Alvin Leung, Hong Kong's culinary wunderkind, is actually nicknamed The Demon Chef, which is a pretty badass nickname and totally incongruous with the extremely humbly-presented, delicious meal I experienced at his flagship restaurant in Wan Chai.
HONG KONG, CHINA
PRICE PAID: $340PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 9.0/10
The restaurant shares a private elevator with a Thai place right below, and has a pretty amazing fire-heated terrace outside. We opted to sit at the Chef's Table, which gives an intimate view into the main cold-line and prep areas. In general, Leung and his staff do a lot without much space.
A quick note on service- I was terrifically impressed with our chef/server/curator Derek, who not only ran the prep table but would also serve us with a breathless and carefully-detailed vignette for each and every one of the almost two dozen dishes he would present us. I was impressed by his storytelling and his clear gift for fine cooking; rare to see both in one human.
Hong Kong's streets are thronged with food vendors, and among the most unique and fascinating are the egg waffle vendors. These crispy, crunchy treats are broken apart by hand, and the distinctive bubbles are filled with air. This first bite was a nod to the uniquely Hong Kong staple, and set the mood that Alvin would be telling us a story about his hometown.
Continuing the description of the hometown, a lovely dish called "air." Or, more specifically, "fog," with a flowing stream of chilled vapor flowing from the dry ice beneath. The foam in the spoons had delicious rose flavors. 10/10, creative, interesting, good showmanship, terrific flavors.
The next dish showed up on a beautiful metal sculpture and caviar go together well, though the tarot is a touch heavy. 7/10.
This beautifully-plated oyster is bright, saline, and refreshing. It pairs perfect with green Sichuan sauce and the beef tongue. I have to admit that I ate in two bites, though I'm pretty sure that's not the design intention. The peppercorn is a touch spicy. 8/10
This foie gras dish is cooked for 48 hrs, and it is a fantastic contrast to the hard crunchy bamboo. It's glazed in a miso sauce made of Chuh Yeh Ching Whiskey, which gives it a touch of fire. Pickled indian lettuce stem, green apple rounds out the green theme here. 9/10.
Okay, the "umami-" otoro (really fatty) tuna is completely outstanding. Seared perfectly to remain soft, yet unbelievably rich and flavorful. We are offered some Har Mi oil to add additional umami flavor, and sure enough it really pours it on.
The noodles are shrimp-y and not too terribly oily, but don't add much. 9/10.
Perhaps my favorite and most creative dish of my whole experience thus far- a jar of baby food with custom-designed hairy crab logo (hairy crab is in season in late November in HKO). Great texture, deep flavors that really take advantage of the tasty crab proteins and texture. 10/10.
... This was followed by, quite possibly, my next-favorite dish of the entire experience, a "molecular dim sum explosion," made to imitate a Cha Siu bao (pork bun). Very rich- you can taste the bun even! 10/10
This next course, I will admit, was a real challenge. Bathed in a bowl of liquid nitrogen which is poured casually from an industrial container kept in the corner, this tiny ball of spicy-hot ginger is rolled around in the frozen liquid and then handed off for quick consumption. Of course, the contrast of the super-cold ginger with the spiciness of the bite itself is pretty interesting, but I have to admit that it froze the hell out of the tip of my tongue, and it took a few days for me to get 100% of the sensation back. 8/10.
With a sauce based on Pat Chun black rice vinegar, this gamely-named dish of "Tomato" features tomatoes in very different preparations from left to right. Leftmost is a tomato marshmallow, or maybe tomato foam is a better title. The middle is based on fermented Chinese olives; the texture doesn't work perfectly so I'm not crazy about it. The roasted tomato on the right is fresh and delicious. 7/10 overall.
Before serving this next dish, they brought around a Kia's worth of white Alba truffles in glass cake-case to show off.
Duck egg, white truffle, Chinese dumpling all are totally amazing. The white truffle in particular is even more outstanding. My only problem with the whole thing is that I can feel my arteries hardening as I eat- it is insanely rich. 9/10.
Next, a beautiful slice of blue lobster that practically falls apart at the touch of a fork. A Sichuan hollandaise off to the side (in case you wanted to make it even more decadent) and coated in a broth of chili and Shaosing cooking sauce. Chinese leek, peas, and roasted corn round things out. A nice light break from the weight of the previous courses. 9/10.
Next, a palate cleanser "King's Cup" (meaning you have to hold it with both hands and tip your head back to consume- not sure what makes that kingly). Alcohol and passion fruit flavors are very strong, as is hawthorn and lemongrass. 9/10.
Using special 9-year-aged risotto rice that is sole-sourced directly from a farm in Italy (Derek told the whole story about how the farmer was dining in the restaurant, met the chef, convinced the chef to try his risotto, chef decided to buy all the risotto the farmer had grown), the chef creates what is essentially a deconstructed congee. You can really taste the difference in the rice- I'm not sure I'd call this the Ferrari of rice but lacking similarly hyperbolic descriptions for basic starches I'm going to roll with it.
This next course was a fun wagyu and dumpling soup combined with a ton of black truffle. Derek mentioned that these are a play on "Cheong Fun," or dim sum rice noodles, and so yet another chapter in the Demon Chef's Hong Kon story. All I can say is that this tasted very little like dim sum, and was totally outstanding. 10/10.
Finally getting into the dessert courses, this one reminded me intensely of Alinea's desserts. Deconstructed coconut with pina colada snow; sweet, strong cherry flavors, decadent, totally great. 9/10.
The final dessert courses was a really fun interpretation of 8 Treasures Tea, one of the most popular of thousands of Chinese herbal medicines that includes relatively run-of-the-mill ingredients like green tea, goji berries, ginseng, etc. The brownie and the tea are both made from the same components, a fun and crowd-pleasing way to explain this traditional piece of Hong Kong culture. Once again, I applaud the creativity and showmanship; flavors were okay but not great as this felt a bit like shoehorning an idea into a dish. 8/10.
Mignardises were a lovely final touch. Easily one of the best meals, if not the best meal, of the whole journey.