Not many if any restaurant is as polarized as Gaggan. People either love or hate it. What cannot be disputed however is the rise of the fame and popularity of both head chef Gaggan Anand and his restaurant. This popularity culminated this April where the restaurant was named Asia’s best restaurant and the world’s 7th best by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
I therefore decided I had to figure out for myself, just what all the fuss was all about, and was lucky to get a reservation during my latest Bangkok visit.
Entering Gaggan’s lab
With the hype and Gaggan’s reputation for being a very playful and innovative chef, I approached the restaurant with very high expectations of a great experience.
You find the restaurant at the end of small, anonymous side street, only a small Gaggan sign outside reveals that this is where you find Asia’s supposedly best restaurant.
The restaurant itself is built in a beautiful colonial-style, double-story timber house. You enter the restaurant via a glass-walled walkway that offers you a soothing burst of AC, a lifesaver if you like me tried to avoid being stuck in Bangkok’s infamous traffic, by taking the Sky train and walking the 800 meters to the restaurant.
The restaurant is beautiful and bright, helped by large roof windows, drawing in the natural light, and giving you a view of Bangkok outside. Right under these large windows, you find “The Lab” a large U-shaped setup of seats surrounding the restaurant’s lab kitchen. It feels like a giant chef’s table, and I am very pleased to find that I have a seat here.
Arriving at the table I see the first display of the playfullness of Gaggan, the full menu of the evening simply presented on e see through piece a paper with every dish on the menu, shown as an emoji that captures the essence of the dish. How is that for a innovative and moderne take on a menu card?
As I sit down, the sommelier offers suggestions to the wine. There is no wine-paring menu here, as the menu is so vast and different that a wine paring would be too much. I am started out with a light, fresh French white wine, and I am overall happy with the recommendations I get throughout the course. As I enjoy my wine, the rapid-fire begins!
The dishes are more like bites really. Small, explosive in flavor and designed to eat with your hands.
First up is aromatic fried pan leaves and chili jam, secondly the famed yogurt explosion – Gaggan’s Indian take on elBulli’s even more famous olive spheres. Fast we move to an amazingly strong flavoured Tom Yum style prawn “cracker” that just bursts with flavor! 4th snack is a favorite of mine as I love when a chef can create something amazing and tasty out of basically one seemingly dull ingredient, in this case an eggplant cookie. Next serving is clearly looking like a dessert cased in a white chocolate ball – however the center is in fact a liquid made with chili and spices that still worked well with the chocolate.
A few courses in and it is already clear that this is a playful chef, who likes to present you with food that makes you wonder and surprise you.
The playing with your mind continues. We get a crunchy roll where the content is not revealed until after the meal – it’s rich and creamy texture helps my new found friend on my right to guess it though, goats brain.
We continue with some deliciously coconut balls, looking like the perfect petit four sprinkled with a light brown coco powder looking powder. In fact this “petit four” was filled with chicken liver, which rich flavor blends remarkably well with the coconut.
Chef Gaggan also presents us with a tender, sweet and spicy kebab disguised as a slider. We have the chutoro nigiri where the rice instead is a fluffy merengue and to top it all off a cheesecake that we are told, taste like cheesecake if we think of cheesecake and taste of fish if we think of fish. Maybe I was thinking wrong, because I was not quite sure of the flavor I tasted, but a fun bit it was for sure and it got the whole table laughing.
In this joyful atmosphere Gaggan begins to crack jokes and start sharing his visions for the future and talk about the history of Indian curry. It’s amazing to be able to just sit there and soak it up.
“The yogurt sphere” it made me rich and famous – Gaggan’s reply with a big smile when asked for his favorite among the menu.
The author enjoying his Tom Yum Kung cracker. So much flavor!
Freeze-dried eggplant making a delicious, creamy “cookie”, elegantly decorated
Gaggan prepping the next dish.
One of my absolute favorites of the night. rich foie gras on a brioche, with a yuso marshmallow lightly grilled. The freshness of the yuso perfectly matched the fatty richness of the foie gras. An absolute delight.
The beautiful and tasty Chutoro sushi with meringue in sted of rice. A fluffier sweeter taste then the normal nigiri version.
The Rock ‘N’ Roll Chef
After this onslaught of snacks and mind twisting flavors and combinations the pace slows down and the main courses starts to come, not with out a small and much needed break where both staff and guests could catch their breath.
Gaggan has gotten the reputation of being a bit of a rock and roll celebrity chef, so very suitable this little break is accompanied by a rock music playlist. I can honestly say it’s the first time I have ever head Smells Like Teen Spirit, with Nirvana at a restaurant, let alone one of this caliber!
The playlist oddly fits the atmosphere of the restaurant (or at least the lab) and the food we are enjoying pretty well and a “yeah why not” feeling seems to be general around the table.
As for the main courses go this is where I had many of my favorites. An amazing pork vindaloo made into a small deep fired square with Japanese mustard on it, the absolutely amazing dish called “uncooked curry” where all elements of a curry were served cold and raw, to the most tender quail leg and probably my favorite of the night, lobster served in an Indian pancake eating like a soft taco. All of these with distinct Indian flavor to them.
Desserts were stunning as well. Thin slices of beet root made meticulous into a rose, served with a creamy rose flavored filling, a very interesting mango/curry ice cream and a whopper of a dark chocolate and cherry dessert topped with white chocolate snow on top. The latter being on of the very few, if not the only dish that actually came with a spoon, and also the only dish that I could recognize as something I would get served back in Scandinavia.
To honor Indian cuisine we end with a dessert made from Indian mango, not Thai and of course some tea. I sit back and try to contemplate what had just hit me during these last hours!
Pork tender and juicy with vindaloo flavor and cooked crispy. It was as tasty as it both sounds and looks!
A great take on a curry. Raw scallop, curry oil and coconut ice cream, mix it all together and you have Gaggan’s raw curry.
This very well could have been the dish of the night. Lobster in sauce with indian spices served in a dosai – an indian style pancake. Looks simple, but was so rich and complex in flavors it put a big smile on my face.
Takes hours to make, but seconds to eat. Beet “rose petals” and a rose flavored creme.
Curry/Mange ice cream Looks like a dessert, and feels like a dessert with the white chocolate, but then the curry flavor hits you and your mind get’s all confused.
Dining at Gaggan – Final Thoughts
Contemplating my experience at Gaggan, I asked my self two questions.
1) Is the food the most amazing you can get in all of Asia, in terms of pure taste? Not really.
2) Is the food exciting, provocative and wildly entertaining? Absolutely!
If you are a person that seeks to be entertained and surprised when you dine, you will love Gaggan, especially if you can get a seat at the Lab. If you are a person who prefers traditional fine dining, I can see how this could disappoint you a bit.
In the equation you should also add though, that with a menu price of 5000 Baht (roughtly $ 150) Gaggan is far from the price of most of not all of the other top restaurants it is competing with in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Factoring in the price it just makes Gaggan seem like an even better option.
I evaluate a restaurant on how much it makes me smile during the visit, at Gaggan the experiences made me smile more the food itself, but I would still say that the food is absolutely worth the praise. I will look forward to visiting again and see what the rock star chef will compose next.
If you travel to Bangkok to eat at Gaggan, I highly recommend you to stay at Hotel Muse Bangkok, an amazing and unique boutique hotel located on Langsuan Road. The hotel is conveniently located just a short walk away from Gaggan, and has my favorite roof top bar The Speakeasy as a perfect place to have an evening drink after dinner and enjoy Bangkoks impressive skyline.