My previous experiences with molecular gastronomy have always left me feeling dissatisfied, underwhelmed, and frankly, still hungry. It is of course very difficult work to create chemical wonders like raspberry foam or solid edible juices, but somewhere along the way, the dish’s taste and substance always seem to get compromised. So I was more than slightly dubious about Gaggans claim to fame: not just a restaurant specialising in molecular gastronomy, but in Indian molecular gastronomy. To fool around with a cuisine that I hold so dear to my heart is no laughing matter, and I approached my dinner appointment with the highest levels of skepticism.
Gaggans is the brainchild of Chef Gaggan Anand. At the age of 22, Gaggan had already cooked a meal for the former US President, Bill Clinton. His culinary journey led him to eventually open his dream restaurant in the heart of Thailand.
Gaggans ambience is quite unbelievable when you consider that the restaurant is located in the heart of chaotic, loud, frenetic Bangkok. Nestled in a colonial style bungalow just seconds from the main road, it feels like you’ve stepped into some soothing cocoon of calm once within.
Gaggans has got a lovely, homey vibe that it hasn’t compromised on despite years of accolades and attention. There are living areas, library areas, dining areas, even outdoor seating for a particularly balmy and beautiful Bangkok night. I chose to dine in the library area, surrounded by books and good conversation, my two favourite things. The 10 course tasting menu is the best option here, with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options readily available. There’s also an a la carte menu with more traditional options available, but honestly, go for the tasting menu. Really. You can thank me later.
The meal started with a complimentary cucumber soda topped with cucumber foam, the perfect respite from the very humid Bangkok streets I had just walked through. My drink, when it arrived, gave me the first taste (pun unintended) of what was about to happen to my mouth for the next two hours. The drink, aptly named “Beat the Heat”, was one solid sphere of crushed cucumber, ginger, pineapple, and rock salt frozen together into a glorious concoction.
The first platter of appetizers that arrived definitely helped the stereotype of molecular gastronomy just looking like a random bunch of very weird substances.
The yoghurt blob was perhaps the most intimidating item on the platter. It looked like an egg turned inside out, not the most appetising visual for a life-long vegetarian. But one tentative bite and I didn’t look back for the rest of the meal – the yoghurt was cool, lightly spiced, and creamy. The pani puri-chocolate combination was surprisingly delicious, with the milky sweetness of the chocolate offsetting the tangy spiciness of the puri water. I underestimated the kick contained in that tiny packet of wasabi nuts; do not just toss the whole packet casually into your mouth. And the “samosa” was absolutely delicious and solved one of my pet peeves about samosa – that there’s too much pastry for too little filling. With this version, problem solved.
The next dish was incredible and one of my favourites of the night: dhokla, reconstructed with the dhokla sponge, coriander foam, curry leaves, sitting on a base of coconut ice cream. It reminded me of the complexity that makes up a dhokla’s flavour – miss out one of these components in a bite, and the dish feels lacking. But when a spoon catches the sponge, foam, leaf, and ice cream at the same time, it’s sheer bliss.
The next two dishes, an incredibly spicy truffle soup and a mushroom stew were tasty, if not particularly surprising in their presentation. But after several courses of unexpected-looking food, it was nice to have a brief respite and some conventional dishes. It also set the stage for the next highlight: a paneer burger patty with crisp savoury tomato foam forming the “buns”. The lightness of the foam contrasted with the density of the bun to recreate the experience of eating a burger.
Several excellent dishes followed, like the paneer topped with lemon foam and herbs, the potato and paneer tikki stuffed with sweet mango pickle, the eggplant sous vide curry topped with rice noodles, and oyster leaf. By the time it was time for dessert, I could barely move – a result of the number of courses and their deliciousness. But one look at these desserts could change the most satiated person’s mind.
Just in case you were worried that you would forget your experience soon after leaving, Gaggans made sure to finish the meal with a bang with two desserts. The first was a flash-frozen tiramisu and chocolate chip ice cream shaped into a cookie and carrot cake puree with a leaf-shaped beetroot crisp, topped with silver foil and pistachios. The ice cream, artfully shaped in front of you on an ice cold slab, and the carrot cake puree, lovingly assembled and beautifully presented, were the perfect endings to one of the most perfect meals I’ve ever enjoyed. Kudos to Gaggan and team for reviving my faith in molecular gastronomy, and for showing me that even the traditional favourites can benefit from some experimentation now and again.
Gaggans | 68/1 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok 10330, Thailand, Tel: (662) 652 1700