Dec 23, 2019

The One and Only Gaggan Anand (with 25 New Courses)

Truly the one and only.

It was like a roller coaster ride during my recent visit to Gaggan Anand. The once two Michelin-star restaurant and ranked number four on 2019 World's 50 Best Restaurants, but it was a somewhat different Gaggan Anand, perhaps Gaggan Anand 2.0.

I actually tried to book Gaggan Anand months ago, but without any luck. Didn't know what was going on. Then earlier this month, since my Bangkok trip surfaced again, I checked the website. Voila, there I got my reservation.

So that earlier hiccup, long story short, there were some disagreements between Gaggan Anand and his business partners. Even during Chef's family trip, based on Gaggan Anand's website, his partners tried to buyout the restaurant team with financial incentives. Probably never expected such outcome, a team of 65 staffs turned down the money and followed Gaggan Anand instead. You can learn more insights on Gaggn's website.

So the old Gaggan Anand restaurant was down for a while, about the time when the announcement for 2019 World's 50 Best Restaurants was made. Just approximately 3 months, the good old team put up another Gaggan Anand, that's why I called it Gaggan Anand 2.0. The revamped Gaggan Anand is back and running, with 25 new courses ready to wow the world again.

The new setting gives three dining options for the guests. "My Private Table" for privacy-seeking guests, also suitable for large group, starting price at 100,000 THB. Therefore, the usual case falls upon "Arena G" or "G's Spot."

Arena G locates on the second floor with a more traditional table setting, but still surround an open kitchen. Starting price at 8,000 THB/per guest.

G's Spot, perhaps as the name suggests, provides more excitement and high interaction experience. Locate on the first floor, where you can also find a neon sign "be a rebel." I passed by the door once and overheard the music played inside, heavy beats, almost like clubbing. Chef, yes, Gaggan Anand himself was there most of the time chatting and putting on a great show for the guests sitting alongside the U-shaped counter. Starting price at 12,000 THB/per guest.

It's not quite about the price, but highly depending on personality and energy per my opinion. Take myself as an example, I do sleep early and can get tired easily once the night falls. Somewhat introvert too. So G's Spot can be quite strenuous to me, but it can be a great foodgasm ride to others. Therefore, Arena G probably more suitable for me, especially I've got a tour to go to the next morning.

By the way, the entire dinner at Arena G took about 3.5 hours, but downstairs, I heard someone had a 5 hour long dinner the other day. Do give it some thoughts before deciding which way to go.

About the puzzle, there's a wooden box at each table. Right after we sat down, the waiter came over and asked us to dump out everything inside. It's a 25-piece puzzle, each one had a designated emoji on one side, and a piece of the restaurant's layout on the other side.

Supposedly you can only pick up one puzzle after each meal has been served. Guess which emoji the meal represents, and slowly work your way to complete the entire puzzle as the meal progress. We couldn't resist the temptation to finish the puzzle sooner (jokingly, it's probably an Asian thing), so we tried to put up the puzzle based on the restaurant layout design. Half way through, one waiter saw us, came over and broke the puzzle again, in a friendly "oh no no you didn't" way of course. Oops.

When booking the table, I also reserved wine pairing for one. Not two, just one, thinking about it'll be too much alcohol, also the thought of next morning's expedition. So one person with full on wine pairing, and perhaps an easy cocktail will do for myself.

I think I made a right choice. It doesn't say how many wine pairings will be served when booking the table, only realized right on the spot. 9 pairings, that's a lot. And I did order a cocktail. Simple math here, 9 pairings plus one cocktail, that's 10 drinks total. If we share our drinks, it'll be five glasses for each, just on the edge of passing out.

Don't drink and drive. Since we are traveling, local taxi comes in handy. But do aware of taxi drives not following the rules using the meter. In Bangkok, even a high-end restaurant or a good hotel call the taxi for you, the taxi driver might still try to cheat on the fare. If that really happens and avoiding confrontation is preferred, at least bargain your way out. One hundred or few hundreds less are always better than a total scam.

"Kiss of muse," my refreshing choice for the night -

"Quince gin, clarified pineapple soda, wild osmanthus cordial."

Course #1 comes in two bites -

On the left is the spherification of yogurt, also the variation for one of Gaggan Anand's signature dish "yogurt explosion."

On the right, well, everything happens in a blink and I had to quickly take the bite before it falls apart. Just don't look at that leaf and simply thought that's a leaf. Well, from what it appears, yes it looks like a leaf, but in fact one made by many other ingredients. Decompose and reconstruct into leaf form.

Something tingling, it got popping candy inside. Let's dig out the first piece of puzzle from the pile, the one with fire blasting emoji on it.

Course #2 is the puzzle with rainbow emoji -

Be prepared, and breath gently, perhaps stop your breadth when enjoying this dish. Because you're going to lick it up. Yes, please lick the plate clean and watch out for that colorful seasoning powder, which can be blown away if not proceed with caution.

Lentil paste as the base. You can taste all sorts of flavor profiles from these colorful powders. Something sweet, something sour, even something spicy. In fact, that's what I found in most of the courses tonight. Even though everything served as a little bite, but they can pack so many sensations without over-clouding the taste. 

Course #3, autumn leaves -

Watch out, it's a pretty cold dish, mainly composed with three elements. Something from the land, and something from the sea. Foie gras, monk fish leaver, and buckwheat. Yuzu and Port were incorporated. Guess the cold helps holding up the shape from two rather soft liver based ingredients.

Back to what I was talking about finding all the flavors in all dishes. One taste I'm not quite used to see from savory dishes, the sweetness. A little boost, like a teaspoonful of sugar or few crystal sugars in a stew, that I'm familiar with. However, with Indian inspired chutney type of sweetness, which can be much more powerful, I was slightly knocked out at first, but soon after a few chews in my mouth, that sweetness came to senses.

To balance off some kick, especially some strong herbs or chilies, such high level of sweetness do need to present in order to bring the whole thing to a perfect balance. Throughout the courses I even become fond of seeing different type of sweetness from my dish, mostly fruit based chutney variations. It was quite a journey that opened up another realm and appreciation of Indian influenced seasonings.

Flora from northern part of Austria -

Easy drinking wine. It was unfiltered so appeared slightly cloudy from the glass.

Course #4, egg emoji, like I could ever guessed it -

Salted egg yolk for the base, thin layer rice paper, tiny shrimps.

Course #5, amberjack -

Nine days dry-aged amberjack then smoked before presentation. You can also find celeriac and nori, some Japanese influence there, which can be found in some other dishes throughout the night.

Most of the courses here need to eat by hand, or lick with your tongue per earlier case. In fact, we only received utensils about half way through the courses. Also most of the courses better consumed right after serving, taking pictures take a few seconds away already, so I refrained from taking note with my phone. Trying to take on that habit, just put my phone away especially pictures still need to be taken. Post-meal note might not be as thorough though. Trying to enjoy the moment at much as I can becomes the key.

Even though I couldn't remember everything the waiter said about the dishes, but some key ingredients keep popping up, like mint, coriander, and coconut.

Course #6, firecracker emoji -

The very center, the most tender section of bamboo shoot, covered with sour and spicy sauce, then coated with crunchy quinoa. 

The flavor of the sauce tastes somewhat familiar, kind of like the sauce used in some south east Asian style stir-fry shrimps. But this was actually inspired by a popular curry dish in India called vindaloo, which usually contains vinegar in the recipe.

My favorite wine pairing of the night -

This wine was actually prepped for course #8. Got a savory tone with a unique scent resembling pickled veggies. It might be a love or hate story here for most guests. Think of it as blue cheese, you'll either love it or hate it, might be the same case for this bottle.

Course #7, Bloody Mary in tomato form, another cold dish, icy cold -

Course #8, my favorite of the night -

Truffle and fried milk, two very comforting and warming combo. Without knowing it's fried milk at first, that chunky thing below truffle slices looks so much like a piece of fried tofu, stinky tofu from Taiwan especially.

Course #9, "from out of space" -

Blackened color from charcoals to get a closer appearance as an asteroid. Besides this out of space object, somehow it also looks like cow testicle, but that's not go over there.  

With such tough appearance, one might pre-assume that it'll be a heavy dish, something dense or strong-tasting. Just the opposite, inside it holds fish and ikura (salmon roe).

Rainbow came soon after that dark matter -

The maceration involved in this bottle including both the black and white grapes, the sommelier also said "and many unknown grapes." Such wide variety gave rise to its colorful rainbow label.

Course #10, purple heart -

Made with many purple color ingredients such as purple corn and purple potato.

Course #11, potato -

This was inspired by an Indian potato based dish dum aloo. Chef incorporated two different potatoes here, one waxy and one starchy. The waxy one became the pearl-shaped hearty potato balls on top. The starchy variety was made into mashed potatoes on the bottom. Seasoned with mustard oil and onion.

What's holding up the potatoes is crispy cabbage. So many different textures going on in one bite.

Course #12, Lord of the Rings -

No time to take too many pictures, everything happened so fast. When the waiter came over, he asked us to show our middle fingers, like you mean it, middle fingers with passion and perhaps love.

Then he put a cone-shaped holder on our fingers, topped with donut-shaped ring with the outer layer made with white chocolate. Beware of the liquid inside. Must consume in one big bite. Pretty soothing in a way, I mean the middle fingers.

Course #13, dosa inspired rice taco -

The plate resembles rice field.

There was also one sake pairing that night, for the uni dish coming up -

Up till now, we were given our first dining utensils. All the dishes beforehand were eaten by hands. And licked with tongue, can't miss that one.

Course #14, sea urchin (uni) and eggplant -

First time trying uni/eggplant combo. Without knowing what's underneath first, it'll be very hard to figure out that eggplant was presented. So soft, it felt like the eggplant almost woven into uni.

Take a closer look at the plate, very realistic ocean waves washing up the shore.

Course #15, emoji for this course was a loaf of bread -

Course #16, charred fig leaves wrapped banana pepper -

Waiter warned us, "it should be as hot as it can get." It might not look spicy at all, but most dishes came with varies degrees with spiciness. That kick become much more acceptable because that burning sensation was somewhat evened out with the sweetness from the seasonings.

But the banana pepper here, can't hide from any sweet note anymore. Probably too spicy for Westerners, but should still consider a piece of cake for the locals. I had two bento boxes at a local Seven Eleven, trust me, they were at least double the heat compared to this dish in front.

Course #17, something came to a rescue -

If almost beaten down by earlier banana pepper, here, chill beans soup came to help. Very refreshing, with taste resembling cold pressed juice, also added acidity to further brighten up the aroma. Also revive the senses that were knocked out by the banana pepper. Not me, I can take on a lot of heat (wink*).

Course #18, snapper shaped cracker -

It was also presented with a small pile of tobiko/flying fish roe. The waiter spooned some tobiko to the thin cracker and filled with mousse right on the spot. 

Got that popping sensation again, but this time not the same as popping candy, but a rather tougher, chewier bite from the tobiko.

Course #19, chicken and lotus root -

Another example of Japanese influenced cooking style. The chicken was prepared earlier during the entire course, where you can see the kitchen staff has been slowly grilling the chicken over wire and perhaps charcoal, while fanning to control the heat from time to time.

It was a fine piece of grilled chicken, got that distinct aroma that cannot be duplicated by stove cooking. There's also some sourish boba underneath, not sure what they were made of, pretty interesting way to add a sourish note to the dish.

Course #20 -

Abalone, abalone liver, pepper sauce. Mix everything together before eating.

Australian Yarra Valley Syrah. Very traditional, typical type of Syrah, to compliment our next course -

Course #21, wagyu of lamb -

Australia Mottainai lamb raised under sustainable practice. 80% of the feeds used were recycled organic products, such as carrot leaf, ugly veggies, and olive oil.

It was super tender that I can take a chunk of meat down with a gentle bite, and no pulling or tearing involved. 

Very clean tasting too. On top of that, it felt like a thin coating or marbled fat covering the lamb too, so delicate that I prefer to enjoy the meat by itself, didn't care much for the salty sauce below. 

Course #21, rice -

Like Asians utilize leftover ingredients to make fried rice, this considers the leftover makeover for Indians. But of course only an inspiration from such idea. Even if it's truly made with leftover stuff, I'm sure whatever found in Gaggan Anand should be great and divine. 

Many mushrooms used here like morels and porcini. There're also peas and dried fruits inside. 

Mosquito wine -

Made with Muscat grapes, also slightly fizzy. Take on the similar pronunciation and that tiny fizzy sensation, like a mosquito bite, hence the name for this wine.

Course #23, such dreamy presentation -

Corresponds with pineapple emoji. 

And yes, towards the end we still try to complete the puzzle beforehand. Bad, very bad -

Somewhat like Taiwanese sweet bean curd dessert, served with gentle aromatic pineapple juice. Fully soaked goji berries can be found too, providing another layer of sweetness and herbal note. 

Course #24, porcini -

Who would have ever imagined seeing porcini as dessert? I wasn't prepare for that to be honest, especially after the light pineapple course.

Definitely need to change my mindset before tackling this "dessert." Porcini was like a sponge here, soft and soaked up the sauce made with caramel and whisky. 

Nearly 3.5 hours passed, here's our final course #25 -

The emoji for this was a chocolate chip cookie, so I've been expecting to end the meal with something chocolaty. I was fooled again. The final dessert only took the look from chocolate chip cookie, but in fact a very light fruit dessert with main ingredient custard apple chunks. You tricky little thing.

No need to hide anymore, here's our complete puzzle, the side with restaurant's layout design -

A little gift to take home with, emoji stickers representing the 25 courses we had at Gaggan Anand -

Complete pairing of the night, about to pass out, probably not from the alcohol but the time lapses from start to finish -

What a roller coaster ride for all the senses. I definitely walked out the restaurant with different impression about Indian food, and how creative these spices can get, far and beyond. Truly the one and only Gaggan Anand. 

By the way, consider our 3.5 dining hours fast. About half way through our meal, the table next to us just showed up at the restaurant, I wonder if their meal will go all the way till midnight. 

As for us, we couldn't make it to our reserved trip the next morning, but still managed to find a local taxi driver to show us around. Got a painting at the floating market, and the vendor rolled up the canvas and stored inside a PVC tube. Guessing many tourists might carry the same PVC tubes at the airport, here's what I did to make my own tube stand out -

With 25 emoji stickers!

Gaggan Anand 

No.68, Soi Sukhumvit 31 (Sawasdee) Khlong Tan Nuea, 
Watthana, Bangkok 10110 

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