By Arthur Tam
Alvin Leung, known as the Demon Chef, has always pushed limits of convention with his food. He’s like the bungee jumper or skydiver of the kitchen, and that is reflected in his brand of ‘X-treme Chinese’ cuisine found at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant Bo Innovation. So his newest restaurant, Bib n Hops, was surprising for its more measured and mainstream approach. It’s a modern, fusion Korean eatery offering a wide selection of Korean beers, soju and spirits. We sit down with the larger-than-life Leung at Bib n Hops in Taikoo Place to talk about chilli, garlic and making his wife happy.
Why go into Korean cuisine? What inspired you?
I've always been aware of Korean cuisine, and it's one of my wife's favourites. So I did it to please her. You know how it goes – happy wife, happy life. Also, there has been a Korean scene influencing the world for quite some time now. The music and entertainment are becoming a bigger presence in Hollywood, and the Korean soap operas are as popular as ever across Asia. So I thought, there must be an audience for my take on Korean food.
What do you think is the philosophy behind Korean food?
Korean food has a very distinct taste, with 80 percent of all their dishes consisting of the same ingredients of miso, garlic, chilli and sesame oil. When I was shooting for the two TV shows, Seoul Extreme and Seoul Refined, I discovered that Korean food is based on medicinal purposes. So, I’m trying to take that philosophy and modernise it to adapt to everyone’s palate by mixing in some Mexican or a few Chinese flavours to create a more interesting cuisine.
Were there any challenges when you were coming up with the menu?
The starting point is to pick up the right Korean dishes. Obviously, you choose the favourites like fried chicken, bibimbap and barbecue, and leave out more adventurous dishes like fermented skate. I took these universally popular dishes and put my twist on it. For example yukhoe – a traditional raw beef dish – is chopped up frozen beef with some Korean pear dressed with some sesame oil, salt and pepper. To make the dish more texturally comfortable and unique, I topped the beef with pear sorbet, pine nuts, cured duck yolk, a bit of parmesan cheese and truffle oil. It’s one of our most popular dishes.
Why did you choose to open a shop in Taikoo Place?
Besides locals, there is a large Korean and Western expat population around Taikoo Place. I’m trying to appeal to everyone’s palate, every demographic. It’s also an affordable restaurant, and it's an easy place where people can chill, host parties and drink. After all, Korea and alcohol go hand in hand, so we have a large selection of beers and Korean-inspired cocktails.
What are your favourite Korean dishes?
I love barbecue. Anything char-grilled, I’ll eat. I don’t like my meat marinated. I just like mine with a bit of salt and pepper and then I’ll wrap it in lettuce and lots of garlic. I have to make sure that I’m not doing anything romantic that night.
What can we expect from you in the coming year?
I’m opening a duck restaurant coming up as well as a Mexican restaurant. We are also opening a third Bib n Hops in Wan Chai [following the one in Taikoo Place and another in Wan Chai]. We have a Spanish restaurant coming up too, Plateau 86. I just do whatever I feel, the flavours I like. I like to make things special.
Check out Bib n Hops’ new brunch menu available Saturday and Sunday from 11:30am to 4:00pm. Prices start at $288. Add $180 for free-flow prosecco.
Address: 33 Tong Chong St, Quarry Bay, tel: 2882 9300; bibnhops.hk