miso soup, foie gras, gold quail egg)

(Foie gras lettuce wrap white miso muscat sauce rice paper)

But all eyes were drawn to course three: hunter valley snails with XO sauce and snail caviar (Astral) and Sichuan snails and watermelon (Bo). Come on, I’ve NEVER had snail caviar before… I didn’t even know snails had caviar! So forgive me if I was a little excited to try this. Well, turns out, snail caviar are just little tasteless white blobs. Urmm… I guess I’ll just stick with non-snail caviar from now on.

(Hunter valley snails with XO sauce and snail caviar)

(Sichuan snails with watermelon)

Crustaceans took over next with a hairy crab soufflé with marinated star fruit, pimm’s and pomelo jelly and aged Chinkiang vinegar (Bo). I liked the fact that I could eat hairy crab sans the messy dissecting process but I couldn’t stop thinking that the dish tasted an awful lot like prawn crackers. I mean, that’s not a bad thing – I LOVE prawn crackers, after all – I just don’t think it was what Alvin was shooting for. As for Chef Connelly, he won the table over with his signature lobster and foie gras burger (Astral). This three-bite burger was l-o-v-e-ly, especially with the sweet hoisin sauce the chef added for a bit of Hong Kong kick.

(Hairy crab souffle, marinated star fruit, pimm's and pomelo jelly)

(Lobster and foie gras burger)

A much-needed interlude palate cleanser arrived in the form of a nitro ginger tea ball. Well, to be honest, this was the “wow” thing a long time back already so I wasn’t exactly “ooh”-ing at the liquid nitrogen trick. Buuuuuut, I WAS “ooh”-ing over the following venison course. The venison steak tartare was delish, along with a duck fat chip and fried ginger, chili, garlic and shallots (Astral). And Alvin’s dish was even better than that, in my opinion. The braised venison with preserved kumquat and fruity red rice (Bo) was just a great combo of flavors. The fruity tang was distinct but still subtle, a little playful on the tongue even. And I loved how the rice had a bit of bite – a perfect complement to the fork-tender venison.

(Braised venison with preserved kumquat and fruity red rice)

(Venison tartare, ginger, chili, garlic, shallot, duck fat chip)

I was pretty much way past full already but soldiered on with course six. The kangaroo “xiao long bao” beetroot “skippy” sauce (Bo) was, sad to say, my least favorite of the night. The xiao long bao was a tad dry for my taste, with none of that lovely soupy inside famous of the XLB. The kangaroo with Sichuan pepper crust and truffled pomme puree (Astral) was better but didn’t really blow me away. Maybe I just don’t like kangaroo meat?

(Kangaroo, Sichuan pepper crust, truffled pomme puree)

Well the next two courses definitely brought it back up again, with a wagyu beef vegemite “ho fun” (Bo) and a wagyu scotch fillet, sea urchin wasabi butter and shitake mushrooms (Astral). Ah, I LOVED the Astral dish. The wagyu was tender and juicy but my absolute favorite part was the wasabi butter. So subtle yet adding a wonderful edge to the dish. And it worked so well with the flecks of sea salt. SO GOOD.

(Wagyu scotch fillet, sea urchin wasabi butter, shitake mushrooms)

Well, there were supposed to be four more dishes and four more wines to go but, sad to say, my eating capacity failed me and I had to finally say “enough.” I had eaten probably a week’s worth of food and really had zero stomach space left for dessert, as much as I wanted it. But it was truly such an amazing experience. The atmosphere was friendly, the service was absolutely topnotch (I was really very impressed with the whole team at Bo Innovation. Massive props to them), and the food? Awesome. Thanks so much to Tourism New South Wales for organizing such an amazing event and thanks to Chef Alvin and Sean for this “flight of gastronomy and wine discovery.”

And at 1am, I finally made my way back home.

Bo Innovation ($$$$$)
2/F J Residence
60 Johnston Road
Wan Chai

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