What to make of a Hong Kong celebrity chef who has tattooed the words Devil Chef on his arm in Chinese, calls his molecular style of cuisine ‘X-treme’ and gives his dishes names like Sex on the Beach. I’d be inclined to call him a tosser, especially as his real name is Alvin.
However, Alvin ‘Devil Chef ‘Leung has two Michelin stars, which means he’s not to be written off lightly. His restaurant Bo Innovation is a celebrity hangout and he’s about to open in London. So when the Hong Kong Tourism Board offered to host me at his very expensive restaurant a few weeks ago, I was happy to give it a go.
It was a degustation menu. I think I’m alone in this, but I don’t really like tasting menus. It’s frustrating when you get a little plate of something that’s really intriguing and it’s gone in one forkful. By the end of the evening I’ve had so many of these little tastes it all turns into a gastronomic blur. I can never remember what I’ve eaten. The thing is, the ‘dego menu’, as it’s called in Auckland, demands concentration. It’s serious eating. And so is molecular gastronomy, which is why the two always seem to go hand in hand.
Anyway. What I did like about Alvin’s food was the wit. It didn’t take itself too seriously and neither did he. (I like to think he was being ironic when he joined us at the table to smoke an ostentatious cigar which he kept re-lighting with a crème brulée torch.)
We tasted our way through 15 courses of X-treme Chinese : ponzu cloud, oyster tea, sandalwood smoke, truffled beef tendon and my favourite: molecular xiao long bao. This was a riff on the famous Shanghai soup dumpling: it was presented as a wobbly liquid sphere that burst in the mouth with an explosion of porkiness.
It was a great menu. I even took notes so I wouldn’t forget it. Unfortunately I lost my notebook soon after so I’m grasping to remember the details, but there is one dish I won’t forget: Sex on the Beach. I shudder to recall it.
Sex on the Beach was an off-the-menu extra. It consisted of a ginger crumb ‘sand’ over which was draped an edible condom. The condom was a slippery pink – made of some sort of starch – and inside there was a blob of something white, sweet and viscous. I know it was sweet because I ate it. I nearly gagged, but I ate it. I can remember vividly what it looked like but I can hardly remember the taste – just gingery sand, something sweet and something gelatinous.
I’ve eaten some strange things in my time; duck tongues, ox penis, even a pan-fried huhu bug, but this really was challenging. It was a case of mind over matter. No matter that the base ingredients were quite ordinary, my mind recoiled and it really was hard to swallow.
It turns out this is a signature dish. The devil chef told us he launched it at an event in Milan. Serving up condoms in a Catholic country was quite a brave thing to do, I thought. He said the Italians loved it. Now, it’s part of his Chef’s Table Menu at Bo Innovation. It’s signed off with a pink ribbon and he donates the proceeds to the Aids Foundation. That’s clever.