Last weekend, we found ourselves in Bangkok, trading earlier plans to go to Phnom Penh and Siam Reap for exploration with some rest and recuperation in Bangkok instead. Exploratory as we are with our food, we could not pass up this opportunity to make a trip to Gaggan, which has been on our list of places to eat for a while.
The restaurant has been named the No. 1 restaurant for 2 consecutive years in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Gaggan is also the only Indian Chef’s restaurant to feature in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, there at No. 23 this year, and No. 10 the year before.
Named after the chef, Gaggan Anand himself, Gaggan is housed in a beautiful colonial bungalow right in the heart of Bangkok. Gaggan professes that they serve Progressive Indian Cuisine which is really the chef’s interpretation of classic traditional Indian dishes in a modern way. The restaurant opens for dinner only.
That means that this place is usually sold out months in advance, especially if you want a table in the early 6pm seating. In spite of our last travel minute plans to Bangkok, we managed to get a reservation at a short notice. (Pro tip, Don’t try booking via the website, call them.)
Once we checked in at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, we realized Gaggan is only a short 15 minutes walk from there. So we decided to walk down to the restaurant. As we approached the lane, I noticed that Gaggan is housed in a charming white bungalow that had a very Mediterranean feel to it. The interiors are simple, and chic with cane furniture that was quite comfortable. For a moment, it reminded me of Indigo in Mumbai.
Having trained for a few months at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Spain, Gaggan’s menu is inspired by a similar philosophy where he takes food from different regions in India and presents them to his guests in a modern, twisted way. However, the food has increasingly seen Japanese influences as well, and then there is all the chatter from Gaggan Anand himself about how he wants to shut down this restaurant by 2020 and open a small weekend-only restaurant in Japan. We were glad we could make it before he moved on!
From its earlier offering of 3 set menus, today Gaggan serves only one set menu named The Gaggan Experience which is priced at THB 4000++ . Once we were seated, we were presented with an emoji menu that had 22 icons on it. This was going to be the 22 courses we were going to walk through this evening and the staff was going to guide us through the courses as they arrived. We were offered a wine menu as well, and we went with a Riesling on the recommendation of the sommelier. The menu changes every 3 months, but some evergreen classics continue to stay on.
The food & the experience
The first part of the menu came as a rapid fire starting with canapés then the pace slowed down later with appetizers and entrees. And finally for the grand finale there were 3 desserts. For the first 14 courses, they are meant to be eaten by hand. The service staff is supposed to walk you through the menu, but we were sometimes at loss understanding what they were saying. So Ajay caught me trying to overhear the descriptions another waiter was giving to their table.
With that, I’ll leave you to enjoy the visual journey of the food, the taste of which you can only savour if you make the trip to Gaggan.
Course 1: Made out of Litchi and Yuzu Jelly this is served in a beetle leaf.
Course 2: This bag had a mix of lentil and wasabi in an edible rice paper sheet that looked like plastic. Ajay almost teared it open before our server reminded him to eat the nuts with the packet.
Course 3: Yogurt Explosion is Gaggan’s signature dish. A take on the Indian dahi chaat , it bursts in the mouth and has flavours of rock salt, coriander and chaat masala.
Course 4: Now the fluffiest idlis were served with a Sambhar foam. There was even a hint of gunpowder and curry leaves. Don’t mistake them for Dhokla like Ajay did at first look.
Course 5: Chocolate ball that is filled with tamarind and chilly sauce. The perfect sweet, sour and chilly combination. Ajay loved it and wanted seconds.
Course 6: Eggplant Cookie with onion chutney. Completely deceptive.
Course 7: Here a salty Ghewar ( A popular Indian sweet) base is topped up with Truffles
Course 8: Aampapad is childhood school memories for many of us. Imagine having this mango delicacy rolled into a cone served with wasabi icecream.
Course 9: This is take on the famous Goan delicacy where shredded pork Vindaloo is served on a sea potato fritter and topped with some spring onion.
Course 10: The most popular Indian street food, Gol Guppas were served that were secretly stuffed with potato mash.
Course 11: This was Gaggan’s version of Sushi where Bluefin Tuna was served with a rice base that looked and tasted like unsweetened cotton candy
Course 12: A twist on the regular Taco. Taco was made out of rice cracker with a mince tuna, onion, coriander and garlic filling. We are getting twisted into the Japanese influences here…
Course 13: The most deceptive dish of the evening that looks like a Chicken Kebab but is actually deep fried chick pea rolled on a chicken bone served with apple and tamarind chutney. Don’t eat the bone!
Course 14: In a shell of corn cracker a goat’s brain mousse a.k.a Indian foie gras is served.
Course 15: Now for the first time a spoon arrives on the table to savour this Passion fruit pulp and yuzu jelly.
Course 16: Another signature dish from Gaggan ,this one was my favourite. The server just told us that it’s a surprise and he won’t explain the dish until we eat it. It looked like a real charcoal and when I dug into it I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was stuffed with Amritsari Fish Tikka (A very popular dish in North India). Not only that the charcoal was edible made out of organic bamboo and was topped with dehydrated onion and chilli powder to enhance the flavour.
Course 17: This is a take on the Japanese Tea ceremony. A Grape Tomato and Japanese Melon is served. After which a server comes up to our table and makes us a Red Matcha soup by combining dry tomato powder, tomato broth and stirring it up with Matcha. The Chef’s Favourite.
Course 18: Here we had some art work on our plates. Succulent New Zealand Lamb Chops are served with some Rangoli art work done with sweet potato and beetroot mash. It’s all edible 😉
Course 19 : No Indian affair is complete without a curry dish, right?. Now arrives a meal in a traditional Indian tiffin box. It is a take on regional Mangalorean cuisine. The first box has prawn fritters, next box has some delicious crab curry cooked with coconut milk and to accompany the curry there is rice with fresh coconut tempered with mustard seeds.
Course 20: Now we were off to desserts. The cronut is stuffed with Kheer a popular milk and saffron based dessert.
Course 21: Inspired by the Himalayas, this next dessert was called Apple Snow and included milk powder and apple cream puree in filo served with melon ice sorbet.
Course 21: For the Grand Finale appeared a digestive aid which was a take on Indian Masala Chai. A mixture of Milk Powder, Ginger and Cardamom is served in an edible rice paper bag on top of a cup. I was almost about to tear and pour the ingredients but then realised this is another one of Gaggan’s culinary deception to be eaten whole.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to see an Indian Tasting Menu without the traditional Butter Chicken and Naan. The dishes on the menu are inspired from various regions of India and that to me was the most impressive part about the experience.There was also a Vegetarian Menu, which we realised later. Maybe it would have been a good idea to give it a spin too while we were there.
The entire experience took about 2 hours. Somewhere along the food fare I did miss the story and could not connect the dots. The only thing I would have preferred was a better server who spoke neutral English. At times it did get very difficult to comprehend the accent and I had to eves drop to listen to the server on the next table, a lady who did a fine job at story telling.
We paid THB 11000 for the meals including taxes and a glass of wine each, which rounded up to INR 22000 /USD 315 all inclusive. At that price, it was one great experience together if you are not fussy about your food and are open to experiences other than just the tastebuds!
One of the best dining experiences of our lives. Enough Said !