“I do not wish you much happiness – it would bore you; I do not wish you trouble either; but, following the people’s philosophy, I will simply repeat: ‘Live more’ and try somehow not to be too bored; this useless wish I am adding on my own.”
(Demons – F. Dostoevskij)
Sometimes I wonder how, in the most strange and unexpected moments, some of our hidden memories, find the way back to the surface. Connecting in an unknown and incomprehensible way.
We should do a careful and in-depth study. Let me give you an example: how is it possible that, sitting at a table in a restaurant, in the heart of Hong Kong, I can think of Demons and the Matrix at the same time.
In addition to it, we are talking about two productions belonging to completely different genres (a literary work and a film), and distant over time. Mostly produced by minds at the antipodes, by place in the world and years: Fedor Dostoevsky and the Wachowski brothers.
Maybe it’s the jet lag, which I have not managed to absorb yet, or the looming hunger I cannot wait to satisfy. The fact is that by bouncing your eyes between the menu and the busy street that is located a few meters below me, I cannot think of anything else: red or blue?
Rather: red pill or blue pill?
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes“.
I choose red. Obviously. Oh, curiosity: my biggest weakness…
As I told you before, I’m still in Hong Kong and I’m going to eat at Bo Innovation, the restaurant of one of the most popular chefs in China: Alvin Leung, The Demon Chef (do you understand now why Dostoevsky was knocking so hard on the door of my conscience?). A Cantonese cuisine innovator, Leung chose a nickname for himself: at the beginning of his career, many praised his dishes by saying: “You’re a god of cooking”. To the Chinese chef, born in London, this definition seemed too blasphemous. Therefore, on his own initiative, he decided to rename himself “demon”. After all, in Greek, the word daemon means “playful spirit”, something that Leung tries to do with food and his dishes: having fun.
Bo Innovation is the only three-starred restaurant in Hong Kong that is not inside a hotel or a shopping centre. It was founded in 2005, when Leung, after spending some years around the world working with colleagues like Adrià, Blumenthal and Robuchon, decided to try his own road. It is located in a “popular” neighbourhood: not among the most “in” districts of the former English colony, but still overlooking a busy street full of shops, visible from the restaurant hall, thanks to the beautiful windows.
The hall, introduced by a cocktail corner (dark and vintage yet rich in very refined drinks as well), can host a maximum of forty diners, arranged in three rooms. From every seat you can look at the kitchen, angular and all in sight.
As soon as I sit down, they propose me two menus: red or blue (hello Matrix!). Clearly, I opt for the first and I prepare to go down into the demon cave…
Before starting with the dishes, a container filled with scented water is brought to the table: it is not drinkable but is used to wet the wipes for your hands. The waiter explains that the Hong Kong women (that, in fact, in Chinese means “perfumed port”) use a similar compound to wash themselves. The water, in contact with the “napkins”, produces smoke: a beautiful, hygienic and striking idea!
The menu starts with the amuse bouche: each dish is served in beautiful dishes, ancient Japanese yellow daisy porcelain, dating back to 1960.
Let’s start with three tartlets, placed on a folder (the game table of a famous Chinese pastime) the first with chicken skin and a cucumber sauce, the second with a potato and ginger croquette, the last one with a mashed potato and pistachio.
It’s time to choose the wine: the sommelier recommends me a half bottle of red. A Volnay 1er Cru “Santenots”: with subtle scents of wild berries, cherries and strawberries, it also has a spicy aftertaste, capable of evoking notes of tobacco, chocolate and leather. Intense but delicate, it has the right freshness and a strong minerality.
We continue with an egg yolk marinated with ginger: hard out and soft inside, on the palate an explosion of incredible flavours. The appetizer, meanwhile, ends with a semi-sweet triangle typical of Hong Kong, a kind of flat bread and a nest. Served in a wonderful leaf-shaped dish, it is built with phyllo dough and filled with caviar, a gold leaf and some cheese.
Let’s move to the fish: a sea bass, prepared as if it were sashimi, to be seasoned with a spicy powder made with the chili pepper, to be distributed with the fingers. There is no Wasabi: it is Japanese.
Then the noodles prepared with soy sprouts, added with a shrimp oil. The taste of crustaceans (brought to the table in a basket to show them to the customer) explodes in all its magnificence: a fantastic, deep, beautiful taste. Very successful dish.
Then the bamboo matrix: foie gras on homemade black bread, set in a bamboo basket with a fried bamboo waffle. The presentation is wonderful, the liver even more, plus I appreciate the presence of some pieces of apple that soften the taste of fresh foie gras. Wonderful.
I taste the Postnatal fancy: a peeled tomato cooked for 45 minutes in a bath with sweet soy vinegar. I should eat it in one bite, with an iced granulated ginger that amalgamates everything and allows you to drink the sauce.
We continue with the classic upgrade: cod on a base of almond cream, mushroom cap, onion sprouts and small pieces of Iberian ham to give contrast.
Let’s go to the lobster, accompanied by sea urchins, a sauce with lobster juice and ginger flavoured mayonnaise emulsions. It is a sort of interlude made of a foam of Chinese whiskey with egg, served in a strange glass with its beak, to be drunk with a single sip. Finally the stuffed chicken with vialone rice: an Italian rice, very used in haute cuisine. More than the dish, not very successful, I like the knife with which I should cut the chicken: almost a butcher’s one.
We close the Baba made with Chinese rum: the peculiarity of the rum is that it is fermented without water, so it has a much higher alcohol content. It is accompanied by a grain of vanilla ice cream, vanilla flavoured leaves and dehydrated raspberries.
Before the small pastry (a bird-like cage, with three or four Chinese specialties), I taste a tea made with eight different types of ingredients: for example nuts, goji berries, dragon’s eye, roses, jujube and tangerine peelings.
As usual, I go to the bathrooms for my usual check-up: they are dedicated to Bruce Lee (you can see on the walls numerous prints that portray the Chinese actor). I find them wide, beautiful and very clean. Even outside the door, there is a woman waiting for you to give you a scented towel to dry your hands with.
Unfortunately, I cannot speak with the chef: he is abroad, visiting one of his restaurants in Paris or London. I talk with his sous chef, a forty-year-old man named Dave, who explains me why Leung is nicknamed as the “innovator”. The Demon, in fact, managed to transform the Cantonese cuisine, made just of rice, soybeans and various broths, by modifying it into something accessible abroad as well.
Wasn’t I totally right to choose the red pill?
Final mark: 4 beards.