Alvin Leung labels himself The Demon Chef. In Hong Kong he has carved out a reputation for a subversive and sometimes shocking take on Chinese cuisine he nauseatingly coins X-treme Chinese. Now Leung attempts to transplant the success of his two Michelin starred Bo Innovation into the ribcage of London. But are Londoners prepared for a chef who goes as far as perverting food to simulate a used condom on a beach?
Black truffle XO har gau £7.00
Calamari ball, kaffir lime £6.00
Wild mushroom dumpling £5.50
His publicity shots look as though someone you’d find on the character-select screen of Virtua Fighter 5 had a baby with Elton John: The tattooed arm, the highlights, the tinted designer sunglasses. He doesn’t wear chef-whites, he wears chef-blacks, and printed on them in large white letters are the words “The Maverick Chef”. His image is as integral a part of his brand as his warped cooking. But don’t let that fool you: in the kitchen he’s all business.
Sex on the Beach £8.00
Leung is often compared to Heston Blumenthal for his self-taught, alchemical approach to cooking. He toys with flavours and more importantly textures, and by extension the way they register on your palate. Some of you will laude his ingenuity and think him clever. Others may flee in terror at the sight of Leung’s infamous party trick known as Sex on the Beach – a disturbingly accurate mock-up of a used pink condom discarded on the sand – which is (wisely) omitted from the printed menu. In its defence, the £8 supplement goes towards raising awareness of HIV and AIDS. And the thing is, it doesn’t taste half-bad: The semen is enacted by a pleasant-tasting condensed milk which is also the flavour of the accompanying ice cream. The sand is composed of biscuit crumbs under which lies a Sichuan pepper cream which sends your palate haywire with a temporary numbing effect.
Bed and breakfast
A modest selection of well executed dim sum is available at lunchtime as part of a set menu which also offers a selection of undersized mains. Particularly good are the calamari balls which are every bit as good as the squid & mackerel starter that is so popular at Arbutus. Har gau come topped with black truffle, dried shrimp crumbs and a drizzle of XO sauce. The blistered crackling of a disc of roast pork belly has the hallmarks of an enticing chunk of swine, but sadly the flesh is dried-out and under-seasoned. Two millimetre-thick ellipses of roasting juices are pitiful in their attempt to compensate, but at least a thin sheet of candy-sweet apple and some nice peas breathe some flavour back onto the plate.
In the evening there’s two different tasting menus at “sod the recession” prices. One is the 12 course Ode to Great Britain available for £98. The other is the 15 course Chef’s Menu at a bone-crunching £138. There are things that work well, like an iceberg lettuce wrap with a chunk of foie gras embedded in pan-fried vermicelli. A dish named X-treme encapsulates Leung’s style, literally, somehow trapping a comfortingly warm pork soup in a sphere of gelatin, which explodes in the mouth under the slightest pressure. My favourite is a noodle dish called Umami that comes in an attractive little bowl with the Demon Chef symbol on the side. Al dente pappardelle is doused and textured with a delightful shrimp oil and shrimp crumble. Then it is finished off with finely chopped wild mushrooms and spring onions. It’s so addictive and so short-lived it leaves you feeling like Oliver Twist trying to fend off the compulsion to request additional gruel.
The menu isn’t without the odd dud. When a dish comes to me looking like a mouldy light-sabre with a straw, it’s “uh oh” time. A hawthorn ‘bubble tea’ comes in a test tube suspended in a custom-made light-box that creates a yellow-to-orange glow. At the bottom are lightly spiced tapioca bubbles beneath a layer of cloudy basil. It’s striking; it’s unusual; but beyond that has no real value. Some will spread this sentiment across the entirety of the meal. Likewise there will be plenty that take something good away from the experience.
Fried condensed milk
Strawberry cream & chip
Leung tries to reframe the diner’s concept of Chinese cuisine by pushing it forward in time. Go to Bo London perhaps not with the expectation of a remarkable meal, but at least with the assurance of an intriguing meal: One that aims to challenge and disrupt the natural order. The nature of experimentation is that most of the time it doesn’t work. But for me, the good outweighs the bad. Opinions however, will vary.
service : 8.5/10
ambience : 6.5/10
value : 4/10
4 Mill Street, London, W1S 2AX
020 7493 3886