Gaggan - Progressive Rock & Roll

 
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What does being Asia’s “best” restaurant mean? What happens once a body of voters has attempted to measure the unmeasurable? For one, extreme anxiety on the part of any diner trapped in the moronic snarl of Bangkok’s peak rush hour, trying to make a 7pm reservation. Can you imagine what it’s like having all these (mostly foreign) customers turning up in your soi  (street) to find out what the Best Restaurant in Asia (according to the 2014 S. Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list) is all about? This was shortly followed by 10th place (up from 17) at the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards last June and dropped to #23 last month – the only Indian restaurant to crack the top 50. Restaurant Gaggan, named after Chef and proprietor Gaggan Anand, is situated in a quiet Soi in Bangkok's city centre in an area called Lumpini.

In a cardamom pod… Gaggan Anand is an Indian-born chef whose previous experience has seen him as Chef de cuisine for Bangkok's Lebua Hotels, he also worked for a while under Ferran Andria as part of the research / development team at the legendary El Bulli in Spain which has been coined by critics as the most imaginative generator of haute cuisine on the planet. Chef Gaggan created quite a stir when he opened the restaurant. Serving what he called ”progressive” Indian cuisine with a spin. It wasn't exactly in keeping with the city's Royal Thai traditions  but Gaggan stuck to his visions and principles, and for good reason. The flavors stay within tradition but with an added touch of magic with modern presentation and a fun approach - El Bulli-inspired molecular, if you will. It's avant garde, experimental and based on a constant approach of improvement evident in the fact that the restaurant's menu changes every few months.

His restaurant is a fairly reverential one; lots of waiters, no music, conservative furnishings, a slight suggestion of British colonialism. Nothing, really, to suggest a creative or unconventional beating heart. Gaggan means “sky” in Hindi, and this 70-year old restored bungalow of sorts, with green gardens, comfortable rooms and cane furniture, made me feel that I was visiting a very wealthy friend, but Gaggan is all about expecting the unexpected, incongruity at its best.

The meal starts off with several interesting small bites and a drink.

The meal starts off with several interesting small bites and a drink.

It's full force from the beginning with flavours that truly engage the palette. Spices and textures are used in exciting combinations. Edible bags of nuts, yogurt explosions and a chilly chocolate bomb. It's playful, both in presentations and in flavour.

The experience starts off with a dewdrop filled with aloe vera, grape juice and sansho flower (a japanese pepper berry). The spherification of a welcome drink, if you will.

The experience starts off with a dewdrop filled with aloe vera, grape juice and sansho flower (a japanese pepper berry). The spherification of a welcome drink, if you will.

Followed by an imaginative take on papdi chaat (a savoury Northern Indian street food) – a spherical yoghurt "egg" infused with chaat masala, ginger and mango powder.

Followed by an imaginative take on papdi chaat (a savoury Northern Indian street food) – a spherical yoghurt "egg" infused with chaat masala, ginger and mango powder.

A take on pani puri (a savoury street snack from Magadha, India) is re-interpreted with a white-chocolate sphere, filled with a savoury blend of tamarind, ginger, coriander, mint, green chillies and cumin, topped with edible silver. My favorite of all the small bites.

A take on pani puri (a savoury street snack from Magadha, India) is re-interpreted with a white-chocolate sphere, filled with a savoury blend of tamarind, ginger, coriander, mint, green chillies and cumin, topped with edible silver. My favorite of all the small bites.

Edible "plastic" made of rice paper filled with spiced nuts and coconut.

Edible "plastic" made of rice paper filled with spiced nuts and coconut.

The magic mushroom - Forest mushrooms made of black and white truffles in the form of a mousse stuffed into a crispy round, shaped in a log, edible mushroom soil and the garden represented by green chilli powder.

The magic mushroom - Forest mushrooms made of black and white truffles in the form of a mousse stuffed into a crispy round, shaped in a log, edible mushroom soil and the garden represented by green chilli powder.

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Red Matcha. This course mimics a Japanese Tea ceremony. The bowl arrives with a small salad of peeled cherry tomato, peeled grapes and physalis sat in a little pool of Coriander oil and a touch of black salt. The idea is to eat this little refreshing fruit salad whilst the “tea” is being prepared tableside. The teapot contained a hot tomato and beetroot consommé which was then mixed with dried tomato powder. The “tea” is then poured into the bowl so that it mixes with the coriander / fruit residue. Inspired by tamatar dhaniya shorba - an Indian tomato soup with coriander.

A papadum made with tapioca, topped with charcoaled uni and a slice of strawberry. So bizarre, but it worked.

A papadum made with tapioca, topped with charcoaled uni and a slice of strawberry. So bizarre, but it worked.

Gaggan's take on the popular Parsi dish of meat curry with potato sticks (Salli Boti) represented with a lamb curry chutney sphere sitting atop a fried potato nest.

Gaggan's take on the popular Parsi dish of meat curry with potato sticks (Salli Boti) represented with a lamb curry chutney sphere sitting atop a fried potato nest.

Idly Sambhar

Idly Sambhar

Yet another interesting take, this time on a popular south Indian dish. Idly now comes as a fluffy sponge cake, topped with a sambhar-flavored foam and curry leaf. Very light and airy.

An organic bamboo charcoal-shelled nugget with a spiced and smoked Thai sea bass filling.

An organic bamboo charcoal-shelled nugget with a spiced and smoked Thai sea bass filling.

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Brilliant. Another favorite. It was completed with salt "ash".

Lamb loin chop cooked sous vide with a penetrating marinating paste finished over charcoal tandoor.

Lamb loin chop cooked sous vide with a penetrating marinating paste finished over charcoal tandoor.

And there’s this two-point piece of lamb loin chop that has been cooked sous vide with a penetrating marinating paste with goodness knows what in it before finishing over proper charcoal tandoor. Sensational. Oh and the stenciled design is meant to resemble a rangoli on the plate and is made with beetroot and sweet potato. Mind. Blown.

The Story of a Fish Called Kin Medai

The Story of a Fish Called Kin Medai

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The next course, The Story of a Fish Called Kin Medai (a fish from Hokaido which if said in Thai literally means 'inedible'), breaks down a fish from face to fin. Served in what looks like a flower pot that opens up into 4 parts or "acts" as the menu describes. The first being the fish fillet being beautifully poached in oil and then topped with gunpowder, a play on an indian fish curry. The second being rice kidigree cooked with the fish head, a play on khichri. The third being a piece of eggplant smoked with Kin Medai fish skin. And the fourth and final being Kin Medai fish bone jelly with orange segments.

Chicken tikka masala served with naan, rice and pickled veg in a tiffin box.

Chicken tikka masala served with naan, rice and pickled veg in a tiffin box.

I want my curry! This course was the most bizarre of them all because it was perfectly normal - yet we still expected the unexpected, thus is the magic of Gaggan. Delicious. And the chicken was studded with cloves, a technique I've mostly seen with french cooking.

Mithai ki maki - date sugar ice cream inside pistachio rolls, with sesame and almond crunch on the outside.  This tasted a little like a colder, denser version of Japanese castella

Mithai ki maki - date sugar ice cream inside pistachio rolls, with sesame and almond crunch on the outside.  This tasted a little like a colder, denser version of Japanese castella

Roots of Love - At the end of the coriander root was a chunk of dark chocolate, which was buried in the chocolate soil and covered with rose mousse.

Roots of Love - At the end of the coriander root was a chunk of dark chocolate, which was buried in the chocolate soil and covered with rose mousse.

Supposedly two of the chefs in the kitchen fell in love and created this. While the story is nice, I didn't find this very special...

Overall the experience was fantastic, the good thing is you don't need a dictionary to understand or enjoy the evening! Definitely more fascinating if you're familiar with indian cuisine though, as you're constantly comparing visually and taste-wise with the traditional dish. Molecular gastronomy is not supposed to be gimmicky, at the end of the day there has to be logic behind the preparation and the usage of ingredients and flavors together in a way that works well on the palate. Maybe it's not for everyone but I find it extremely exciting when used properly, it can create a truly unique dining experience. Nowadays unfortunately it's become far too common to go into restaurants and find them using liquid nitrogen and dry ice just as a form of entertainment and calling it molecular gastronomy.

Gaggan took the time to come around to everyone's tables and have a quick chat, he sure has a fantastic personality, he made pretty much every table he visited burst out in laughter. As charismatic in person as you would expect from someone who created a menu as bizarre as this one! And he has some potential plans to come to Dubai... You heard it here first foodies!

As always, thanks for reading xo