Alvin Leung has opened Bo London in Mayfair, introducing his signature “x-treme Chinese” cooking style to the city. Shortly after opening it received a Michelin star so we had fairly high expectations for our dinner – even though we hadn’t heard many good things.
It was an attractive restaurant with a small bar area in the front, tightly packed tables for two in the middle and an open kitchen area (complete with a chef wearing an ear piece like a door man of a nightclub) at the back.
Three tasting menus were available, or so we thought, as the cheapest one was only available Monday-Thursday. Why put it in the menu if it’s not available? Just take it out! That left us with either the thirteen course Chef’s Menu at £115 or the eleven course Ode to Britain Menu at £75. After an uncomfortable and unsuccessful hard sell from our waiter, we opted for the latter.
As you might be able to tell, Bo London isn’t a particularly cheap restaurant. A glass of Coke (not a bottle) was five quid but even more shocking was the eight pounds for a glass of “homemade” lemonade which, by our waiter’s own admission, was simply lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water. Yikes.
Our first course, White Garden, wasn’t hugely enjoyable. It featured spring onion, avocado and lime mousse, morel mushroom crumbs, dehydrated enoki and ginger powder. The mushroom crumbs were far too claggy; they were difficult to swallow as they got stuck in the back of my throat. Served in a little wooden box, it did at least look attractive and like a garden, but it didn’t eat particularly well.
The ‘Cloud’ featured cured mackerel, compressed cucumber, black sesame, “chinkiang” vinegar and mist of rose. It was served in a little spoon atop a dish filled with dry ice which very briefly cascaded over the table. The little mouthful was delicious; a great mix of flavours and probably the best thing we ate all evening.
Next on our Ode to Britain menu was ‘steak and kidney’ but in actual fact, because they’d run out, it was that old British classic of [insert sarcastic tone here] Xiao Lung Bao. These steamed Shanghainese pork dumplings filled with a rich pork broth were tasty enough but didn’t come close to those served at Hutong in the Shard.
Next up was ‘Three Tomatoes’ which was a pretty plate of food. The little tomato braised in Chinese glutinous rice vinegar was sweet and tangy. The cherry tomato baked in Chinese filo was a little stodgy and greasy – it could have been far crispier. I couldn’t taste the Chinese olive tapenade either. The tomato marshmallow at the end was light, fluffy and full of tomatoey flavour.
The scallop with sugar snap peas, crispy rice and Shanghainese yellow wine was tasty but there wasn’t anything particularly “x-treme” about it. The foam on top lacked flavour and therefore purpose.
Our next course was an interesting one; a hawthorn tea with chilli was served in a test tube with a light at the bottom making it look like some kind of radioactive chemical. It was then poured into a bowl filled with mandarin orange sorbet and lemongrass meringue which created a cloud of smoke. The theatre was certainly present but the flavour of the chilli in the hawthorn tea overpowered everything; it left an everlasting burning sensation at the back of my throat.
Cod marinated in glutinous rice wine, saffron, miso, samphire, crispy seaweed, dried shrimp and bonito crust was better. The cod was cooked well with the sauce underneath it reminiscent of the plum sauce you’d find in your local Chinese – which was a surprisingly great accompaniment.
Pigeon with shiitake mushroom cake, wild garlic and Chinese almonds was far too sweet. The almonds had been pureed and my brain couldn’t stop thinking I was eating a gamey Bakewell tart – an altogether weird flavour combination. Some overcooked leg meat had been rolled in more of that greasy, crisp-less Chinese filo, thus making it unenjoyable.
‘Bai Jiu’ was our first sweet course, which was Chinese wheat liquor and Fever Tree tonic foam, lime parfait and liquorice caramel. With a light, moussey texture and a sharp, tangy flavour – it was pleasant at best.
The palm sugar creme brûlée with hidden sour Morello cherry compote was a delightful dessert. A little sphere filled with coconut milk lay atop the crispy layer of sugar, beneath which was a rich and creamy custard. A brilliant blend of flavours but once the coconut sphere was gone its flavour lacked presence throughout the dish.
We couldn’t resist ordering the ‘Sex on the Beach’ dessert (£8 supplement – all proceeds go to the Elton John AIDS charity). It certainly had the shock factor; it quite literally looked like a condom thrown on the beach – and a used condom at that. The filling, a slightly tangy condensed milk, wasn’t able to cut through all the sugar from the biscuit crumb, leaving the whole thing far too sweet.
We finished things off with some petit dim sum which were in fact just petit fours – all fine but nothing outstanding and certainly nothing to leave us ending on a high.
The theme of Great Britain in our tasting menu seemed to dip in and out when it suited them, which I found a tad annoying. Each dish was also awfully small; some being just one mouthful – and not a perfect one at that. To me, Bo London seemed a confused restaurant. At those prices however, I’d rather have a little more clarity.