Gaggan - Progressive Rock & Roll
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brilliant. Another favorite. It was completed with salt "ash".
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 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.
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.
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