Where his two-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation first stood (it’s since relocated to Central), “Demon Chef” Alvin Leung has transformed the space into an exciting farm-to-table restaurant in partnership with F&B group LUBUDS. Cafe Bau, named after the vibrant magenta flower of the Bauhinia orchid tree – an emblem of Hong Kong – is a love letter to the 852. The restaurant places the spotlight on locally sourced seasonal ingredients and home-grown brands, utilised in dishes that are influenced by the superstar chef’s culinary experiences and travels around the world.
In the contemporary-chic yet relaxed space, the walls are lined with photographs of Hong Kong in days gone by and paintings by local artists, and there’s a bright and spacious semi-open kitchen that’s a focal point of the dining room. The soothing jazz playlist adds to the restaurant’s serene ambience. Although not open on the night of our visit owing to thunderstorms, there’s also a balcony that’s ideal for pre- or post-prandial drinks.
There are two menus on offer at Cafe Bau – a three-course set menu for $650 per person and an eight-course tasting menu for $998 per person – and both feature innovative farm-to-table dishes with a nod to the heritage and culinary traditions of Hong Kong.
Every meal at Cafe Bau begins with a (dangerously addictive) bread basket filled with homemade sourdough and foccacia. The foccacia in particular is a carb lover’s dream, and we polished it off within minutes of it being refilled each time. The bread is served with a light-as-air olive and root vegetable foam that has a distinct natural sweetness.
The two amuse-bouches served before the tasting menu commences change daily. On the evening of our visit, there was a mini tart filled with a purée of luncheon meat topped with caviar and a bite-sized portion of amberjack tartare accented with tomato jelly and fish roe (not pictured).
This is where the tasting menu technically really begins, so it’s important not to make a rookie error and fill up on the bread. The first course showcases locally grown salt-roasted beetroot and charred corn, served with a vinaigrette that’s strong on the flavour of the sweetened vinegar produced by Pat Chun (a local brand founded in 1932), toasted walnuts and a house-made cheese – using milk by Kowloon Dairy – with a sharp flavour and creamy texture similar to feta. A light, zingy marriage of flavours and textures.
Here we have Chef Leung’s hand-cut penne cacio e pepe, an East-meets-West riff on the classic Italian pasta dish made with Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. In this case, the ginger-heavy cream sauce is laced with briny preserved clams and topped with a three-yellow chicken-wing segment. For us, the golden, crispy chicken with its funky hint of fermented tofu is the surprising star of the dish.
A menu highlight is the grilled squid with its lovely interplay of flavours and textures that make the dish sing. There’s the char of the grill, the spicy Shatian pomelo sauce, the chewy black barley with its subtle smoked flounder flavour and the delicate squid-ink chips crowning the plate.
Next up is an intermediate “soup of the day” course. For us, this was an ultra-creamy, potent lobster bisque made with repurposed shellfish. So much comforting flavour in one tiny espresso cup!
We were in luck – the “catch of the day” for us was this delectable hunk of amadai with its signature crispy scales. The daily fish is served with local bok choy that has the most amazing crunch, potato purée and a salty, umami sauce spotlighting Yangjiang preserved black beans. An elevated take on the humble concept of meat and two veg.
This salted lemon sorbet is a welcome palate cleanser amongst all this savouriness. It gives a whole lotta sour pucker, which we’re suckers for.
The slow-cooked oxen brisket with red-wine-shallot sauce is the only dish that didn’t wow us. Maybe we’re just not fans of the extreme fattiness of this cut of meat when it’s served in this more conventional Western style. However, the accompanying taro cake, redolent of Chinese five-spice, is a winner.
The eighth dessert course actually features two dishes. These sugarcane spheres are the first to make an appearance. The frozen yellow globes are filled with very sweet sugarcane juice, exploding instantly at first bite. A fun concept, but a bit too sweet for our palate.
Chef Leung’s signature custard tart tastes nearly identical to a HK-style egg tart, made with a textbook-perfect shortcrust-pastry base. The quenelle of crème fraîche with which it’s served is supposed to be flavoured with calamansi, but we would have preferred a much heavier hand with this tart element in order to cut through the filling’s creamy richness.
The tasting menu ends with a selection of petits fours (not pictured) that change daily.
Chef Leung is back with a bang, returning to Hong Kong after opening restaurants and appearing on hit foodie TV shows around the world. Cafe Bau will appeal to those who are keen to sample the celeb chef’s creative flavour combinations, with a tasting-menu price tag that’s half that of his famed Bo Innovation (not to mention portion sizes that are more than generous). The focus on local, seasonal ingredients and home-grown brands is not only laudable from an environmental angle but also couldn’t come at a better time as Hong Kong resumes its rightful place on the post-pandemic world stage.
Where: Shop 8, Podium 1/F, J Residence, 60 Johnston Road, Wanchai
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.