I’ve never been as excited to visit a Restaurant, as I was before my meal at Gaggan. Ranked the #1 ‘Best Restaurant in Asia’ and Thailand (respectively) for 2015 by ‘World’s 50 Best’ (and being the only Indian Restaurant to crack the top 10), I’d only heard whispers of Chef Gaggan Anand’s culinary prowess until this past October. I really wasn’t sure what to expect – other than some interesting molecular gastronomy techniques. Gaggan’s philosophy is “progressive”, taking traditional Indian cuisine to the next level, using modern food science and techniques.
Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok’s city centre, Gaggan is housed in a quaint colonial style Thai bungalow, with tasteful and minimal decor. We were greeted warmly by the staff, and after a short wait, escorted to our table on the ground floor. Dining with me was my friend Roxanne (The Tiny Taster), and we were both hungry with anticipation. Of the two tasting menus, we decided on ‘Taste of Gaggan’, the shorter (if you call 10 courses short) option.
First to the table was the jelly-like Rose Shikanji, a cooling Indian lemonade, which we had to shoot out of test-tubes. An interesting start, it certainly set the precedent for the night! Alongside, were three more plates, with deceptively small appetizers – deceptively, because though they appeared small, their flavours were BIG.
The Yogurt Explosion was served up in flat-bottomed spoons, and was favourite simply because it felt like a water balloon exploding in your mouth, flooding it with a delicious spice-infused yogurt.
Crushed nuts encased in a translucent rice paper, with wasabi undertones, Edible Plastic Spiced Nuts packed quite a punch!
Two semi-spheres of white chocolate joined together and filled with a super pani-puri like liquid, the little Chocolate Chili Bomb was superb. I would have loved to go for round two of this ‘dish in disguise’ – the mouth-feel was both tantalising and exciting. It reminded me of the scene in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (the original, not the ghastly remake) where Mr. Wonka shows his visitors a chewing gum which has all the flavours of a three course dinner (see here).
Next on the table were two short cylindrical shaped discs, which turned out to be the Bengali Mustard and Nori Pakoda. Their taste reminded me strongly of sushi – not just because it was thoroughly coated in nori (seaweed) dust, but again because of the subtle use of wasabi for that umami kick.
Appearance-wise, the Bird’s Nest looked like a mix of the Parsi sali, and the Swiss rösti – but far more refined, cooked to a crisp and covered with a gorgeous date chutney and potato mousse. Flavour-wise, it reminded me of sev puri, which I love.
The Pappadum & Tomato Chutney was a wonderfully crunchy combo – I just wish I’d had more of that beautiful sweet chutney on the side!
Gaggan’s Magic Mushroom is truly a masterpiece – truffle and forest mushrooms candied into the shape of a log, with a truffle mousse, edible soil and garden, all made with dehydrated mushrooms, green chili and micro-greens. I found myself demolishing this down to the last little crumb. It was light and delicate, holding the flavours of a dish ten times its size.
Charcoal was to be a surprise – with no description on the menu, the presentation was quite theatrical. Underneath a glass dome, billowing smoke slowly cleared to reveal what looked like a piece of charcoal covered in ash. The only hint as to the anatomy of this mysterious little piece was on the actual plate itself – a shallow impression of a fish bone.
Indeed, once we cracked open the crunchy outer shell of the ‘charcoal’, was a soft, flaky mixture of sea bass and potato mousse. The ‘ash’ was composed of dehydrated onion and black salt powder. The smokey flavour infused in the beginning tied everything together perfectly – this was a dish I won’t soon forget.
Of course, no meal of mine can be complete without at least ONE meaty dish, and the Pig and Pickle really exceeded my expectations. Iberian pork loin, prepped for 72 hours and cooked in a vindaloo-esque tangy sauce was accompanied by a sweet potato puree and delicately pickled pink onions. That sauce was superb, and I would have licked the plate clean if I could have!
Another Gaggan signature dish, the Daab Chingri, where ‘daab’ means coconut & ‘chingri’ means prawns. It’s a pretty dish of two huge prawns, sitting on a bed of a rice porridge mousse and shredded tender coconut, topped with silver leaf and a coconut foam. The prawns had a vibrant mustard and spicy flavour, which I liked much better than the rice porridge mousse. Overall, one cracker of a dish.
For our last main course: ‘I want my Curry!’, we were given a choice of one dish each: either the ‘British National Dish’ of Chicken Tikka Masala; or a South Indian Fish Curry. Lucky for us, we got to try them both, accompanied with freshly baked breads of the day. Personally, I prefer my Chicken Tikka Masala to be a little less sweet and a lot spicier. The fish curry was lovely, with typical South Indian flavours. The naans (two butter and two plain) were dusted with kaffir lime powder, which was an unusual but palatable combination.
Gajar Halwa with black carrot ice cream, crispy carrot flower and cardamom oil was interesting, and not just because it was presented to look like carrots in the ground. It wasn’t as sweet as I expected it to be, but had a more mellow flavour.
Gaggan’s famous In Season frozen Mahachanok Mangoes encased in a liquid nitrogen semi-sphere of coconut was wonderfully light and dissolved instantly on the tongue.
Last but not least, in keeping with the Indian tradition of offering mouth-freshener after a meal, the Candies were a tamarind jelly dipped in chili-salt dust; a nice sugar-coated rose jelly (similar to what we tried in the beginning); mouth freshener set on crisp sugar glass, and tart yuzu jelly squares.
A meal at Gaggan will definitely cost you, but if you’re curious about exploring new food, put your money where your mouth is. Some might find it odd that being Indian, I chose to eat at an expensive Indian Restaurant in Thailand of all places, but let me tell you – Gaggan is certainly NOT your run-of-the-mill Indian Restaurant.
It may sound fancy and slightly pretentious – but there’s a sense of honesty and purpose that has gone into this food. Eating here is an experience for the senses – smells, textures, tastes and visually deceptive looking dishes will keep you enraptured. Though some of the portions may appear small, there is a massive amount of technique, care and flavour that is worked into each and every bite. Echoes of familiar ingredients will invoke memories you didn’t even know you still had. There is a lot more than meets the eye with Gaggan, and I would love to go back for their extended tasting menu the next time I’m in Bangkok. Expensive? Surely, but it’s something worth saving up for (like we did), rather than spending money on shopping.
I’m still having dreams about this meal, and I probably will for a long time to come. If you’re ever in Bangkok and feel the need to try something different, try Gaggan (you’ll need to make reservations much in advance).