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Bo London by Alvin Leung

Rating: 86.
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Note: Bo London closed in March 2014.

It needs no saying that European culture and in particular the luxury goods that Europe produces, hold significant interest for many people from the Orient. Even a fleeting visit to one of Chanel's stores in London will prove this point conclusively. The Japanese and (in particular) Chinese interest in the finest wines of Bordeaux has proved almost insatiable in recent years, driving prices to levels beyond the dreams of avarice.

European haute cuisine is one of these coveted luxury goods too and back in the eighties already, French three-star chefs started opening satellite restaurants in Asia. A considerable number of France's iconic three-star restaurants such as Maison Troisgros, Auberge de l'Ill, Michel Bras, Paul Bocuse, Pierre Gagnaire and Joel Robuchon, now have restaurants in Japan. In some cases these restaurants are merely simplified versions of the original but most of them have the mother restaurant's signature dishes on the menu too. It's not just the great French chefs however that have opened restaurants in Asia; in the past decade Gordon Ramsay and Jason Atherton have both opened restaurants in Asia. Ramsay has two restaurants in Tokyo and Jason Atherton has restaurants in Singapore and Shanghai. 

But now the culinary tables seem to be slowly turning, as Asian chefs are opening restaurants in Europe and their location of choice in many cases seems to be London. In 2012 three-star Kyoto chef Yoshihiro Murata opened Chrysan restaurant in a partnership with the Hakkasan Group and and his three-star colleague Mitsuhiro Araki is planning to open a restaurant in London too. In December 2012 two-star Hong Kong chef Alvin Leung's Chinese restaurant Bo London opened its doors in Mayfair. 

British-born and self-proclaimed 'Demon Chef' Alvin Leung is a self-taught chef whose Hong Kong restaurant Bo Innovation has held two Michelin stars since 2009.
Bo London is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). For lunch you can choose between a set lunch menu (2 dim sums + a main course for £30 or £35 with dessert) and a 10-course Chef's menu for £98. For dinner the restaurant offers 2 multi-course tasting menus only; there's the 14-course Chef"s dinner menu for £138 and the 12-course Ode to Great Britain menu for £98. A dim sum menu is available at the bar only. I had dinner at Bo London with my husband on Friday 1 February 2013 and we both ordered the Ode to Great Britain menu.

The first course called 'Dead Garden' arrived quickly and I was told it intended to represent the English garden in winter. It consisted of an airy avocado, spring onion and lime emulsion covered with a layer of 'soil' made from dried morel and enoki mushrooms. Nice creamy avocado with a refreshing hint of lime but the spring onions gave the emulsion a raw finish. The soil had a nice crumbly texture and lightly sweet flavours but I couldn't really taste the mushrooms; to me it was just a sweet crumble.
Next up was 'Bed and Breakfast'. A smoked quail's egg served in a crispy taro (a root vegetable) nest, topped with Oscietra caviar and gold leaf. The quail's egg was smoked with brown sugar and Chinese tea leaves. A very attractive looking, bite-size snack but the brown sugar and the greasy taro nest overpowered the quail's egg and the caviar, which was a real shame.

On to the third course, a dish to represent the British weather called 'Cloud'. Strips of mackerel coated with a ginger and rose mayo-like sauce served with a grey (you are right, the 'cloud'!) ponzu and sesame foam. A nice dish with fresh and pure flavours, unfortunately the sesame flavours were quite dominant.
This was followed by 'Steak and Kidney', the chef's take on a steak and kidney pudding. A Chinese dumpling or Xiao long boa as they are called, with with a steak and kidney filling, including the juices. On top of the dumpling was some smoked Avruga caviar (to represent the oysters that were traditionally added to a steak and kidney pudding). Well-made dumpling with a lovely filling but the caviar didn't do much for the dish and certainly did not deliver the saltiness and creaminess I was hoping for.


Sixth course, 'Tomato'. First a cherry tomato, marinated in Pat Chun vinegar, which was nice and sweet. Followed by a juicy but rather tasteless cherry tomato with a crispy coating placed on top of some Chinese olive puree. Finally a tomato marshmallow with a spring onion centre. The marshmallow was well-made but again the raw notes from the spring onion filling were a dissonant. Impressive technique though.

Seventh course: 'English Mustard'. Langoustine served with English mustard foam, an egg and mustard puree, lightly pickled cauliflower, red cabbage and cauliflower puree and a dot of concentrated truffle puree. Finally a course that was more than a bite-sized snack. On the whole a nice combination of flavours and textures, except for the very powerful truffle puree and the grainy egg and mustard puree.
Next was 'Hawthorn Bubble Tea'. A test tube with chilli-infused tapioca pearls at the bottom, followed by a layer of hawthorn juice and a mango foam. A nice and playful dish. Both the tapioca pearls and the juice delivered a nice flavour sensation, but the mango foam lacked flavour.

Ninth course, 'Toad in the Hole' - bone marrow, Chinese yorkie, lotus leaf, seed and root, golden pin, frog sausage. A piece of deep-fried bone marrow (coated in a Yorkshire pudding batter), a slice of frog's sausage (made with frog's leg meat) which was flavoursome and had a nice light texture. Also on the plate were a rich chicken and lotus root sauce, chopped mushrooms and a pickled 'golden pin'.
This was followed by a dish called 'Pigeon'. Beautifully cooked tender and juicy pieces of pigeon breast served in a lovely light and aromatic broth but unfortunately accompanied by some pretty tasteless potato and chive dumplings.

Eleventh course, 'Beans on Toast'. A puzzling dessert of bland red bean parfait, chewy sweet brioche, a chocolate sauce with some sort of rice crispies in it and (as I was told) panko bread crumbs and butter ice cream. Not good. At this point I was glad this meal was almost over.

Final course: Coconut trifle. This is what the menu said, but when this dessert arrived it turned out to be a creme brulée and an excellent brulée at that, but with no discernible coconut flavours whatsoever.

Frankly, I was not impressed with what the 'Demon Chef' put on offer. True, the presentation is inspired and creative and the fish and meat in this 12-course meal were invariably cooked very well. The (considerable) downside however was that the dishes were often incoherent and lacked finesse. There were some nice elements in some of the dishes but many components seemed to lack flavour altogether. There were flaws in almost every dish and only very rarely did the components of a dish elide. This is all the worse with one-bite dishes; they have to be perfect instantly, there is no second chance. If such a dish does not work, all you are left with is the gimmick. Piling some caviar on top of what is effectively an empty shell is a waste and offers no succour. I am not in the habit of complaining about restaurant prices in my reviews, but this time I did leave the restaurant with the feeling that I had paid rather a lot of money for what were basically 12 amuses bouches.

The restaurant's website boasts that the cooking style of Alvin Leung is 'X-treme Chinese'. Not for the life of me could imagine why. On the other hand however, I feel that many of the dishes could conceptually work well. In order for the restaurant to fulfill this potential however, the execution needs to be much, much improved.

Bo London on Urbanspoon

Posted 14-02-2013


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