I recently caught up with Sommelier Ming Ng and Public Relations Manager Dino Chang of 2 Michelin Star restaurant Bo Innovation to discuss the fascinating “X-treme” cuisine of “the demon chef,” Alvin Leung, as well as the unique wine list which goes with it.
Located in the bustling Wan Chai district of Hong Kong, Bo Innovation is unlike any other restaurant in the city. The cuisine is a deconstruction of traditional Chinese classics – a simplification of these dishes along with a simultaneous complexification of preparation. The wine list is extensive and highly varied, featuring just as many New World wines as Old World, allowing customers to take a break from the well known and widely distributed Lafites and DRC’s, and try something new. “Innovation” seems to be the key concept running through both the cuisine and the wine at Bo.
Ming, Dino and I discussed the concept behind some of their signature dishes and how the wines pair with them. I learned about the history of the restaurant, its representative décor and the influences which pushed Alvin towards the kaiseki cuisine direction. We also discussed some of the wine consumption trends that Ming and Dino have noticed at Bo Innovation, patterns in the regions and varieties that their customers seem to prefer.
Our interview follows:
A bit about the concept behind the cuisine at Bo Innovation – what exactly does “X-treme Chinese Cuisine” mean?
Dino: The name “Bo Innovation” was created by Alvin Leung, our Executive Chef, and we dubbed that as “X-treme Chinese Cuisine.” “X-treme” consists of X-citement and X-perience. Ever diner expects a lot before they make a reservation here, because we charge, on average, 2000 HKD per head. Alvin is famous for combining flavors to harmonize in his dishes, combining century-old recipes with the modern technology in the cooking method. Some foodies label us as “the molecular cuisine” in Hong Kong, because we’re the only Chinese cuisine restaurant which employs molecular techniques.
Is it a bit of a deconstruction of Chinese cuisine?
Dino: Exactly. For example, the Shanghainese dumpling, xia long bao. While many of the dim-sum chefs are attempting to make the thinner, skinned xiao long bao, as they believe that the best of this dish should have thinner skin which is particularly translucent, we employ the “spherification” technique to create a layer and to shape the pork soup into spheres. Coincidentally, the skin of our molecular version is the thinnest amongst all xiao long bao’s in the world. Inside the sphere it is filled with the rich soup of pork and mixed vegetables. It will burst into liquid once you put it into your mouth.
As you can see, we have at least 10 courses in one single dinner menu. We don’t serve a la carte here. At the very beginning, when Alvin was starting to become a chef, took over a speak-easy called Bo Innoseki, that’s a speak-easy managed by his friend. And with Bo Innoseki, the concept was the kaiseki menu of the Japanese cuisine. Kaiseki means you have whatever the chef offers according to the seasonal produce or chef’s specials.
And tell me a bit about the décor of the restaurant.
Dino: The wallpaper here features the blurred, vivid scenery of Wan Chai’s neon lights. Here you can see the metro label, Wan Chai, and those old guys with bikes on the streets. The décor reflects the personality of our cuisine which is innovative, yet keep the traditions and have a story to tell. All tables and mats are tailor-made with fine marble. Those birdcages you see over the open kitchen – we use those as a platter for the petit-four. So we infuse a lot of Chinese elements into the design of the containers and the decoration.
So it’s a representation of the neighborhood as well?
Dino: Well the reason we moved to Wan Chai in the first place is because the former location, in Central on Ice House St., was a bit too small to accommodate more diners. The capacity here is 60pax now. With the terrace we can do al-fresco dining and let the guests enjoy the fine dining experience in the decent weather, especially in October and November. Climate turns to moderate with the breeze at this time of the year.
So about the wine list – is it mostly Old or New World wines and is any one region given preference?
Ming: Old World and New World, for me, are around half and half. Many Michelin star restaurants will have many Old World wines (for example, Bordeaux and Burgundy), but for us it’s a bit difficult, because for a Burgundy even one bottle now is so expensive in Hong Kong. It is one of the problems for us. Secondly, in terms of New World wine, a lot of areas will make very, very good wine. So that’s why we do half and half. Some very traditional guests will come here and they will want Old World wine but more of our customers, I think, are more interested in the New World, because they find wines they don’t know. Old World wines everybody knows. Chateau Lafite, everybody knows, right? The big stars, everybody knows. So that’s why we don’t need a lot of these wines.
But every single wine on the list I must taste first. The brand for me doesn’t matter. Good quality, of course, is a little more expensive. And also, it’s important that it matches our cuisine, our food. That’s the most important part.
How does the wine complement the cuisine? Does the concept of the wine list reflect that of the cuisine?
Ming: The concept is the same, Alvin’s concept, it’s “innovation.” This is a must. We don’t use a lot of very popular wines, so to decide what to put on the list, we must introduce some really special things to the customer. For example, we have a white Pinot Noir and a sweet Pinot Noir. Maybe later I will do a Pinor Noir pairing from the start to the end, with all the wines being Pinot Noirs. We can choose a sparkling Pinot Noir and after that choose Pinot Noirs from different countries, New World, and a sweet Pinot Noir for dessert. I will decide this after I get back from my trip. But it will be a little more expensive, because Pinot Noir is one of the most expensive varieties in the world.
And the wine list you have, how is it arranged physically?
Ming: By price range, from around 500 HK to the very expensive, which we call Alvin’s Selection, very fine wine. The cheapest is around 430 HKD and the most expensive one is 18,000 HKD. Lots of sommeliers arrange their wine lists by the region. But for us, we want to make it a little bit easier, by arranging them by variety.
You mentioned Alvin’s Selection section of the list. Is that his private selection or his favorite wines?
Ming: Yes, it’s a selection from him, which is why we call it that. Maybe later we will change it to “Demon’s Selection,” a bit more crazy. Bottles over 3,000 HKD we put into this section.
And what about some of the trends in consumption? Has any region on the wine list stood out as more popular than the rest?
Ming: Not really, they don’t care. They just want a good wine, the best one for what they are eating. For example, they give me the price range and favorite variety and they ask me to match it to the cuisine.
And how about with varieties?
Ming: I tend to recommend mostly the Pinot Noirs, if they want a red, because Pinot Noir has a little bit more of those soft tannins so it’s easier for it to match our cuisine. If they want white, because we have a lot of seafood and some chicken, I would recommend a very good Chardonnay, but not a very oaky, powerful one, lighter than an American one. American Chardonnay uses a lot of barrel for the fermentation so it overpowers the food sometimes. I would prefer some lighter Chardonnay, maybe from Australia or from Burgundy.
Dino: Usually guests here are very open-minded and they’re willing to try something they’ve never tried before. They usually trust Ming’s taste in terms of the wine.
If you could choose 1-3 dishes that are a great representation of Bo Innovation, which would you choose and what wines would you pair with them?
Ming: Actually, I would prefer my favorite label, Demon Riesling (Schlossgut Diel). A lot of people, especially the ladies, like it because of the little bit of sweetness. With the foie gras and also for the har mi, it goes best.
Dino: And usually the ladies love it, it’s especially for the ladies. Because it’s very sweet. [Laughs]
Ming: They always drink a lot of it. [Laughs]
But it has more sugar doesn’t it? The ladies don’t mind?
Dino: Maybe, or else they may go to the gym a little bit more after.
Great to hear, that calories are not stopping people from ordering a Riesling.
Dino: Yes, definitely.
Well, thank you for your time!
Address: Shop 13, 2/f, J. Residence, 60,
Johnston Road, Wan Chai
(Private Lift Entrance on 18, Ship Street)
Tel: (852) 2850-8371
Fax: (852) 2851-0113
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