Alvin Leung needs little introduction to Hong Kong restaurant fans. The self styled ‘demon chef’ has held three Michelin stars at Bo Innovation (so called because he took on a space formerly called Bo Inosaki) for the last couple of years. As one of only 100 restaurants globally to do so, he’s in illustrious company.
His cuisine is not without its critics, some of whom accuse it of occasionally promoting style over substance. But at this level, no one gets away without potshots. One thing is for certain, his larger than life personality and sense of humour permeate every square inch of the place, from the vast mural of himself outside to the smallest touches on his dishes.
Tonight’s dinner – my first at Bo – was a special one, an invite to experience his cuisine alongside chef Chris Cosentino (below), winner of US Top Chef Masters and helm at the highly-regarded Cockscomb in San Francisco which specialises in nose-to-tail eating.The dinner also had a third protagonist in the form of Marvel, everyone’s favorite home of superheroes. Both Leung and Cosentino are big fans – Cosentino even guest wrote a comic – and they were bought together by C B Cebulski, Marvel’s affable SVP of talent co-ordination and biz dev who dreamt up the idea of a dinner with dishes inspired by superheroes.
The dinner was pulled together somewhat at the last minute, something which explains the handful of empty seats. But this was a culinary rollercoaster as befits the theme from a company owned by Disney, a white knuckle ride of thrills and occasional spills. For the next iteration – and with greater notice – this should be one sought after ticket.
In common with comics and movies, as you’re never supposed to know who the villain really is and the villain doesn’t want you to know what’s going on, Cosentino and Leung took it in turns to introduce their dishes from the front of the room. First was Cosentino’s Black Widow: part of the Avengers, originally a Russian spy before being recruited by Shield, here translated as a bone marrow fritter with Beluga caviar and some beets. Eaten in one bite and slammed down with the Beluga vodka. Nasdarovje!
Spider-Man: Steamed foie gras with spider crab in organic yellow chicken stock. This was a crazy textural interplay, the clever web and the sinister crab crowning it. Talk about umami, this redefined it.
Silver Samurai: Arch nemesis of Wolverine, here Cosentino serves mino, a type of tripe – the first stomach of the cow, served raw. Yup, raw. Stomach sashimi, if you will. The muscle in between the two stomach linings, marinated in hazelnuts, scallions, lemon juice and fish sauce, a turn on a classic Japanese dish. Despite my misgivings, this was nothing short of brilliant, the unmistakable funk of tripe softened by citrus and fish sauce, while the hazelnuts were the perfect textural counterpoint.
Winter soldier: The great buddy of Captain America was basically re-born, hence this came with a baby spoon. This was the ultimate comfort food of ‘yak and cheese’ – yak milk cheese, copious white truffle and other unnamed creamy bits which made for a ridiculously fine, borderline illegally-decadent way to spend two minutes of your life.
Groot: Under the dome sit four pieces of roasted sunchoke – otherwise known as Jerusalem artichoke – each represent one of the characters he gave his life for, hence sunflower seeds, sunflower sprouts and ice lettuce and a sauce made from Mitsuba or Japanese wild parsley:
Nebula: Red mullet with charred peppers, crispy scales, and a sauce of black garlic with black bean powder. Great fish and interesting pepper, the black sauce was a bit too intense for me next to the delicate fish.
Red Skull: As we neared the end, so the gore ramps up, as the photo shows. This is a true villain, enemy of Captain America, rendered here as a pastrami squab. Seriously. Squab breast served with brussels kraut (arf) since Red Skull was part of the Nazi army, a giblet sauce of liver, gizzard and heart cooked into the sauce and stunningly aromatic as a result. The Red Skull on the dish came from a squab head died in beet juice. Cosentino explained how it was best eaten by sucking out the brains: He wasn’t wrong. More than anything the pastrami rub on the breast lingered longest, a multi faceted taste explosion that somehow seemed to take in spices from all five continents. Very smart, very thoughtful cooking.To round off the evening came Star Lord, deliberately plated to look like the Milky Way. Star cookies, donuts with key lime, okra (yup, okra) and a starfruit granita:
Aside from some brilliant, innovative and occasionally bizarre dishes, the abiding memory from the evening was twofold. Firstly was the remarkable thought that had gone in to every dish, genuinely multi-layered in taste and experience, but also in meaning and backstory.
Second was the very clear passion of two people doing something they love, riffing off one another, puns flying amongst the pans. There was something reassuring to see them bubbling over with childlike enthusiasm and a genuine sense of wonder. Maybe Marvel superheroes really do bring out the best in us all.
Bo Innovation, 60 Johnston Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong:
+852 2850 8371 http://www.boinnovation.com/
Cockscomb, 564 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107, United States
+1 415-974-0700 cockscombsf.com/