Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chef Couple Takes Over: Bo.lan in Hong Kong

I almost lost track of how many "pop-up dinners" I have attended this summer, with so many visiting chefs making whistle stops in town offering one-off menu at various locations from restaurants to bars to specialty kitchen studios.

Chef Duangporn and Dylan were the latest to stop by Hong Kong, with a 3-week stint at ISONO Eatery and Bar at PMQ, which just hosted another chef team of Sarah and Aaron from Birds and Bubbles in New York City last month (as part of their #ISONOtakeover campaign). Bo.lan in Bangkok, the brainchild of the wife-husband team of Duangporn (nicknamed Bo) and Dylan, has been high on the list of restaurants I wanted to try for a long time, so as soon as we got wind of their plan of the pop-up event, our group of friends immediately made the booking, before we even knew the price and the menu.

For a limited time during the pop-up event, a dinner tasting menu was served based on the dishes served at the flag-ship Bo.lan restaurant while for the rest of the time, the menu will be based on those offered at ERR, the casual eatery in Bangkok curated by the Bo.lan team. And the eight of us went on the very first evening when both chefs were there to present their dinner tasting menu.

We began with a few dishes in individual portion then the main course was served family style, laying in the middle of our long table right in the middle of the dining area. Overall I thought everything was well-presented with interesting flavors. Instead of some chefs going for the adventurous route of creating new dishes based on traditional ingredients or cooking techniques, they went for the traditional approach of delivering comforting, homestyle dishes, replicating the familiar flavors of Thai street food.

Steamed Hok Mok served in a small espresso cup, as part of our middle course, was one of the most impressive. It's almost like a Malay olak-olak (steamed fish cake in banana leaf) but with a much delicate texture similar to a soft custard or Japanese chawanmushi. There were a few dishes that I personally found a bit spicy, but I thought they were just trying to stay true to the original flavor (and there's nothing that can't be solved with more beer)

Our main course consists of 4 dishes served in the middle plus a bowl of hot and sour soup of pork ribs and pickled mustard green (yeah, tasted a bit like a Chiuchow pork tripe soup based on similar ingredients) I liked the green curry using local fish from the market, as well as the Nam Prik with Chinese black olives and minced pork with soft-boiled duck eggs served on the side. The grilled chicken salad was probably the mildest of it all - while I couldn't get much of the grilled taste from the meat, I did enjoy the sweetness of the seasonal fruits countering much of the heat from the other dishes. I guess a good indication of how much we enjoyed the food was we kept asking the service staff to refill our plates with more rice to mob up all the sauces and flavors, thought I think the they weren't particularly enjoying serving our table having to walk back and forth with a full bowl of rice.

The service was fine with friendly staff even though it's a bit slow from time to time - it didn't help as we started late and were quite hungry already by the time the amuse-bouche finally arrived after 20 minutes. Well, we probably would have been less forgiving on the slow service if the food was not this good, and that we were in a big party and it's the first evening of service so we were cutting them some slack here.

We had a split decision on the dessert, a simple bowl of fruits poached in perfumed sugar syrup and crushed ice. I liked it refreshing and sweet with the julienne ginger giving it a spicy kick, while some thought it's a bit too loaded with sugar and it's probably made with canned fruits. But most importantly, I think all of us had a good time and appreciate the fine effort by the chefs travelling the distance to bring us the unique dining experience. Yes it's still on my list of restaurants to try, and I understood more why this is considered Asia's best.

More photos in my Flickr album:

When? August 17 2016
Where? ISONO Eatery and Bar, Level 6, PMQ Block B, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Chili Relish of Chinese Black Olives and Minced Pork served with Semi-boiled Duck Eggs
ISONO Eatery and Bar:
Bo.lan Bangkok:

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