Gaggan in Bangkok has been voted the best restaurant in Asia for three consecutive years and moved up to number seven in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2017. Now, it’s closing. Terminating service. Slamming the stutters. Gaggan Anand is moving on.
There are now only a certain number of meals, services and reservations remaining. The clock is ticking
The announcement of the restaurant’s closure in 2020 – at which time Gaggan plans to open a restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan with friend Takeshi ‘Goh’ Fukuyama – puts reservations on a countdown. There are now only a certain number of meals, services and reservations remaining. The clock is ticking. I therefore approached my meal with even greater anticipation.
Previous visits to Thailand have been with the purpose of fulfilling forbidden pleasures not widely accessible at home, so to visit with an emphasis on food excited me greatly… more than any double-team-ladyboy-oil-massage-with-a-happy-ending could possibly accomplish. And so, once I’d had my street food fill, chomping through all of the crickets and silk larvae I could stomach, attention turned to Bangkok’s fine dining options and to Asia’s number one restaurant.
For a city that promotes some of the most exciting street food in the world (CNN named Bangkok as the city with the best street food on the planet), it must be challenging to sway a tourist – gourmet or otherwise – out of serious wonga for a meal. Outside caters for every greedy consumption imaginable and all for small change. Vendors sell everything from Pad Thai to crunchy fried chicken. You can buy mangos and melons and sit on the curb, slurping the fruit juice in the subtropical climate. But this is Gaggan.
The 39-year old chef is like some mercurial Indian rockstar. With his long unruly hair and fashionable tortoise shell glasses he swirled into town in 2007 amidst a hurricane and went about dominating the city’s culinary scene. A decade later and Gaggan has five restaurants in Bangkok, the signature outpost bearing his own appellation.
Things appear to be shifting for the chef though with regular visits to Japan inspiring him to be more experimental in the kitchen, adopting new techniques and introducing Japanese ingredients to his menu, such as toro (bluefin tuna), amazake (fermented rice drink) and matcha. He is an itinerant chef, picking up ideas and designs as he moves. It was during a spell in el Bulli’s test kitchen, for instance, where he discovered Ferran Adrià’s technique of Reverse Spherification on olives and he wondered how he could introduce the molecular method to Indian cooking. The result was “Yogurt Explosion”, the restaurant’s signature amuse-bouche, consisting of mango chutney flavours in a spherified yogurt bomb. It’s a clean and clever introduction to the meal, preparing diners for what is to follow; with such juxtaposing flavours as red chilli, green apple, charcoal, matcha, beetroot and crab curry.
These culinary creations are so varied and bewildering, that Gaggan had to name his output as “progressive”.
It’s not “traditional” Indian cuisine, not in the slightest
“Progressive Indian Cuisine” – that’s what the sign reads outside the restaurant. I suppose you have to call it something. It’s not “traditional” Indian cuisine, not in the slightest. There’s sushi and tacos and curry and vindaloo and cheese and chilli and chocolate and ice cream and even a lamb kebab hot dog. There are foams and freezing and smoking and the use of spherification – all applied to Asian ingredients.
Gaggan refuses to be bound by the normal rules of the kitchen and his menu is a reflection of this: a catalogue of emojis with no descriptions is “a way to transcend language barriers” and it’s not until the end of the meal that you receive dish descriptions. “I always wanted to do something different, not mainstream,” remarks Gaggan.
The decision to notify diners at the end of their meal as to what they have been eating is a brave one. Like a blind tasting you give yourself over entirely to the chef, accepting that they’ll be some ingredients that’ll cause you to scratch your tongue and stick your fingers down your throat. I ask questions about certain ingredients and flavour pairings – eggplant & cookie, aloo & Gobi caviar, strawberry & ghewar – curious to learn more, but am kept guessing until the end.
All of the food is colourful, inventive and in some cases, extreme. It is at it’s most entertaining when personal and Gaggan accompanies a plate with a story of conception. And while you’ll find the odd reference to “traditional” and “stereotypical” Indian curries, the ingredients listed are all bound by one man’s journey, existing and succeeding as a geographical examination, interacting with one another.
The price does not reflect such quality and internationally-sourced ingredients
Each dish prepares you for the next, jumping wildly and excitingly across the sensory and flavour palate; from “Citrus Waffle & Goat Brain” to “Uni Ice Cream” and “Pork Vindaloo Cutlet”. But the price does not reflect such quality and internationally-sourced ingredients, because, frankly, it’s inexpensive. You couldn’t afford to eat here every night and perhaps if you’re on Bangkok wages it’s still a costly and lavish spend for dinner, but 4000 Baht (£90.00) for 25-courses, with this quality at the “Best Restaurant in Asia” and the “Seventh Best Restaurant in the World”, is exceptionally good value.
A meal here is a visionary and exhilarating experience. A colourful, enlightening, educational, bonkers and head-scratching journey into Gaggan’s culinary madness. At times I was both confused and excited. Some ingredients were so spectacular – fatty tuna toro – that I asked for more and was rewarded. The research into ideas and ingredients is evident and the kitchen’s application to first-rate, quality produce is spot on. Nothing is under or over treated. This is the best restaurant in Bangkok and quite possibly – if you pay heed to listicles – the best restaurant in Asia, but it’s not going to be here forever. C
Gaggan, 68/1 Soi Langsuan (opposite Soi 3), Bangkok
+66 (0) 2 652 1700; eatatgaggan.com