Of cleansing, calories ... and cocktails

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 5:13pm

It's that time of the year when detoxing is in fashion, as people look to undo the damage caused by weeks of holiday indulgences and the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Capitalising on the trend, Armani/Aqua, the chic restaurant in Chater House where "couture meets cuisine", has launched a five-course detox tasting menu that claims to cleanse the body without compromising on taste.

Working with a "well-respected British-based nutritionist" (Aqua's director of marketing Eliot Sandiford declined to give a name), the restaurant's chefs specially designed low-fat and low-carb portion-controlled dishes, each containing fewer than 300 calories.

The dishes are anchored by six ingredients the restaurant calls "heroes" - beetroot, walnut, sage, cod, melon and figs - selected based on their scientifically proven benefits, such as antioxidant and antidepressant, and superior nutritional properties (such as vitamins, minerals and fibre).

"The idea of dieting is always so demoralising. We wanted to put together something interesting and tasty that would still remain light and to help our guests achieve their goals," says the restaurant's general manager, Max Rhodes.

Detox purists would be up in arms over the menu. A detox is traditionally a low-calorie diet of water, fruit, fruit juices and/or raw vegetables. No processed sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, caffeine - and certainly no alcohol or tobacco.

It's believed - but never proven by research - that this will purge toxins from food additives, pesticides and pollutants from the body. The result: increased energy, clearer skin, headache relief and perhaps even weight loss.

But having all five courses of Armani/Aqua's tasting menu (HK$688) will set you back by 861 calories, including 24 grams of fat, 55 grams of protein and 112 grams of carbs. This one meal is more than 40 per cent of my recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories, according to - and stated on the restaurant's menu - Singapore Ministry of Health guidelines.

What is more contentious is that diners have the option of pairing the courses with four "Retox Cocktails" for an additional HK$300. The restaurant has tried to put a healthy spin by using "hero" ingredients in the drinks, such as Pomegranate & Rosemary Martini (pomegranate is a "superfruit" high in antioxidants) and a muddled avocado and tequila concoction called Avorita (avocado is packed with essential nutrients).

"There's been a lot of objection over the cocktails," says Tony Paese, the restaurant's manager, "but sometimes you need pleasure also."

If your goal is just to eat healthier, however, then the detox menu could be for you - but hold the alcohol, and order the dishes à la carte.

I recommend just having the main course: roasted fillet of Mediterranean Sea cod with butter bean and vegetable ragout (HK$288). With plump, melt-in-your-mouth meat and a thin crispy layer of fennel and breadcrumbs, the fish (high in omega-3s) tasted indulgent but has just 287 calories and three grams of fat.

The portion size is decent, but if I was hungrier, I'd then also have the second course: roasted vegetable soup with walnut & sage pesto (HK$118), at 163 calories and 8.9 grams of fat. Roasted and puréed zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant and pumpkin make the soup thick and creamy without additional fat.

Since its launch on January 1, 227 sets of the tasting menu have been sold, of which 159 included the cocktails, says Rhodes. The most popular à la carte dishes have been the cod and the starter of beetroot carpaccio with goat's cheese (HK$138). The restaurant will stop serving the detox menu on February 28. However, Rhodes says if there is demand, some or all dishes may continue. The cocktails, he says, have been very popular, and there could be more of such antioxidant mixes in future. Wheatgrass and apple daiquiri, anyone?

Alas, one meal does not a detox make, but the Armani/Aqua detox menu will certainly leave you feeling virtuous and lighter - in the belly and the wallet.