Alvin Leung’s moniker, the Demon Chef, suits him as well as it doesn’t. Perfectly affable in person, even a little shy, he’s eager for feedback from diners on the tasting menu at Bo London, which launched to great acclaim in Mayfair last month. “Only tell me the bad stuff,” he insists, waving away any praise. As this is the first outpost of the original, Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, Leung is understandably nervous about how his take on contemporary Chinese cuisine will read in London.
But beneath his honest, even modest exterior, doth Leung’s rebel spirit lie. Having only started cooking professionally seven years ago (he was an avid home cook for 35 years – “my mother was lousy in the kitchen so I started when I was young,” he tells us), he is one of the few eminent chefs to have updated and internationalised Chinese cuisine, a feat that has won him a Michelin star. “X-treme Chinese” is what he calls his style. “I don’t want to stand still,” he says. “I'm a show-off, really, and I want to be different. “
Just as chefs in Spain, Denmark, and the UK have brought their national and regional cuisines to the world’s attention, so too does Leung want to raise the stakes and raise diners’ expectations. “I’m taking Chinese food to another level,” he tells us in his unaffected manner. “Nobody else is doing that. You have a lot of modern Chinese restaurants, but they’re just altering the surface, I’m interested in the core, the DNA, in creating different tastes and sensations.”
"You have a lot of modern Chinese restaurants, but they’re just altering the surface, I’m interested in the core, the DNA, in creating different tastes and sensations”
Leung was born in the UK, and as an homage to his first home, he has created a special 14 course tasting menu called an Ode to Great Britain. Drawing inspiration from traditional British dishes, and giving them not just a makeover but a full and playful rethink, his approach isn’t so much about a fusion of cultures, or even the grafting of one culture onto another. Rather, his creations hover gracefully between ancient knowledge and contemporary savoir-faire; influenced by regional Chinese cooking, and brought to life with local UK ingredients.
One of the first dishes we try is the Bed and Breakfast; an object lesson in texture with its soft smoked quail egg, crispy taro nest, and crunchy osceitra caviar. Next, the Steak and Kidney is a take on Xiaolongbao (a Shanghai dim sum dumpling), here filled with the eponymous British pairing. Then, Cloud, which is apropos, with its combination of black sesame, citrusy Japanese ponzu, mackerel and ginger, topped with a fragrant rose foam that is the perfect shade of London grey. There’s also Toad in the Hole: frog’s leg, bone marrow, lotus leaf, lotus seed, and basil foam, a dish that demonstrates Leung’s ability to create delicate and agreeable textures out of potentially difficult combinations. For dessert we have the Beans on Toast: a red bean paste – made lighter than we’ve ever tasted – sitting perfectly on a plate with an also especially light butter toast ice cream.
It should be said that Leung has designed every dish, piece of cutlery, and cup at Bo himself, not to mention the restaurant’s layout and décor. As a trained acoustic engineer (his career in a previous life), he is sensitive to the fact that every detail matters, and will influence how sight, sound, smell, and taste are translated and understood.
This is the sort of attention to detail that can be seen in his cooking, and Leung admits this makes dinner at Bo an expensive proposition. To offer alternatives, he’s developing an à-la-carte menu, and dim sum is already served at lunch, and soon at dinner. But to get the full experience, the tasting menu is a real testament to this newcomer’s skill and creativity, and we look forward to him pushing it even further.
Text by Ananda Pellerin