One thing that makes great chefs stay at the top of their game is that they don’t fear to follow their true selves.
Real cooking artists do not try to please the crowd or hold too rigidly to their stellar fame. They continue to explore, venture, improve and, sometimes, mutate.
Yet despite this, I hadn’t expected to see much transformation from the second episode of chef Gaggan Anand’s culinary journey.
For the past few years, the original Gaggan restaurant on Soi Lang Suan (closed three months ago) had been rated among the world’s top 10 best restaurants. It’s also a holder of two Michelin stars.
So, how could he grow from already being one of the very few best?
Apparently, through Gaggan Anand, his 15-day-old new restaurant, chef Gaggan shows that he’s vigorously growing. And it is, at least in this food journalist’s point of view, more toward his genuine identity than stardom.
“This is so very you,” was my first reaction when the celebrity chef, whom I’ve known since 2010, stopped by to greet me and my two foodie companions during a dinner there last week.
I wasn’t talking just about some decor details that automatically remind of his personality, but everything from visual vibes to cuisine to table conduct.
A better-than-ever-before portraying of its chef-owner, the restaurant is more intimate, more experimental and more profoundly Indian. It is at the same time young, nonchalant and has a fun kick of rock-music sensation.
Gastronomically speaking, dinner here is offered in two modes: one at the G Spot, a glass-facade, 14-seat chef’s table chamber; and the other at G Arena, a 38-seat main dining room.
Salted egg marshmallow with sakura shrimp.
Dining pace is another matter that’s been slightly adjusted. At the new restaurant, there’s no more two-hour limitation rush. Guests are encouraged to take their time, relax and enjoy the evening.
Among the elements that remain the same is the 25-course tasting menu concept, of which each dish is described only by its main ingredient, for examples poultry, fish, prawn, mushroom or lamb.
Dishes are inspired by time-honoured Indian recipes, and prepared with sustainable and artisanal produce — wildly harvested rather than farmed.
The menu showcases a selection of his favourite world-class ingredients, including fresh truffles from Italy, saltwater eel, Hokkaido sea urchin roe and scallops from Japan, Iberico pork from Spain and poussin chicken and foie gras from France.
The line-up of creations changes regularly upon the best produce available, but always revolves around the formula and taste profile of Indian culinary classics, including yoghurt chaat, stuffed bread kachori, dosa crepe, biryani rice and tikka masala sauce.
That is, however, without a written menu provided, only a giddy sheet of emoji stickers to serve as the guests’ gastronomic bible.
Pre-dessert course of sweet bean curd and pineapple pearls.
Indeed, chef Gaggan wants his diners to develop our own interpretation of the dishes.
So, other than to suck, lick and guzzle (our dinner endured no silverware until the 14th course), we were also urged to wonder, examine, talk and work our way on how to tackle those tiny, bite-sized delicacies without looking too sloppy an eater. And that adds a greater fun to it.
Of course, the so-called prim and proper service is also intentionally omitted here. Still, it is carefully ensured that the guests are treated with the most attentive, almost personalised, service.
During operation hours, there are 65 staff members to attend to a full house of 52 diners. Folksy and affable, they serve the dishes and briefly explain what to expect. Sometimes they may warn you if the content is quite hot and easy to drip if you fail to finish in one bite. Absolutely well-thought out but never feeling formulated.
Our cheerful meal in the vivacious upstairs dining hall was lit by warm light from moon-like lamps. Given that Gaggan means “sky” (I just learned that from the chef himself), the decoration scheme thus plays around the concept of clouds, planets and stars.
As unique as the experience there might sound, a Gaggan experience deserves no ordinary write up. So I’m not going to share with you details of all the dishes we had. Even if I was, this one-page space wouldn’t be enough to contain it.
Smoked, dry-aged amberjack with nori paste on celery tart.
Instead, let me tell you some of the night’s most memorable offerings.
There was a super tasty helping of dry-aged amberjack — house cured and smoked — with nori seaweed paste on celery tart.
An Indian-style toast topped with mushroom cream and black and white truffle shavings as well proved marvellous.
Dish No.17, simply described as the “green soup”, made me exclaim with taste buds elation.
Of it, the chilled consommé, served in a green glass bowl, is in fact crystal clear and mere colourless yet packed with pleasantly refreshing flavours.
Another of my favourites, Iberico pork cheek and banana paste, came hidden inside a smoky, dull-looking packet of flame-grilled fig leaf, but proved to delightfully electrify the palate.
For dosa, a popular south Indian street food, of which its origin dates back 3,000 years, Gaggan chooses to present it on a lovely stone plate designed to mimic a countryside rice field. The rice flour crepe was paper thin and crumbly, enhanced with savoury cream filling.
Most dining wares and cutlery here are exclusively made for the restaurant, and perhaps for each specific dish. All the rest is handpicked by Gaggan himself from top-class producers acr