Indian Cuisine, but not as you know it – GAGGAN, Bangkok.
Location: 68/1 Soi Langsuan Ploenchit Road
Lumpini Bangkok 10330
Chef: Gaggan Anand
Rank: #10 in the world (2015)
Located on a nondescript but busy street, down a darkened laneway appears a brightly lit, two story colonial-style house which is a home of GAGGAN, a restaurant inspired by Chef Gaggan Anand. Gaggan Anand is a highly awarded and world-recognised chef with rankings in almost every world culinary list. His passionate and progressive approach to Indian cuisine is respected by chefs and diners alike. Here starts the Foodie Mookie crew’s incredible journey through the mind of Chef Gaggan, onto our plates and into our bellies!
I have to give context to this review as it influenced how we experienced the evening. We flew from Sydney via Singapore to specifically dine at Gaggan and Nahm. We’d heard so much about Gaggan and the chef’s innovative approach to Indian food, that it became a must on our culinary list. Our friends from Cambodia flew to Bangkok to join us, so it was a meeting of old friends as much as a meeting of foodies. To make it interesting, one of our friends had never experienced degustation having lived in Cambodia her whole life. This made our dining adventure even more fun as we again imbibed this meal like it was the first time we had food from the minds of exploratory chefs from their bites, foam and smoke to smears, leaves and liquid.
Picking up the well-worn menus, there was a choice of a short and long degustations. Short menus were “Taste of Gaggan” and “India Reinvented” for 1800 BAHT + Vat (approx. AU$75-80). Maybe it was the euphoric excitement that overwhelms me in the presence of a talented chef, that I encouraged the selection of the Long menu “Best of Gaggan”; pretending like the others even had a choice. At a minimum of 16 courses, we settled in for a long evening by ordering from the surprising Gaggan wine list. Surprising for its European wine options instead of opting for (what I think is) standard beverages – basic wine, beer and cider. Pookie struck up a discussion with the enthusiastic Head Sommelier who was more than eager to explain the build of his relatively new wine cellar and the plans for the future. We started with French champagne because isn’t that the way to start every meal?
Usually with degust, there is a quick succession of “snacks” which showcase new ideas, flavours and produce with an aim to develop it into a potential main dish. With a minimum 16 courses, the snacks where already on the menu and the first one completely confused us.
Sitting in a cane basket were, what appeared to be, dried veg and spice in a plastic bag. Thinking this was something to add to next course, we were shocked to be encouraged to eat the whole plastic bag. We totally missed the description of “Nuts in an edible plastic bag” however being in an adventurous mood, we placed it on our tongues and crunched down. A savoury mix of Indian spices with dried peas, broad beans, creamy nuts and a melting flavourless coating set the tone of the meal. This was Indian cuisine but not as we knew it.
A quick succession of clever and playful courses flew onto the table including “Chocolate Pani Puri” which looked like white chocolate Lindt balls with edible silver. Taking it in one bite, the super sweet chocolate was soon replaced with salty water which filled the chocolate cavity. The switch up of salty water against a creamy sweet texture was such a shock that our new-to-degustation friend almost spat it out! It is a clever chef play to lull you into a false sense of security (“oh that’s yummy sweet chocolate”) before punching you in the face with the unexpected (“omg is that sea water?”). I’ve had a similar reaction at Sydney’s Cafe Paci with Chef Pasi’s Yogurt, Carrot and Licorice signature dessert. The aim is to shock the diner into questioning the chef’s choices, however in this instance it was a perfect introduction to Chef Gaggan’s progressive Indian vision.
After the burst of this “Street eats from India”, we progressed to a dish that to be perfectly honest had me in fits of giggles (although it could be from that tasty French champagne…). The Viagra dish of a freshly shucked oyster, Yzu spiced marinated apples and horseradish ice cream was paired with a giggle-inducing “lemon air”. At this point I became animated in my table discussion mainly because I was expressing the hilarity of the concept of “lemon air”. Was it going to be one of those estoteric concepts that Chef’s love yet has everyone confused, or in my case giggling like a school kid, was it just for fun? In the end we received our lovely oyster dish and the wait staff spritzed the air with a liquid that smelt like, you guessed it, lemon. At this point, I excused myself from the table to laugh my relatively large behind off in the bathroom.
After composing myself, and promising to go easy on the champagne in case the Chef decided to serve a thought-infused smoke waft with the next dish; we moved through a series of intelligent dishes that combined old-school Indian spices with local and European ingredients. You could call this fusion, but it was more of a showcase of how spices can be infused and used with more than traditional ingredients. The first of two stand out dishes in this phase was the “Down to Earth” which was served in a hollowed rock. The entrance of the four inky-charcoal rocks onto the stark white table cloth was dramatic. We opened the rock to a foamy concoction of asparagus, morels, mushrooms, artichokes and apparently at 62 degree egg yolk (I can never tell) it was also served with a side of “truffle chili air”. (giggle). Check out the video Gaggan – “Down to Earth”.
The other stand out dish was the “Alchemist’s Cake” which was served on stunning spider-like hand crafted plates. The light lentil flour cakes combined with a rich mustard, chutney and coconut ice cream foam and topped with crispy curry leaves, was delicious and had an amazing complexity of flavours.
A minced lamb curry appears served on dehydrated tomato bread sort of like modern sliders on a cane basket. The menu jumped back to seafood with a fiery sea bass presented which was hot, spicy and sweet (think tamarind sugar) which made for a heavy, rich and potent combination. The seafood kept coming with Norwegian diver scallop with Bengali mustard, cognac and spiced sour cream followed by Cold Atlantic lobster chameen-style (cooked in earthenware pots).
After all this seafood (and random lamb mince), we came to a jarring halt with white asparagus, chili bean mizo curry and pea sprouts. It was a perfect segue into the next phase of heavier meats. The cool crisp asparagus and mizo curry settled our palettes after a heady mix of flavoursome curries and seafood.
Expecting a straight forward transition to the heavier dishes, we were confronted with what looked like a science experiment laid out on a undulating stainless steel plate. It was a fried pastry filled with red bean paste paired with a syringe that contained a mixture of Indian herbs. If scented air before wasn’t enough, the syringe topped it. It was playful and fun and completely delicious so we forgot about how insane the idea was to inject syrup into our mouths and just went for it.
At this point we thought we’d seen the last of infused air, but alas, the “Best Memory” appeared complete with glass dome to keep the scented smoked enveloped around the lamb chop. Check out the video Gaggan – “Best Memory”.
We were joking about expecting Vindaloo, chicken tikka and curry puffs and waxing lyrical about how that could be reinvented, when the “British National Dish” arrived in all its home-style chicken tikka masala glory, of course accompanied by naan bread. It was, and still is, the MOST divinely scrumptious, sumptuous chicken tikka masala I’ve ever tasted. The table went quiet as we consumed every last bite including wiping our dishes clean with the naan; and remember, we had already consumed 14 dishes by that point. Well played Chef Gaggan, well played.
What ensued was a haze of sweet dishes to finish off the extraordinarily long menu which came with an obligatory rose “room freshener” and culminated in a staff prepared dish “I Love Chocolate”. Take a look at the video of the dessert chef preparing I Love Chocolate.
Gaggan is one of my all time favourite dining experiences with a surprisingly fun, occasionally whimsical and immersive dining approach that I’ve only felt once before at Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain. Afterwards we realised that we had not laughed so much over a meal for a while. The engaging, friendly staff, our wonderful dining companions and the eccentric and surprising dishes were a potent mix.
Chef Gaggan took us on an journey across the world from France (foie gras) to Thailand (spice), Norway (scallops), Portugal (Iberian pork) to Britain (chicken tikka masala) using fresh produce, eclectic and challenging flavours with clever techniques that immersed you.
Chef Gaggan is taking the culinary world by storm with his modern and progressive approach using varied world ingredients, but he clearly has his feet (and spice kit) firmly rooted in India.