Salt. It’s the single most important ingredient in a chef’s repertoire, and one of the oldest methods of curing and preserving, and the seasoning of food is arguably the important aspect of cooking or processing of food. And yet, it’s an incredibly under-emphasised ingredient. There is much more to salt and its use in food than white powder in a container on the table.
When Armani/Aqua in Hong Kong came up with a Salt Discovery Six Course Experience Menu designed to reinterpret the use of salts from around the world in food and expose guests to the intricacies and flavours of the different salts, we thought we would give this unique menu a try. Rarely has salt been the highlight of an entire menu, so this was not an opportunity to pass up.
Armani/Aqua, a “couture meets cuisine” collaboration between fashion designer Giorgio Armani and restaurant/bar specialists Aqua Group, is a design-conscious restaurant set within the confines of the large Armani/Chater House in the heart of Central in Hong Kong that also houses most of the brands under Armani as an Asian flagship store. With no view, the focus is purely on design.
Guests walk along an enclosed red-carpeted catwalk that leads to the red-toned restaurant, with the sleek, minimalist furniture that marries the best of east and west, designed exclusively for the restaurant by Armani/Casa, the fashion brand’s interior design line.
A central sushi bar (the restaurant serves both Italian and Japanese) splits the restaurant and provides a nice focus (a very large intimate lounge/bar area is available upstairs, tagged as Armani/Prive), while the table arrangement is well-spaced to allow for private conversations.
The restaurant’s cuisine is overseen by the very friendly and exuberant Executive Chef Andrea Magnano, and the restaurant itself is run by the equally bubbly Emanuele Gorla, both of whom sat down with us at various points during the meal to further explain the salts in detail.
The six course meal arrived as follows (salts highlighted in bold):
Three Botan prawns served on a block of Pink Himalayan salt with Amalfi lemon mayonnaise, clementine granite and a dusting of licorice, yellow Cypriot Saffron Salt
The Pink Himalayan salt is one of the purest salts in the world, and naturally cures the prawn (while also complementing its colour very well, thus providing a natural presentation point), while the lightly-infused saffron Cyrpiot salt brings out the flavour of the Mediterranean, allowing the shrimp to shine – a very pleasant and refreshing start to the meal.
Duck two ways
Pan-fried duck foie gras and home cured ham seasoned with Viking Java Mix
This was the undoubted highlight of the evening, with so many flavours and textures in one dish; from the soft, succulent, slightly bitter foie gras to the crunicher and sweeter home cured ham, cider and sherry vinegar caramelized apples, each sprinkled with truffle and rosemary caviar. The salt, a blend of hot Indonesian long peppercorns with Norwegian smoked Viking Salt added a real zing to the finish.
Sicilian red prawn risotto, Maltese scampi & Malossol caviar served with Iranian Persian Blue Salt grated at the table
One of the rarest and oldest salts in the world, this is a very unique ingredient that while very salty to begin with, its saline and sodium content fade rather quickly if exposed, highlighting the ‘fruits de mer’ that star in this dish.
Italian clams, mussels and Spanish baby squid dusted with Hawaiian Black Lava Salt, served with organic tomatoes on homemade Zizzagne pasta and squid ink reduction
The Hawaiian Black Lava’s earthy smokiness and very high mineral content make it somewhat reminiscent of a barbecue. The clams and squid are well cooked, but the dish lacks that cohesive ingredient that holds it together.
Slow-cooked black cod
Slow cooked black cod on organic cauliflower & buffalo ricotta cream, Alba white truffle oil and Vincentia foam, with Essencia Arbequina
The cod here is another highlight, cooked to perfection and always a treat with cauliflower and buffalo ricotta cream. The salt is extremely subtle, but the hint of olives provides a nice addition and another faintly-highlighted flavour that shines through.
Black Angus tagliata
96-hour grass fed Black Angus strip loin, served with warm rocket jelly and Saharan Hoarfrost
While the quality of the beef is beyond question, the beef is a little on the dry side when served. The Saharan Hoarfrost, resembling snowflakes in appearance, is supposed to melt in the mouth along with the perfectly cooked striploin.
Some of the dishes were highlights, while others could do with minor improvements, but on the whole a very positive experience. The menu is most certainly worth a try, if at the very least to understand and learn more about the ingredient which has been responsible for preserving, curing, seasoning and even cooking food. It is as much an educational journey as it is a culinary one.
The menu, priced at HK$1,288 per person (plus 10% service charge) is available for an indeterminate period, although courses (and salts) may change over time depending on season and availability. In addition to the six course food menu, the restaurant also offers a selection of salt-based cocktails that complement the menu, available at HK$1,488 per person (plus service charge).
Chinmoy Lad is the CEO and Founder of The Suite Life.
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