It’s not the first time Giorgio Armani has stepped over the runway and into the restaurant realm. In fact, the couture designer’s culinary empire spans the globe with outlets from Milan to Ho Chi Minh City. Still, his latest enterprise at Chater House is different from any of his other outlets, marking his inaugural collaboration with Hong Kong-based restaurant veterans Aqua Group.
The result of this powerhouse partnership is a massive 14,000sq ft monster that encompasses a restaurant, lounge and stunning rooftop terrace. As expected from the team that created Hutong and Hullett House, the restaurant side is rife with slicked up oriental elements that glow under a clubbish lighting (warm amber in the day and an aggressively seductive red as dinnertime settles in). Duly christened Armani/Aqua, the split personality transfuses into the half-Italian, half-Japanese menu. Don’t mistake it for fusion though – there’s no overlap between the cuisines aside from the fact that diners can mix and match their own meal from the smattering of Asian and Western dishes.
A safe place to start is with the tataki sushi platter ($748), which arrives with seven different pairs of gunkan-maki sushi. Stepping away from tradition, the chefs use sheets of cucumber in place of the orthodox nori wrapping. It’s a refreshing change, though not entirely necessary. After all, what matters most is the filling. On the night we visited, this was a medley of minced toro with caviar, diced foie gras, flash-seared wagyu, uni, seasonal white fish and plump ebi prawns with pearls of ikura. The ingredients are fresh and the presentation is impeccable. Our only gripe would be that unless you have a trap like Julia Roberts, it’s near impossible to devour these larger-than-standard rice rolls in one neat bite. The cold cut 'circus' ($298) brings its own little surprises. This is constructed from slices of soppressata, prosciutto and coppa, all taken from the 'Cinta Senese' wild boar and arranged around greens and pickles. The highlight here is the lardo – deliciously seasoned strips of pure pork fat that melt on the tongue to leave behind traces of gluttonous guilt.
Easing into the hot plates, there’s the beef and trufflee rice ($308), which comes beautifully presented with a huge, loosely-packed raw wagyu meatball. Mash the beef up and pour steaming dashi stock over the mess for an end-product that’s redolent with the thick aromas of shaved black truffles and the umami fat that renders off the top-grade beef. The primi repertoire is equally impressive. The sea urchin spaghetti ($228) for instance, has perfectly al dente strands dressed simply in garlic, chilli and olive oil. The noodles are so delicious on their own that the uni almost seems superfluous to the dish. Similar praise goes to the handcrafted casoncelli ($228), which translates into folded packets of velvety egg pasta fattened up with diced Italian sausage and garnished with a crisped piece of pancetta.
With such an extensive menu though, hiccups are almost inevitable and here this comes in the form of a lacklustre robatayaki platter ($288). The black cod saikyo yaki isn’t slathered in enough miso to permeate the flesh. The lamb chop and beef tongue share the same disappointing fate, the former being tough, and the latter lacking in salt. The chicken and leek skewers are the one saving grace, moist and juicy with a savoury edge that’s drawn out with a squeeze of lime.
But the biggest obstacle for Armani/Aqua is the well-meaning but sporadic service. Our Japanese items were served separate from their Italian counterparts with the antipasti arriving after we had finished all the hot Asian dishes. Our dinner felt like it had become two distinct meals happening one after the other. Thankfully, desserts arrived at the same time and were all solid efforts. The chocolate platter ($128) comes as a warm chocolate cannoli filled with thick mousse, a chocolate fondant with a molten centre, a dark chocolate parfait and a white chocolate bombe with a crumbly biscuit middle. This should bode well for any sugar junkie. Also interesting is the fruit ‘tempura’ ($98) of mango or banana fritters set against vanilla ice cream.
We can see this place evolving into the go-to fashionista hangout spot but that will only happen after the restaurant irons out the few creases in its menu and service. After all, even a fine suit needs to be carefully tailored to fit and, right now, Armani/Aqua is still a few inches too loose.
Armani/Aqua tataki sushi platter $748
Cold cut 'circus' $298
Wagyu beef black trufﬂe rice $308
Casoncelli with Italian sausage $228
Mango or banana tempura $98
Chocolate dessert platter $128
Ten percent service charge $180.80
Total (for two) $1,988.80
2/F, Chater House
8 Connaught Rd Central
|Opening hours:||Daily 11.30am-11.30pm|