Yesterday, April 5, was one of the most anticipated days of the year for food lovers. The Pellegrino Top 50 World Restaurant list was released! A big congratulations to Gaggan Anand for his #7 worldwide ranking, not to mention an impressive third year at the top #1 Asian spot!
By now, if you’re a foodie, or a restaurant junkie, or just a Netflix watcher, you have probably heard of Gaggan. Besides being the last episode of Season 2 of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table”, Gaggan, for three years in a row, has been named as one of the Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants in the world (the only Indian chef listed) as well as the Number 1 restaurant in Asia. You have to let this sink in a little. The Number One Restaurant in Asia for three years in a row. That’s crazy! When you consider that Japan has more Michelin-star restaurants than anywhere else in the world, the fact that the World Number 1 Asian restaurant is in Bangkok, Thailand is pretty amazing.
The focus is very much “Progressive Indian Cuisine”, although if you’re looking for butter chicken and Naan bread, this white colonial bungalow in Bangkok is not the place for you. This dinner-only restaurant serves Chef Gaggan Anand’s vision of traditional and classic Indian cuisine from various regions in India with modern spins. It’s not a surprise to learn that he trained at El Bulli in Spain and was inspired to do for Indian cuisine what El Bulli has done for Spanish.
To get a table, you must be organized. As soon as you know that you’ll be in Bangkok, go online and send an email requesting a table (you can also try to phone) and then cross your fingers that you will get either a 6 p.m. seating or a 9 p.m. seating. The next step, the day of your reservation, is not to eat all day. Why? You are in for a 25 course meal. 25 courses! Okay, I will let you know that they are mostly tasting-sized and that approximately 20 – 21 of the courses you will eat with your hands, but these 25 courses are spectacular little jewels for your consumption.
The restaurant is tricky to find – we had to ask for directions several times on our walk from the sky train station before we found it. Eventually, we found ourself at a white colonial house with a small temple in front. The doors open, your name is checked and you are escorted in. The restaurant is tastefully and simply furnished, with cane furniture which made me feel like we were in colonial India. We lucked out and our table was in the front “Chef Dining” section. When the blind on the picture window was raised, the kitchen staff was revealed (they were waiting for us to notice so they could give us a wave).
Zack our waiter and Brian our French sommelier took very good care of us, and let us know that we would be in for a surprise. The menu was new, we were told, only a week old, and would we please give our feedback.
Now about the menu. The menu presented to you is a series of emojis running down the page. There are no course names and no descriptions. It is meant to be a guessing game: what does the emoji mean and how does it relate to your dinner. Some courses they describe for you and some courses you guess. Zack let us know that he would be guiding us through the menu, and sometimes gave us hints, or told us, what the courses were. At the end of the evening, another menu is presented with the “reveal”.
Without further ado, here’s what we ate. Signature dishes are noted with a star (*).
1. Lemon shot with liquid nitrogen powder.
2. Yogurt explosion with lemon and cumin*. This is one of Gaggan’s signature dishes and one of his ‘Ah Ha!’ monuments – it is a twist on the Indian dahi chaat.
3. Bombay Bhel with rice crisp.
4. Eggplant cookie with onion chutney and smoked inside.
5. Chili bonbons with chili liquid and chocolate*.
6. Magic mushroom springrolls – truffles, mushrooms and pea – you dip it in a wasabi chili powder.
7. Rice cake with coconut chutney, lentil curry foam and curry leaf (Idly Sambar).
8. Green apple nest with corriander root crust and cinnamon.
9. The charcoal dish*. Pete had prawns, I had okra, inside a charcoal carbon ash with onion, chili and garlic butter. This dish was very dramatic (it looked like a lump of charcoal) and we were not told until after we ate it what it was.
10. Aloo gobi – a potato dish with a cauliflower mousse filling (Pete’s included caviar).
11. Waffle with orange citrus mango and goat’s brain (aka Indian foie gras). They don’t tell you that you’ve eaten goat’s brain until well after the meal.
12. Sake biscuit with chicken liver pate and passion fruit (Amazake Liver).
13. Ice cream. Pete had Uni (sea urchin), left, while I had sweet potato, right, both served with wasabi ice cream and ginger.
14. Japanese melon with yuzu – freeze-dried with soya sauce, a dashi meringue and (if you were Pete) toro fatty tuna (Chu Toro).
15. Tacos! Pete had the toro sashimi (Akam Tartar) and I had the pickled vegetable, both on a wheat flour shell.
16. Soup. A red matcha soup was presented by Gianni (in his 2nd week of work – Gianni is half Thai and half Italian) in a ceremonial soup service (similar to a ceremonial Japanese tea service). The soup included roast tomatoes that had been hung in cheesecloth and drained to form the consommé. Freeze-dried cherry tomatoes (forming a tomato powder) and black pepper were combined and whisked tableside with the broth and matcha.
17. Fried pork curry vindaloo with a crispy katsu crust.
18. First course with cutlery! Pete had the scallop curry, while I had daikon radish, in both cases in a coconut cream and oil semifreddo with corriander root and edible violet.
19. The Bird Cage (Quail Chettinad) – pineapple chutney and five spice crispy quail an “Indian chicken wing”.
20. Another cutlery course! Paturi style cooking. A smoking cedar wood leaf with cod for Pete and for me a paneer with green coriander curry.
21. Hot Dog! A kebab with lamb, mint, “mustard” and “ketchup” served on a steamed bun.
22. Crab – egg custard with rice, vegetable (me) or crab (Pete) curry Chawanmushi (the egg custard). This was more of a red Thai curry.
23. Beet and Blue cheese with truffle.
24. Moss Basil Chili Chocolate lime sponge cake.
25. Strawberries and cream with white chocolate and meringue (Strawberry Chewar)
26. Bonus birthday course including happy birthday from Gaggan and the kitchen: a coconut sponge cake with pina colada mousse.
We were extremely lucky to have Gaggan himself visit our table not once, but twice. The second time, he sat with us for about 30 minutes and chatted about the restaurant, his future endeavours, how he is closing in 2020 (book now!!!) to open a weekend-only spot in Japan and how he is backing two restaurants across the street (one for his head chef). He was engaging, humourous and hungover (in his defense, the hangover was due to having an extremely negative guest the day before and a subsequent evening out drinking) and asked our opinion on some of the items that were new to the menu. He was quite candid about the pressures of running the World’s Number 1 Asian restaurant and people who book tables and then either don’t show or cancel due to the crazy Bangkok traffic (note, you will be charged the deposit). He did sing happy birthday to me when the kitchen sent out birthday cake. What an experience! A truly memorable evening and a definite #restaurantbucketlist check mark!
Where: 68/1 Soi Langsuan Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok 10330 (or if you would prefer written in Thai) 68/1 ซอยหลังสวน ถนนเพลินจิต ลุมพินี กรุงเทพฯ 10330;
When: Monday – Sunday 6 pm – 11 pm (two seating 6 pm & 11 pm); Web: www.eatatgaggan.com