In late 2012, I was researching for a fine-dining dinner in Bangkok with Katherine and Andrew, and came across this restaurant proclaiming to serve “Progressive Indian” cuisine. Intrigued, I made a reservation, knowing little how amazed I’ll be at the end of that evening’s culinary experience.
That restaurant was Gaggan. Fast forward to 2015, it is now N0.1 on San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Top 10 on the World’s Best Restaurants; alongside illustrious names like El Celler de Can Roca of Girona, Spain; Rene Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen; Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy; and Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s Eleven Madison Park in New York. It’s about time too, as Gaggan is one of the most exciting restaurants I’ve chanced upon in recent years.
Chef Gaggan Anand is a very talented man, and friendly too (he says Gaggan is the probably the only word with 3 Gs); taking time to explain the complex cooking techniques and showing us the kitchen which looked more like a laboratory with all the fancy equipment. Anand was the first chef Indian chef to intern with Ferran Adria’s research team at the impossible-to-get-into el Bulli (my friends and I tried to book there once but the wait-list stretched more than 9 months), hence his interest in molecular gastronomy, although he insists to call his cuisine “Progressive Indian”, interpreted in his own contemporary way.
Gaggan opened in December 2010, in a gorgeous whitewashed colonial-style wooden bungalow in the heart of downtown Bangkok, artistically lighted up in the evening.
The interior is intimate and elegant, decked out in warm and cosy colours and spaciously laid out with a glass-walled kitchen for diners to glimpse the chefs in action. The whole ambience invites you to relax , and doesn’t distract you from the food.
When the chef learnt of my interest in cooking, the staff moved us to the Chef’s Table that overlooked the high-tech kitchen; I was thrilled to spy the trade secrets of such a masterchef – a mind-blowing experience for any wanna-be foodie.
The theatrics commenced with the Welcome Drink – Lassi infused with liquid nitrogen served in wine glasses poured at the table – what a wonderful way to have a refreshing drink that yet doesn’t fill up your belly. We were raring to go at the tasting menu which is composed of of 4 Acts.
I cant’t recall what the amuse-bouche was, but it looked pretty.
Act 1-FUN started with spherified “Yoghurt” served in a quaint spoon, delivering an explosion of creamy delight in your mouth.
This was followed by “Papadums” shaped from rice that is made fresh every day, beautifully crafted like Orchid flowers.
The most interesting item of this Act was the quintessentially British Fish and Chips redefined as edible lemon plastic with Bengali-style fried fish. Look closely and you can see the translucent “plastic” sheet underneath the fish; such a quirky presentation, and delicious too.
Being a carb-man, I loved the Naanizza, Anand’s Indian interpretation of pizza comprising crispy naan bread with mascarpone and truffles with rocket leafs – utterly sinful and decadent.
Act 2- EXOTICA started off with the foamy and exquisite Truffle Air – pressurised truffle espuma with green chilli oil and waynaud organic pepper. This dish exemplifies the raison d’etre for molecular dining – essence of flavours without the bulk.
This was followed by an unusual rendition of Goose Liver; foie gras with spiced red onion chutney, figs leather and cold raspberry foie powder. What’s there not to like about perfectly seared foie gras?
The next course might help you gentlemen through the night – Viagra of French oysters, charcoaled grilled with young coconut and dry pepper fry, presented in a small wooden box like a little treasure chest to be discovered, ending three very exotic food acts indeed.
Act 3-FOOD AT LAST kicked off with the Soul Food (of India) – chicken tikka with red chilly oil and makhani air accompanied by crispy naan on the side. What’s amazing about this dish (and most of the other dishes) is that you get the flavours of the spices from the foam, but absent the heaviness of normal curries.
Burger on the Rocks was next: lamb minced kebah and chutney, cooked and served at the table; dainty morsels of meaty delights ensconced by herb buns – tantalising.
Ending Act 3 was another fine example of a dish that’s light and yet full of fruity unami – 63°C cooked wild sea bass in curry oil and a surprising mango curry that’s subtle enough not to overwhelm the fish.
While perusing the ala carte menu earlier on, I’d spied the sous-vide Iberico Pork in Vindaloo curry reduction; I couldn’t resist placing an order. I liked it better than the tikka chicken – see how pink the pork was – but it was totally unnecessary, just greed at work.
Andrew missed his pasta after the past few days of Thai food. The chef was obliging enough to concoct a simple and tasty portion of Aglio Olio spaghetti; that’s the superb level of service bestowed upon you at this place.
On to the final Act 4-ALMOST THERE. First off was the Toothy Fruity of Indian vanilla ice-cream and summer-fall apricots, white peaches, nectarines, pine nuts, pistachios, cherries, currants and flowers – a wow juxtaposition of flavours and textures; and closed with salty chocolate cookies with artisan Roquefort and summer truffles.
At that time in 2012, I was truly bowled-over by the various Acts; and now all the more satisfying knowing that it was all before the hype of Gaggan’s award-winning cuisine. The entire dinner was food theatre of the highest order. Gaggan truly deserves its place on the world stage, a beacon that shines the spotlight on an Asian culinary journey that in Anand’s words ” is inspired by seasonal ingredients, the freshest produce, the amazing diversity of India’s regional cuisines and childhood street food memories,”, executed deftly with a contemporary touch that yet retains the core of traditional flavours.
My son Alan was inspired by this post (he missed the dinner that trip), and finally made it to Gaggan recently. Here’s the photos from his dinner there.
Gaggan is worth the ticket to Bangkok; but get there soon as I’ve heard the reservation wait-list is running long.