Progressive Indian cuisine – this is the official label for Gaggan restaurants in Bangkok. Two stars in the Michelin Guide, four-time number one on the Asian edition of the World 50 Best Restaurants ranking, the fifth place in its worldwide version – we could be discussing all the awards and titles on and on. However, despite all the laurels, in 2016 Gaggan Anand, owner and sprit if behind the place, has announced that in 2020 he will close the restaurant for good. „I do not like being predictable,” he says. Far point. So if you want to eat with Gaggan – eat there now.
Gaggan says he once decided he would become the best Indian chef. Although back then he probably had no clue that he would achieve that not in his home country but in Bangkok. It is here in the capital of Thailand, where his restaurant is located.
The location is at least surprising – one of the streets of the district populated mainly by hotels and residential buildings. Somewhere between the concrete towers, the cacophony of signboards, cables and telephone poles, the inconspicuous sign indicates a narrow driveway leading from the main street to a small yard and old colonial house holding Gaggan restaurants.
Gaggan’s restaurant or dinner can take two formulas – guests are seated by the individual classic tables, located in several rooms of the old residence or at the chefs table – an U-shaped counter surrounding the kitchen, which can hold 14 people. Who gets those place is in the decision of the restaurant – you can not book it, you just have to be lucky. Happy go lucky. A glass of champagne at the start and we’re going.
Though, one more thing Before I describe individual (and there were 25!) Dishes – reflection in general. First of all – it’s a show. Or rather a rock concert, with music, with fire, with dishes emerging from the darkness. After dinner, I was wondering how many such dinners Gaggan is able to give per week (and for the evening there are two sites) – on a similar principle as you wonder how a rock star can give a concert every day in a different city, with the same energy, commitment and level of performance.
Every dish is a story. A memory, an anecdote, sometimes quite loosely referring to what finally appears in front of the guest. A dish marked with a emoji of „sushi” goes with a story about a first date with a wife, about food trips to Japan and a growing love for local gastronomy, and finally – a visit to Jiro and reflection on what you want to achieve in gastronomy. In turn, the idea for uni (sea urchins) was born from … a trip to Muji and buying a Japanese eraser. There is a dish inspired by milk and a story about what role it plays in Indian cuisine or a dish inspired by a healing fix Gaggan was getting from his grandma when he was ill. Or an item position dedicated to a not very nice reviewer from TripAdvisor. How many truths are there in these stories? You can think about it, and you can simply let these stories be carried away.
An important role in the whole experience plays…music. It is hardly surprising as Gaggan is an absolute music geek, with a fair collection of vinyls at home and solid sound equipment in the restaurant (good jazz, all rock). It is not just a background, but sometimes it seems to be an integral part of a dish, referring to it or even describing it (all desserts are presented without a word of introduction from the chefs – instead each is announced with a song). Kiss to „lick it up”, Rolling Stones, strawberry song The Beatles to dessert, soundtrack from Star Wars, Amy Winehouse, and even Britney Spears (although after dinner, under the gin and tonic sanctioned by Vladmir Kojic – nomen omen great – not only that’s why the sommelier, who is washing all those emoji dishes with a fair share of uber funky, mainly from Central Europe).
Last but not least: service. The chefs table is entirely run by a young team of chefs and chefs. In total, no more than 6 people, plus sommelier Vladimir Kojic and of course Gaggan himself, who is the master of ceremonies and is responsible for presenting the dishes (in his absence, this role is often played by Radek Zarębiński).
Sitting at the bar and listening to Gaggan’s story, you can also watch the work of the publishing house, and when it is finished, everyone gets their plates almost at the same time. I remind you – there are 25 dishes, which together with the stories told it would easily make dinner something terribly long and tiring. Luckily, it is not. In the case of my supper, the evening kept up a good pace, with no moments of slipping or downtime.
„So what was it like? „- I heard this question dozens of times after the visit. It certainly was different – the style of restaurant and food, not to mention the spectrum of flavors, is something completely different from what Scandinavia got used to, which I visit most often. Gaggan’s kitchen draws heavily from the elBulla heritage, but do not expect a restaurant that is formal and stiff, as it sometimes happens with an „hard core molecular” restaurants. Expect fun and humour. – I wanted my place to be based on stories and play – he says. No matter what clothes you wear, what language you speak in (moreover, just to get away from the translation of the menu, it is described using emoticons – which became a signature of Gaggan) – it’s important that you appreciate the food and make it your passion. You will lick the plates as chef tells you to do so. There will be smoke, fire, loud music (yes, you can sing). In the style of Gaggan’s kitchen, he draws heavily from molecular cuisine techniques (sferification, liquid nitrogen, etc.). However, it can not be said that it is just about gimmicky forms and molecular tricks, and not about the taste, as virtually each of the dishes (except the Slumdog’s sandwich and Idli sambar – those passed bit unnoticed to me) fell into my memory. Usually I am in favour of simplicity on the plate and I like my ingredienets not to pretend anything else on the plate. But here, I think , with the humour (but don’t mistake it with the lack of seriousness in the execution – that one is taken super serious) and music – those forms matched the general ambience.
Taking into account their number, it can be treated as a good test of the possibility of your grey cells. A lot of items referred to the classics of Indian cuisine, hooking on the ingredient, form or technique (ceramic slats, on which the first few dishes are served, are arranged in the map of India). Not all items on the menu are also a demonstration of the skill of using lecithins and other maltodextrin, for example shrimp (dish very simple in form, free from „molecular” tricks), sea bass or scallops with lamb chop are dishes given properly just like that without any „molecular” fireworks .
In 2020, Gaggan as we know it since 2010 is due to close down. But that does not mean, that Gaggan Ananad is quitting the cooking. Following his love for Japan (over the last six years he was there over 70 times!), He decided to put his next project in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. The co-founder of the new restaurant will be Japanese chef Takeshi „Goh” Fukuyama (La Maison de la Nature Goh), and the place is going to be called GohGan. Each evening, it will take only 10 people – practically as much as the table in the Gaggan’s home dining room.
In an old Polish rock song there is a phrase that „one must know when to leave the stage.” Gaggan knows it very well. His restaurant achieved everything that was actually accomplished (unfortunately, I do not think Michelin would be willing to give a third star to a place that makes guests lick plates or resound with the Imperial March from Star Wars). A dinner there is a powerful load of emotions and fun, you can not have it any louder or crazier. It is always better to leave hunger, hunger than to bore the formula. Maybe she also got bored with Gaggan herself and does not allow him to pursue new ideas. – All good things come to an end. And these last two years will be extremely intense for us – says Gaggan. So if you want to visit it, go now.
1. Winter in Thailand
Yuzu flavoured amuse bouche
2. Yoghurt explosion
„Dish that changed us forever.” It was established after Gaggan’s return from an internship in Ferran Adria’s laboratory in Spain. Searching for a way to use the techniques he mastered there, he decided to test one of them – the method of sferification – on yogurt, bought in a neighbouring store. The result is a large edible sphere and a natural, sour cream creme served with cumin. From her began the history of the Gaggan restaurant as it is now. Each dinner begins with this bit and it has never left the menu.
3. Lick it up.
„Usually, guests judge the chefs after the dishes. With this dish we assess you – how well you lick” said Gaggan, announcing more iconic – probably more than the sphere of yogurt – dish. „It’s not how fast you lick it, but how well you lick it,” Gaggan added, giving the field to the song of the Kiss. In our case – yuzu mango puree, onion chutney and chili chutney.
4. Chili egg
One of many dishes, the preparation of which took probably a few hours, and eating takes a few seconds. In the shell served on a nest of egg yolks, a crispy dough, a liquid chili filling was hidden.
5. Idli sambar
Idli Sambar is a steamed bun/dumpling thing made of fermented lentils and rice flour, served for breakfast with chutney and sambar. Here, the delicate sponge cake was crowned with a „hat” of lentil curry foam.
6. Bombay bhel – Slumdogs sandwich
7. Egg tart
A dish inspired by traditional Indian ghewar tart with egg stuffing. At Gaggans made exclusively from milk.
A dish that keeps its form but changes the essence and ingredients used to do it. In our case it was onion fired puffs.
9. White asparagus – it’s not a cauliflower!
False white asparagus served on a false grill with a false fire, brining seasonings to the for the food. A dish tailored for the #fakenews era.
10. Cheese – pav with porcinis
Pavs are Indian delicate bread rolls, served for example with curry. Here they took a form of a delicate steamed buns, a bit similar to baos, filled with mushrooms. Very Frenchy.
11. Eggplant sundaye with pomergranate
12. Puchka liver – mulled wine
Indian doughnuts filled with pate.
Uni served on the apple „nori” with hay ice cream.
14. Chutoro sushi
Nigiri of chutoro, slightly burned with torch (here all the sushi orthodoxs are having a minor heart attachk).
15. Winter carrots – soup
Thick and black and essential. Very „hello its winter in Poland”.
16. Shrimp – balchao
Prawn in three flavours – with hot sauce , chilli i saute. To be eaten in three bites.
17. Scallops – cold coconut curry
Seasoned with two stamples of Thai cuisne – „sex” (chili oil) and „love” (kaffir lime leaves oil). To go with a copy of Kamaustra, cause, hey, scallops are aphordisiacs.
18. Tibetan momo – pork vindaloo
19. Lamb chops – chili and lime
Dedicated to an eager Tripadvisor reviewer. One of the evergreens on the menu, that cannot leave it since a few years.
20. Sea bass – Bengali patouri
Sea bass roasted in banana leaf and ceder wood.
21. Grandmas eggs and spinache – My Death Star
Inspired by a dish that Gaggan’s grandma gave to him when he was ill.
22. This rose ahs no thorns
23. Achu murukku – strawberry yoghurt
taking its shape from the traditional fried cookies
24. Ying Yang – salt and peppercorn
25. Dark side of the moon
Whould you like to try the emoji menu? Let me know in the comms!
Thanks to Gaggan Anand, Marko Kovac and all Gaggans crew for the invitation to Bangkok and help in preparing the story.