"The edible condom, perversely, is really, really good"Review Rating: Reviewed by Leila
The first thing you may have heard about Bo London is its exorbitant pricing. When London-born chef Alvin Leung, who calls himself the “demon chef” of Chinese cuisine, opened this restaurant last November, the 12 course menu was £98 and 14 courses was £138, and that’s before you factor in booze. But they seemed to have listened to their detractors, as they’ve now lowered the cost a little to £80 and £128 respectively. Alternatively you can go for the three course à la carte for £60, but you’d be missing out on the theatrical prowess of the tasting menu.
Before we start eating we’re brought a cocktail made with a potent Chinese spirit called baijiu, distilled from rice and here given the whisky sour treatment with lime and egg white. It’s served in an ancient-style cup which you pick up by the handles on either side, and tip back to drink from a spout which looks uncomfortably like a speculum. Amazingly we manage not to spill it all over ourselves, and the refreshing, yet strong drink is a great appetiser.
The 12 course “Ode to Great Britain” menu is where Leung interprets British staples with Chinese ingredients and magics them into something unexpected. First dish the White Garden was inspired by the rainy month the restaurant opened in London. Presented in a little wooden plant box, it has dehydrated enoki, ginger powder and salty crumbed morel mushrooms; the greys and browns of the dish represent the gloomy time of year, but we’re explained that the fresh-tasting, bright green avocado and lime mousse serves as a reminder that spring will eventually come.
The Bed and Breakfast arrives in the form of an ornate silver tree upon which two mini-Scotch eggs are resting. Encased in crispy taro crumbs, with bacon cream and a sliver of bacon over the top, it’s outstanding. The Cloud indeed does have a cloud of mist (“rose mist”, although we can’t tell) rising from under a tray with cured mackerel, compressed cucumber and ponzu foam. The Steak and Kidney pudding is served in a steamed gyoza filled with hot soup, topped with smoked herring roe, the fishiness of which highlights the rich kick of offal.
Incredibly, Leung is entirely self-taught. The Heston Blumenthal of China, who takes great delight in calling his style of cooking “X-Treme”, likes having a laugh by surprising his diners. His flagship Hong Kong restaurant, Bo Innovation, has two Michelin stars, but his London restaurant has been received with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.
A dish with three tomatoes done in different ways appears. One whole, peeled and braised in vinegar, full of sweet and sour juice, one a yellow cherry tomato in crispy filo pastry with a creamy olive tapenade, and the other a tomato and green onion marshmallow, which is practically a cylinder of foam that melts in the mouth.
The English Mustard is best when all the ingredients - a plump roasted langoustine, preserved duck egg, crumbled crunchy cauliflower, cauliflower purée, hot English mustard foam and a smear of black truffle - are eaten together. The Hawthorn palate cleanser is perhaps the most visually spectacular course. Hawthorn tea arrives in a test tube, which the waitress pours into a separate, steaming bowl containing mandarin orange sorbet, lemon grass meringue and chilli syrup. As soon as the sorbet is prodded with a spoon the steam stops; in the case of the meringue it dissolves. We have cold steam coming out of our nostrils as we eat, something we haven’t experienced before.
Toad in the Hole is the most literal dish; there’s a fluffy Yorkshire pud, blobs of gelatinous bone marrow, and a herby bit of sausage made from frog meat, which really shouldn’t be surprising by this point – after all this is the man who created an edible condom. Pigeon is cooked sous vide, and is extremely succulent and rare in the middle, served with a soft shiitake cake, and a sauce with slightly smoky wild garlic.
Beans on Toast is introduced with the non-committal “it’s not going to be what you’d expect from something called beans on toast, but at the same time, probably not that different”. It’s the first of the desserts, with sweetened toast, creamy panna cotta, red bean foam, sweet soy bean ice cream, crunchy edamame and chocolate-coated coffee beans in a sticky dark chocolate sauce.
It’s surprising the done-to-death crème brûlée is on the menu, but then again, this is all about transformation. Leung’s variation has a dollop of morello cherry embedded under the burnt caramel, and a coconut tapioca ball that explodes with milk when poked. As crème brûlées goes this is very good, but it’s the least adventurous dish on the menu.
Petit dim sum include Leung’s version of a Snickers bar, encased in dark chocolate, with light chocolate fudge, salted caramel and peanuts, and a “spotted dick”, made with quail egg custard and raisins.
It’s not included on the menu, but we try the famous edible condom (they’ll make it if you ask) part of a dish called Sex on the Beach, which was created to raise money for Elton John’s Aids charity. There’s a white chocolate adorned with a red ribbon, and the sandy beach bit is made from powdered shiitake mushrooms. The “condom” itself is pink and translucent, made by dipping a mould into a tapioca and yam mixture. And the taste? Very sweet, as it’s filled with honey, which makes it all the more perverse as the frothy liquid emulates the contents of a used condom, discarded on the beach once the fun is over. Even more perversely, it’s really, really good.
Leila reviewed BO London on Sun 23 Jun 2013