[The content of this post is from 23 Feb.]
Apologies for being a bit slow with the posting — last week was probably my busiest work week since coming to Hong Kong. Come Friday, it struck me that I finally had a sense of what it’d be like to teach full-time. Not sure I’m ready for that yet. I’m also realizing that a teaching a career would not be possible for me if I don’t have the time to pursue my own intellectual interests. I genuinely enjoy working with students, challenging them to engage critically with literature and to defend their ideas, but even after a week, I know I can’t sustain my enthusiasm if I lose track of why I love literature in the first place.
The point being that up until now, I haven’t been able to post on what I had hoped would be a formative culinary experience for me. I suppose it was formative on some level: more like formative by not being formative. Anyway, the first time my co-foodie and I tried to go to BO, we were rejected at the door. We got there just before 2pm, and without a reservation, were told that the kitchen was closed. I commented that the website said that last calls for lunch were at 2:30, to which the maitre d’ curtly responded, “I’m sorry. Please make a reservation next time.” I looked into the dining room, which was empty save for two tables. Uh…okay. You snobby SOB.
Willing to endure pretention in return for getting blown away by the food, we returned again last week, armed with a prime time reservation, leaving nothing to chance. The restaurant has both indoor and al fresco dining; we opted for the indoor since it was a bit on the muggy side. I’m a fan of the decor: sophisticated (lots of white and wood stick out my head) with a splash of gothic neon color from a Wong Kar Wei-esque shot of Wan Chai that took up the better part of one wall.
On to the food: The restaurant offers a set lunch for $180HK + SC, which seemed reasonable considering how expensive the regular menu is. The set lunch came with 2 selections from the appetizer/dim sum list, plus a main course, and starch and dessert du jours.
I went with the lap mei fan and oxtail xiao long bao with caviar; L got the xiao long bao and black truffle cheung fan. We also ordered the cauliflower risotto with duck juice, which was recommended by the waiter (bad choice).
lap mei fan: the chef’s take on the traditional Cantonese dish of rice with pork sausage involved pork sausage-ice cream with rice krispies. I was surprised that the ice cream was so delicately flavored, but you could definitely catch the salty-sweet essence of preserved sausage on your tongue, minus the fatty-oily-goodness and singular texture of the meat. I liked how the coldness of the ice cream gave the impression of the taste lingering in my mouth, but considering how much ballyhoo I’d heard about this dish, I was left wanting more. Maybe my palate isn’t developed enough or it wasn’t my thing.
oxtail xiao long bao: I love oxtail, particularly the hearty stew my dad used to make, simmering the oxtail bones until the meat, almost creamy in texture, would yield to the slightest pressure. This was okay, although I thought the meat a bit lean and lacking in flavor. There was also none of the soupiness that I instinctively associate with xiao long bao innards.
black truffle cheung fan: This might’ve been my favorite dim sum dish. My first time eating black truffles, and the flavor they impart is incredible, not to mention the mouth-watering aroma they give off.
cauliflower risotto: Major disappointment, as this was the recommended dish we ordered per the waiter’s suggestion. The ‘risotto’ consisted entirely of minced cauliflower nibbles, surrounded by a shallow sea of duck juice: an inspired concept but unimpressively executed.
The mains were also hit or miss: I ordered the roasted duck cha siu with bamboo shoots in a pesto sauce, while L ordered the 24 hours-cooked pork ‘lasagna’.
The meat parts of the mains were tasty: the pork lasagna, layers of lean pork cooked in a sweet but not heavy, vinegar-y sauce, was intense. In a good way. In a way most of the other dishes weren’t. The duck was nice and meaty, although I thought the accompanying sauce was a bit clingy. The bamboo shoots, however, were frustratingly bland.
While I thought the cost of our meal was reasonable, I was troubled by its inconsistency. This, after all, is one of the most talked about restaurants in Hong Kong, with two freshly minted Michelin stars to its name. I admit the vibe of the place colored my opinion from the outset, but I seriously found flavor to be lacking in large part. I’m not even sure I can muster up the will for a second visit. I wonder how the Michelin rating has affected the quality of BO’s food; the restaurant has been quoted saying the community has ‘really responded’ to the results. I guess I’ll just have to wait until next year to see whether my suspicions about the Michelin are validated.