Slightly more than 2 months ago, while seated in the dining hall of Osteria Francescana (holding the title of World’s Best Restaurant 2018); the idea of re-visiting Gaggan (reigning Asia’s Best Restaurant since 2015) came to our mind. Afterall Chef Gaggan had announced that he will close the restaurant in 2020. Since we were heading to Bangkok in April, we should try our luck to see if we could get a coveted seat. We last visited them in 2015 and Chef Gaggan has since revamped his menu and introduced the insta-famous emoji menu. Right there, while waiting for food to be served in Italy, we emailed Gaggan restaurant to make our reservation.
Unlike other restaurant reservations where you could get an immediate answer on whether you were successful in the booking, Gaggan restaurant only takes reservation via email. Hence it involves a little bit of waiting before we finally received a reply (two days later) confirming our booking.
On the day of our visit, we received an email reminder of our impeding dinner and even updated diners that due to summer storms that had been pounding Bangkok areas, it could cause flood and traffic delays. Hence we were advised to factor extra time for the dinner commute. In our heart, we were secretly glad that our hotel is just a short walk away from the restaurant. As fate would have it, mid-way through our short 10-mins walk, the rain just poured relentlessly upon us… Despite having an umbrella, we arrived at the restaurant half-drenched…we felt kinda embarrassed waiting at the porch while others arrived glamorously in their hired cars. FYI: Coincidentally we suffered the same fate back in Oct 2015…albeit it was more of a drizzle than a downpour.
It was uncanny that upon arrival at the restaurant, we were led to the exact same table that we sat in previously as well! I felt a sense of déjà vu and casually shared this fun fact with the staff. I’m guessing whether the restaurant only has limited number of table for two – increasing our chances of being seated at the same spot?
As we settled down in our table, we brought out the old menu that we kept since 2015 so that we could make a comparison of the dishes between the old & new menu. The old menu somehow caused an unexpected attention amongst the staff. A few of them came by to see the old menu. I was also surprised by the reaction from the staff, many of them seemed really excited to see the predecessor of the emoji menu.
After the flurry of excitement, what happened next was like a dream to me…We were invited to the chef’s table inside the research and development kitchen (aka The Lab)!!! Just as I was busy settling down in my new seat, Chef Gaggan appeared and said “I heard someone has a copy of my old menu?”. There he was, standing right before me and swiftly scooped up the old menu and read it. His memory was pretty amazing as based on the ingredients used, he was able to narrow down the period which this menu was served. Finally he ended with a stunning comment “What a crap menu!”
Me: 😂 LOL….
He said 80% of what I’m going to eat today is not in the old menu. He challenged us to judge if the emoji menu is better than the old menu 💪. He took away the old menu and promised me that I will get it back later with a nice surprise.
Before we commenced the dinner proper, Chef asked how many of us had seen his episode on the popular Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Ironically we (the loyal returning customers) were the only ones who had not watched the Emmy-nominated TV series. Although this is a testimony that we were not there from his fame but more of his awesome cooking, I made a mental note to catch it after this meal. PS: I’ve caught the episode since and could understand why so many of his guests were inspired to visit his restaurant after watching his amazing life story – his journey from poor child of India to star chef of progressive Indian cuisine.
Chef then continued to share more of his personal stories throughout the night as the other chefs began prepping for the start of the epic 25-course dinner service.
As we were only given a menu with 25 emojis at the start of the service, with no inkling of what will be served; you will only see the “answers” if you highlight the area next to the emojis Happy Guessing!
#1 Cucumber Aloe Vera
This was a refreshing juice in shot glass to prep our palate.
#2 Yogurt Explosion
Chef’s signature dish which has been on the menu since he started this restaurant. It is somewhat paying homage to his mentor Ferran Adrià, at El Bulli. Gaggan was also the first Indian chef to intern at the legendary El Bulli. This dish uses the reverse spherification technique to create a yogurt sphere that explodes on the palate.
#3 Lick It Up Brain Curry
If I could rate this dish based on its innovativeness, it would be off the charts! This dish is inspired by the American heavy metal band – Kiss. While guests had to lick off the plate, the kitchen stereo was blasting the rhythmic and persuasive song, egging us on.
#4 Caviar Horseradish Egg
Presented in a cute little nest was interesting pairing of fish eggs with reconstructed horseradish deviled eggs.
#5 Tom Yum Kung
Chef shared that most of the famous crustacean soups world-wide uses the shrimp head. So for this dish, the deep fried shrimp’s head was wrapped with a crisp thin rice cracker and injected with cold tom yum lemongrass cream. We could pop the whole piece into our mouth and feel the amazing blend of textures and flavours.
#6 Eggplant Cookie
On surface it looked pretty straightforward. Its a cookie made from eggplants. But the eggplants were painstakingly prepared. It was cooked and freeze-dried before making it into powder form. Chef joked that it takes about 6 days to transform the eggplant from the fresh veg to the freeze-dried form (there was a specimen passed around), 6 hours to prep into the cookie form and we finished it in 6 seconds. So this is said to be a very minimalist dish made only with eggplants except for the heart-shaped which is made from freeze-dried flowers.
#7 Chilly Bon Bon
This dish is probably the upgraded version of Chocolate Chilly Bomb from the old menu. It now looks much more polished and sophisticated than before.
Here’s my old menu back, with the thumb prints of the chefs cooking in the restaurant now . Chef Gaggan‘s print is missing cos he said otherwise I could access his Apple ID… .
#8 Idly Sambar
Rice is an important staple in South of India. Breakfast is typically rice in Asia and this dish is inspired by the breakfast dish from India except that it has been made two hundred times lighter and more expensive (in Chef’s own words). The traditional idly sambar are cakes are made by steaming a batter consisting of fermented black lentils and rice. This dish brought back my childhood memories where one of my favourite breakfast was Putu Mayam. It is a popular Tamil/Malay street food when I was young, most likely originated from South Indian migrants in Singapore‘s early nation-building days. It is made by mixing rice flour or idiyappan flour with water and, or coconut milk. The mixture is pressed into vermicelli form and steamed, served with grated coconut and date palm sugar – I loved this orange-coloured stuff! Sadly this dish seemed to be on the brink of extinction in Singapore. Although the Putu Mayam (aka string hopper) is still eaten in Sri Lanka, they don’t seem to pair it with the orange sugar…
#9 Yum Pla Duk Foo
We were told that this is a fragile dish as it melts as they serve us. It’s a dish where the cone is made of onions, inside the cone is som tam (raw papaya), raw mango ice cream topped with crumbs made from fish. I suppose this is Chef’s interpretation of the Thai dish – Thai Crispy Fish with Mango Salad?
#10 Keema Pao
This dish is said to be inspired by one of the classic breakfast dishes in Mumbai, India – a lamb minced bread sandwich curry. Chef shared about how “pav” was said to be brought in with the Portuguese invasion of Goa. Here at his restaurant he changed the “pav” into the Chinese “pao” – steamed bread served in Dim Sum style bamboo steamer but still filled with lamb curry filling. A fusion cuisine.
#11 Turnip Uni Taco
Comprising of 2 parts, the upper part was meant to be folded and eaten like a taco before unveiling the bottom part. The sea urchin shell is filled with smoked catfish, pumpkin puree and sea grapes.
#12 Chutoro Sushi
According to Chef, raw cuisine is considered an acquired taste to India Indians. Hence he didn’t started off with good experience with Japanese sushi cuisines. He fell in love with Japanese sushi after a visit to a restaurant in Tokyo – it was none other than the famed Sukiyabashi Jiro. Hence this dish is a tribute to THE Japanese cuisine.
Before serving, they showed the guests the piece of beautifully marbled Chutoro from Yamazaki, Japan. Each piece of chutoro were sliced right before our eyes and torched before placing on the meringue made from dashi of fish soup along with a dollop of fresh wasabi.
I’m certainly surprised to taste dishes with such strong Japanese influence at a Progressive Indian Cuisine restaurant. I guess Chef’s immense passion for Jap cuisine is the undermining factor for its inclusion and ultimately – his choice to close Gaggan in 2020 and open a restaurant in Japan thereafter.
#13 Foie Gras Yuzu Ghewar
For this dish, they sprayed yuzu on our palm before placing the Ghewar – traditionally a North Indian sweet, in our hand. The version served here is a crispy deep fried tart filled with foie gras from Hungary and yuzu jam.
#14 Anago Mole
This dish uses a combination of spices, chocolate made into mole (a Mexican sauce). It is inspired from Gaggan‘s collaboration with Quintonil. The smoky grilled anago (saltwater eel) is wrapped over sticky rice, topped with a peppery herb.
#15 Kintoki Carrot Rasam
Next we had a small cup of soup made with sweet carrots from Kyushu, Japan. The carrots are said to be pretty expensive. It is made into Rasam – a South Indian soup, traditionally prepared using tamarind juice as a base.
#17 Scallop Uncooked Raw Curry
This was meant to be an unconventional dish. Usually curry are served warm with cooked ingredients, however this dish is served with cured scallops, chilli oil, curry oil and droplets of coconut cream over a delicate hand-made (edible) scallop shells. Almost too pretty to be eaten!
#18 Prawn Balchao
This is another dish with Portuguese influence originating in Goa, India. The sauce is made with vinegar, chilli paste and black pepper.
#19 Return of the CTM
(CTM = Chicken Tikka Masala, known as the national dish of Britain) Here it is disguised as a “sandwich” with chicken liver mousse in the middle with “bread” made of tomato meringue.
#20 Edamame Shitake Charcoal
The black exterior is made from the skin of the eggplant and we were asked to guess 2 main ingredients used for the fillings inside the charcoal which is changed seasonally. Our version was made from shitake mushroom and edamame.
#21 King Crab Curry Rice Paturi
Next we were entertained by a fire show performed along with a rock song – “Highway to Hell” blasting on the stereo before being presented with our final savoury course. If you noticed, this was the only dish whereby we were provided with utensils to eat. For the rest of the courses, they are all eaten directly by hand. I suppose if we had to eat this in true Indian fashion, this rice should be eaten by hand?
As we round up the main courses, the music got louder and the songs blasted on the stereo happened to be the songs we are familiar with! Guess it has got to do with the fact that Chef and us are about the same age so we grew up listening to these songs!
#22 Beetroot Roses
This is one of the most memorable dish as it was visually stunning dessert – it totally reminds me of “Beauty & the Beast“. The roses are made from thinly sliced beetroot propped with a marshmallow at the base.
#23 Flower Power Rose
The 2nd dessert was served with background music of “Kiss from a Rose“. It was another work of art. On the outside is deep fried glutinous rice bran with strawberry and lavender sugar; while inside is filled with rose-flavoured ice cream.
#24 Origami Caramel
Even the dessert has some Japanese influence here as this dish was presented in fun fortune teller origami and is filled with 4 types of caramel: Salted caramel, 100% Chocolate caramel, Raspberry caramel and Miso caramel. It is meant to be taken in one bite to experience sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness together.
While I didn’t take individual shots of the wine pairing drinks that we had, here’s all wine we tasted for the night. It’s a pity that Gaggan restaurant has stopped serving the wonderful cocktails that we had enjoyed so much but we are looking forward to the opening of Chef’s new project – wetbkk, a wine bar focused on natural wines and biodynamic production.
#25 Yin Coffee Yang Sesame
The last course of the meal was served with the catchy “Kung Fu Fighting” song. The black side is made with coffee whereas the white side is made with white sesame.
Just as we thought that was the end of the meal, the restaurant played “I’ll Stand by You“. Turned out there was a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary and the restaurant prepared this nice little snack for all the guests at the Lab. What a nice surprise!
As most guests had left the main dining area, we managed to take a close look at Chef’s impressive collection of Asia’s 50 Best and World’s 50 Best Trophies on display.
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