Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Gaggan (Bangkok)

June 2018

68/1 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok 10330, Thailand
Tel: +66 2 652 1700
www.eatatgaggan.com

We were lucky to get a table at Gaggan. Ever since Anand Gaggan announced that he was going to close his eponymous restaurant in Bangkok by 30 June 2020, it seems like the whole foodie world has been talking about going there to try it. Which I guess suits the purpose of announcing a closure: it focuses people's minds on something they have always wanted to experience but don't because of inertia. We were guilty of this as well. Though Bangkok is 2 hours flight time away and I go there 3-4 times a year for business, the idea of booking a restaurant in Bangkok 2 months in advance seems alien to us (we would happily do this for a restaurant in Europe, for example, we booked El Cellar de Can Roca exactly one year before our dining date). Several times in the past few years, I have tried to casually call to book a table at Gaggan for the night that I was there for business but have been (expectedly) unsuccessful. So finally we got off our collective behinds and made the call to try get a table in advance, which we did for a date 6 weeks later on a late Monday night seating, and also made the travel bookings. For the first time in about 30 trips we have made to Bangkok over the past 15 years, we were travelling there specifically to eat at a restaurant. For us that was a first for a restaurant in South East Asia.

Gaggan is the most unlikely of restaurants. It has for the past 4 years been acclaimed as the best restaurant in Asia (by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants). It sits in the heart of Bangkok which proudly regards itself as a culinary capital (for Thai food), yet it is an Indian restaurant owned and run by an Indian chef (Anand Gaggan). Internationally, outside of Asia, it has also been very highly ranked and recently reached no. 5 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, an unprecedented high for a restaurant in Asia. Incidentally it also has 2 Michelin stars in the new Bangkok Michelin Guide, and Anand Gaggan has his own episode on the Netflix TV series, Chef's Table, which features some of the most famous chefs in the world. Watching that episode on Netflix before our trip was very useful; it set our expectations about the meal and gave us an early understanding about the philosophies of Chef Gaggan which would help us understand the food he was going to be serving us.



Set in a bungalow off a main street in the heart of Bangkok city, the dining room was small and intimate, which was apt given that some of the dishes were presented to a few tables together as a group and we would sometime peep at the expressions and eavesdrop at the comments made by our fellow diners from the other tables. In many ways, the entire dining experience was not meant to be enjoyed individually or even with your table alone, but with the other guests in the immediate vicinity. This aspect of the dining experience, we felt, was most similar to a meal we had several years ago at Muguritz in San Sebastian, Spain.

There was no menu at Gaggan, only a single tasting menu of 25 dishes, articulated in print simply in the form of 25 emojis. Each of the dishes was either with Indian culinary influences or, in few cases, Thai-inspired, with also a few with a combination of both, but in any case prepared in the most whimsical and innovative fashion. Objectively, this kind of cuisine, made famous by El Bulli 10 years ago and then carried on by the other European greats subsequently, has somewhat become a dated concept in recent years. But we gave Gaggan a lot of leeway on this point because it was presenting Indian food in this format and that in itself was new to us.

Below are the 25 dishes with their emojis, and with tasting notes where we felt necessary to include them.


Cucumber 🥒 Aloe Vera


Yoghurt 💥Explosion - this is the 'house special'. Styled in the manner similar to the El Bulli 'Olives' (now available at the Adria Brother's restaurant Tickets), this was Indian yoghurt made using the reverse spherification method, resulting in a thin jelly like layer which breaks in the mouth releasing the yoghurt. At the point when this happened, it triggered a sensation which gave a clear imprint in our minds: "right, we are now having Indian food".


Lick it up 👅Brain Curry - our earlier reference to Mugaritz was also in context of this dish. It was a dish which required the participation of not just our taste buds but also our eyes, ears and hands. Three different flavoured pastes were spread on the plate, and when the plates were served to all the tables around our vicinity, the waiter would bring a stereo out and blast the Kiss song "Lick it up" while suggesting that we pick up the plates and lick the pastes to enjoy the curried goat brains.


Caviar 🥚Horseradish Egg


Tom Yum 🦐Kung - thick paste of Tom Yam Kung eaten out of a deep fried prawn head.



Eggplant 🍆Cookie - one of our favourites, this was meringue cookie (meringue was used a few times in this meal) with spicy eggplant filling.


Chilly 🌶️Bon Bon - another favourite of ours, the white chocolate was eaten as a whole and when broken, would release a spicy soup. The sweetness of the chocolate combined nicely with the spice.


Idly 🍚Sambar - This was a vegetarian stew made into a foam over a rice muffin.


Yum 🐠Pla Duk Foo - We suspect this was solely Thai-influenced, it was the familiar flavour of spicy and sweet Thai fish.


Keema 🐐Pao - Indian mutton filling in a Chinese-style steamed bun


Turnip 🌮Uni Taco - this was very good.  Fresh raw sea urchin was first eaten off a thin slice of turnip, then underneath in the sea urchin shell, was more sea urchin with turnip cream, some wasabi and green caviar.



Chutoro 🍣 Sushi - we loved this also, flame-charred raw tuna belly atop rice meringue with a small globule of liquid ginger to complete the flavours.


Foie Gras 🍊Yuzu Ghewar - another interactive dish. The Indian sweet cake was placed on one hand with the other hand being sprayed with yuzu juice, and when eating the Ghewar, the scent of the yuzu would complement the taste of the Ghewar.


Anago 🍫Mole - Grilled ill coated with chocolate sauce


Kintoki Carrot 🥕Rasam


Pork Vindaloo 🥟Black Garlic Momo


Scallop Uncooked 🥥Raw Curry - another favourite of ours, this was scallops with 'stones' which were dehydrated curry on an edible shell sitting on a bed of sea salt. This was very good but a warning, when picking up the 'shell', avoid too much of the sea salt getting on it otherwise it will be too salty.


Prawn 🍤Balchao - nothing innovative about this but it was super delicious.


Return of 🇬🇧The CTM - much has been made about serving Chicken Tikka Masala as a staple Indian dish, and Chef Gaggan obliged, but only to prepare a 'sandwich' using meringue as the bread for the CTM.


Edamame Shitake Charcoal


King Crab Curry 🦀Rice Paturi - This was much closer to mainstream Indian cuisine and was appropriately the final savoury course. Despite its simplicity, we loved it.



Beetroot 🌹Roses



Flower 🌼Power Rose


Origami 🍬Caramel - origami made using milk curd with caramel cream and dehydrated chocolate and caramel soil.


Yin Coffee ☯️Yang Sesame - combination of coffee and white sesame ice cream.


This was an epic 3 hour meal which ended way past midnight. Every course hit the spot with more than a few really standout ones. Creating a menu like this was very daring on the part of Chef Gaggan  (i,e. serving a meal with nothing but 25 amuse bouches) but we felt that he pulled it off really well, by ensuring that every course was edible and relevant (we have eaten at many other top restaurants who try a similar style but they all invariably 'sacrifice' a few dishes amongst the numerous courses to focus on a few outstanding ones). We have not eaten anywhere else in East Asia which can execute this kind of cuisine with such high level of excellence and consistency.

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