Add: Bund 5, 6/F, 20 Guang Dong Road, Shanghai 广东路20号，外滩5号6楼
Tel: +86 (21) 5383 3656
Hours: closed Tuesday; 6:00pm-11:00pm
Price: RMB1,680 + 10%
Visited: April 2017
Will return: Yes
Bo Shanghai, brainchild of chef Alvin Leung of Hong Kong’s Bo Innovation, bills itself as a portrait of Chinese cuisine from a global perspective. Its first menu depicted the element of umami found across China through the lens of French cooking. Now, six months into its life, the restaurant welcomed its first menu overhaul.
The second menu still revolves around China’s eight regional cuisines, and the original formula of French techniques and Chinese traditions is still intact, but it isn’t quite the same restaurant. This new menu is less confined than its predecessor in vision and style, its portrayal of Chinese cuisine less literal and more free-spirited, its flavors more confident and sure-footed.
A prime example of this new Bo Shanghai can be found in its new rendition of Guangdong. Unlike the zongzi in the previous menu, this dish looked nothing like the clay pot rice it was modeled after. Raw Hokkaido scallops were sliced over a fragrant lemon oil, their lightness a stunning contrast against the darkness and crunch of puffed rice, and the spicy, complex depth of their house-made XO sauce. It was an abstract and completely reimagined take on the Cantonese classic, which made the experience all the more powerful when I discovered just how uncannily reminiscent of clay pot rice it tasted.
Last menu: Guangdong – Zongzi
Guangdong – XO, scallop, tomato, peas
In similar fashion, Fujian’s oyster pancake was remade into a tartlet. The butter-poached oyster was too delicate in texture and flavor to withstand the crunchy shell and sharp lime gastrique, but the hollandaise laced with fish sauce was an inspired touch.
Fujian – Huître, duck egg, caviar, lime
More literal was Bo Shanghai’s take on Zhejiang’s “Lion’s Head” meatball, but the traditionally homey dish was made exceptional by a glorious, sumptuous base of crab broth, crab butter and vin jaune. The meatball itself was dressed up with Iberico pork jowl, with texture supplied by cubes of water chestnut and fillets of sea urchin.
Zhejiang – Tête de lion, vin jaune, Iberico jowl, sea urchin
Revealing the playfulness in their veins, the chefs at Bo Shanghai flipped the classic French “duck à l’orange” on its head, creating an “orange à la duck” inspired by the duck-loving city of Nanjing in Jiangsu Province. A candied kumquat was stuffed with shredded duck leg braised with mandarin peel and herbs, served over an orange sauce alongside parsnip chips, chestnut purée, pickled mustard seeds, fried oregano, and a snowy powder of orange peel “tapioca”. An interesting enough idea, the complicated creation was somewhat short on depth and dimension and long on sweetness.
Jiangsu – Canard, kumquat, chestnut, mustard seed
My favorite of the evening came when the kitchen freed itself from the boundaries of the two cuisines it advertised. Replacing last menu’s bouillabaisse, the risotto chosen to represent Shandong wasn’t particularly Chinese or French, though it did employ Shandong abalone – it tasted sublime. The sweet abalone carried a memory of the ocean, supported by the clean flavors of morel mushroom, the umami and depth of the risotto, and some saltiness from a thin lining of seaweed purée on the bottom. Beguiling in its apparent simplicity, this creation was an masterfully layered concerto, as focused as it was complex.
Last menu: Shandong – Bouillabaisse
Shandong – Risotto, abalone, morel, seaweed
A few dishes in the new menu inherited the same inspirations from their predecessors, but some of the rough edges in the first menu were smoothed over and polished. My first meal at Bo Shanghai came out the gate swinging with a play on Hunan’s chili fish head. In its new incarnation, the oyster of last menu was replaced by slices of golden eye snapper, whose crisp, torched skin and tender, raw flesh created a textural dimension not present last time. A swoosh of verdant watercress purée and a few curls of radish joined the familiar coriander oil to sooth the low burn of chili.
Hunan – Poisson cru, fermented chili, watercress, coriander
A dish that left me ambivalent last time, Sichuan’s foie gras was also refined in both flavors and presentation. All the old elements remained, the green sauce of Provençal herbs and Sichuan peppercorns as vibrant and delightful as I remembered. But the confit duck gizzard was no longer intrusive and tongue-numbing in its heat, allowing its spices and depth to come through. The sliver of pickled tripes, served on top of the foie gras rather than as a separate element like before, shrank in size but grew in impact, giving the dish more focus and lending some well-timed crunch and brightness.
Last menu: Sichuan – Foie gras
Sichuan – Foie du canard, confit duck gizzard, fresh Sichuan peppercorn, lavender
For Anhui, matsutake cream was poured around French blue lobster rather than monkfish, yet the familiar sauce had a newfound depth from the addition of buttermilk, and just enough chili flakes to fuel a slow murmur on the tongue. The result was a smooth but powerful combination of creamy richness, refreshing tanginess, and a flickering heat. Strengthening its Anhui connotations, a small mound of capsella was laced with Gu Jing Gong, a liquor from the province, although the liquor did less for the capsella than the thin crisp of 24-month Anhui ham did for the lobster, sheathing the sweet flesh in its fermented saltiness and umami.
Last menu: Anhui – Monkfish
Anhui – Homard, Gu Jing Gong, matsutake, capsella
That fermented depth made a second appearance later in the evening, in the form of a slender strip of bamboo that had been soaked in a broth of Anhui ham for five days, served next to a glistening ruby of Wagyu tenderloin. The beef and bamboo would have made an excellent plate on their own, but a baton of fried blue cheese on the side stole the thunder, the pungent cheese an unlikely but incredibly fitting interpretation of Anhui’s stinky tofu.
Anhui – Wagyu, “stinky tofu”, bamboo, jus
For desserts, the orange blossom panna cotta retained from the previous menu was just as pleasant as I remembered, but I was more impressed with the newcomer. The goji berry cake laden with a light strawberry mousse provided ballast to an array of ice cream, jam, and jelly made out of four kinds of floral teas – rose, hibiscus, osmanthus, and chrysanthemum. Aptly named “Spring Blossom”, the plate was heady and transporting in its floral fragrance, a light and elegant creation spun through with whispers of spring.
Hunan – Panna cotta, orange blossom, almond
Fin – Spring blossom, chrysanthemum, rose, hibiscus, osmanthus
Bo Shanghai’s second menu felt markedly different from its first. Its techniques were still very far from Chinese cooking, but the food was more inspired than ever by the flavors and traditions of China. For me, the new creations struck a chord most strongly when they took the spirit of China’s regional cuisines and came up with an entirely reimagined rendition, keeping me on my toes with a sense of discovery, but, at the same time, comforting with its familiarity.