A meal full of surprises: Progressive Indian at Gaggan
One of my complaints about the Michelin guide and other lists of the world’s best restaurants is the under-representation (more like, non-existence) of Indian restaurants.
So, I was pleasantly surprised when I came across the name of Gaggan – a Bangkok restaurant serving “Indian food reinvented with modern techniques”, which debuted at No. 17 on the Pellegrino World’s 50 Best restaurants list; and promptly marked it off as a bucket-list must-do.
Serendipitously, we ended up in Bangkok sooner than expected, and had the opportunity of dining at Gaggan this past weekend.
Gaggan Anand, the namesake chef behind the restaurant, describes his cuisine as “progressive Indian” which “puts old school and new school together”; and the beautiful white colonial bungalow with its understated décor, seemed to be an ideal setting to serve it within.
We opted for the chef’s menus – Hubby chose the 11-course ‘India Reinvented’ (THB 2800++), while I picked the 10-course ‘Taste of Gaggan’ (THB 1800++).
The first course was “Street Eats of India” – yogurt chaat, samosa, spiced nuts and pani puri.
The burst of flavours as we crushed the smooth yogurt spheres into our mouths was reminiscent of a genuine dahi-papdi chaat seasoned with a perfect saunth – sweet, salty and tangy.
The potato mixture of the “samosa” while tasty, was more like a vada pao, which my Mumbaikar husband loved, while his Delhiite wife was left feeling a bit cheated.
It was fun to pop the whole bag of colourful nuts into our mouths and chew through the thin rice paper “plastic” cover and enjoy the kick of the wasabi nuts (inspired by chana jor garam, I would imagine).
The pani-puri – a white chocolate shell filled with spicy coriander water and topped with edible silver foil was delicious – an odd juxtaposition, which worked really well.
Next up was “Viagra” for me, and “Explosion” for A. (Yes, I realize how this sounds. You can’t make this s*** up!)
It was certainly surprising to see oyster on in an Indian menu… but we have to keep our minds open when we are being progressive, I guess. The fresh oyster was accompanied by light lemon foam to create an interesting combination of textures with a well-recognized grouping of flavours.
Hubby’s crispy golgappa, served with an injection of spicy coriander water, did justice to my much beloved childhood favourite street food.
The subsequent course was a “Sandwhich” – foie gras mousse in airily crunchy onion “baguette” (again, not remotely Indian – but then, I am all for including foie gras in EVERY cuisine on earth) and “Alchemist Cake” – a fluffy dhokla complemented very well by a bitter coconut cream and coriander foam.
“Down to Earth” and “Treasure Shells” came next and carried us further afield.
Hubby’s Norwegian scallops cooked with young coconut, pepper and curry leaves, were good. However, the delicately truffle-flavoured soup of asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes with a slow-cooked egg yolk, just knocked the ball out of the park and won that round hands down.
The three courses that followed – “River King”, “Keema Pav” and “Bong Connection” brought us back into familiar Indian territory.
The tandoori prawn was impeccably marinated, without scrimping on the red chili powder. The accompanying mint chutney had a hint of sweetness to tone down the hotness, for tamer palates. The sweetish dehydrated tomato bread encasing the scrumptious lamb keema, achieved the same end.
The red mullet with green chilli marinade was soft and flavourful. However, the accompanying all spice gel and sweet potato with Bengali mustard was strangely mild and tangy – all I could taste was the imli chutney and none of the mustard kick of popular Bengali fish preparations.
At this point, I was prepared to wait and watch A eat his extra course – the “Portugese Connection”. However, the restaurant was kind enough to offer me the same dish with their compliments. The tender Iberian pork with the vindaloo curry reduction was yummy, albeit a bit mild on the spice levels.
Next up was another tough test for any self-respecting Indian restaurant – the chicken tikka masala (a.k.a. “British National Dish”). It was served with a platter of butter and garlic naans on the side, and passed with flying colours – we happily scraped the delicious, creamy curry off our plates.
For dessert it was “Made in Japan” and “Divine” for me, while A got “Divine” and “I Love Chocolate” as part of his menu.
Whilst I really liked the white sesame cake and wasabi ice cream combination, we were hard-pressed to love any of the five acts in the chocolate platter. The only dessert which attempted some Indian flavours – the fresh mango with cardamom ice cream and pistachio “gnocchi” was creative, but sadly failed to pay proper tribute to a cuisine with a rich tradition of sweets and desserts. If there was one thing about the meal that I would change – it would be this.
Final verdict – A fantastic meal full of surprises, that brought about an occasional raised eyebrow but mostly happy smiles.
The ‘world’s best Indian restaurant’? Not so sure about that. But I do know that I would certainly go back to sample more of chef Gaggan’s progressive innovations.