September 3, 2023

Bangkok incognito day 3: why the fuck are you even here?

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Truth be told, the main reason we're back in Bangkok is to see our friend Gaggan Anand, whom we recently found is actually named Gagan, with only one 'g' in the middle. Well, actually, I've seen him in both Hong Kong and Singapore over the last year, but what we haven't done is dined at his no-longer-new Gaggan Anand Restaurant. He has announced a new menu in which he has gotten rid of the emojis, so it was our opportunity to check it out for ourselves.

The restaurant is only a short stroll up Soi 31 from our digs at the Public House, so for once we didn't have to worry about the infamous Bangkok traffic. We showed up a little early to our late seating, but they weren't quite ready for us... so we hung out just inside the entrance to the building and had a drink of water. I guess I could have had a drink from the bar, too...

I had seen pictures of this neon light for the last couple of years, and me being who I am, I've always thought it should say "Be an asshole"...

Each seat has an "emoji plate" like this, and there are a few different "emotions".

We were told that the meal would be divided into two acts, with a series of smaller bites to start, and bigger main courses later. There would be an "intermission" or toilet break in between.

Act 1:

Yogurt explosion - I had the good fortune to try this updated version last November in Hong Kong, and we now have a "lilypad" made of green chutney with some pop rocks. The spiced yogurt spherification was dropped in. Still tasted like a nice lassi and always good to kick off a meal with this.

2015 Olivier Horiot Sève Rosé de Saignée en Barmont Les Riceys, dégorgée le 28 Mars 2022 - a nice rosé with decent red fruit notes, but palate was a little flat and short.

Gazpacho snow papadum - the papadum has now changed to a disc of deep-fried tapioca pearls which was dried after being cooked in tomato and red pepper juice (hence gazpacho). The lettuce cup on above held Japanese cucumbers grown in Thailand, tomatoes from Saga Prefecture (佐賀県), as well as gazpacho "snow". Very cold and refreshing combination of the cucumber, tomato, and the snow. Definitely tasted like gazpacho. Love it.

Mushroom truffle ladoo - this ladoo (लड्डू) is not sweet but savory, and made of dried mushroom powder compressed into two halves of a sphere resembling a firework shell, sandwiching some Australian black truffle in the middle. Very powdery and dry, and loads of mushroom flavor. It's too bad that the black truffle got overpowered by the other mushroom flavors, which is a problem I've encountered elsewhere. It's a new take on a dish he's served before, but I prefer the older version.

Murku coconut paper - on top of the transparent "paper" made with coconut, curry leaves, and other spices were these tiny little murku (முறுக்கு) petals which Gaggan described as the single-most labor-intensive item on the menu. They are very tiny, indeed... as easily shown in comparison to the dill. There's good fruity acidity here, and I do love the curry leaf flavors.

2018 Vodopivec Solo - initially servd a little too warm. Got good mouthfeel with grippy "tannins".

Gaggan has always done a lot of explanations of his dishes, but in the new format he ends up spinning stories and there are the occasional extended speeches. One of these stories is about the rats on Soi 31, whose brains are presented as the next dish:

Whitecorn brain - undoubtedly the worst dish on this menu. Just bland and a waste of calories.

Asparagus sunflower above - the "sunflower" was made from asparagus, where the gel resembling the disc florets was made with the tips. It was surrounded by ray floret "petals" which were thin slices of the bottom of the asparagus spear, and they all sat on top of a disc of ice cream made from the spear of the asparagus. Finally, we had a meringue made from other parts of the asparagus along with Indian herbs. As the catchphrase has been so popular for some time now, Gaggan used the description of "nose to tail" to describe his approach for this dish.

I liked the slightly green flavors as well as the light, crunchy textures. We had some acidity in the middle, and overall I really loved the chilly, refreshing feeling of the dish.

Beetroot blue cheese
 Potato below - since I don't eat beetroot, they swapped it out and gave me a little freeze-dried potato in the "soil" instead.

2018 Slobodné Majer Zemianske Sady Partisan Cru - still got the fruit. OK la...

Chole bature - this chole bature (छोले भटूरा) has been shrunk down into this small pillow of fried bread, with some pickles and balsamic on top. The shell was really nice and crunchy.

Stuffed with chickpea curry mousse and balsamic mousse. With just a little heat, pretty mild, but very tasty.

Irish coffee montblanc - the ghewar (घेवर) came with a montblanc of "ethical foie gras" from Spain and Irish coffee nougat made with "cheap Irish whiskey". Garnished with gold foil, of course.

The ghewar was very crunchy as always. The Irish coffee was so, sooo tasty with just a hint of whisky.

Melon caviar - the waffles on both ends were made of dried orange-flesh melon. Inside the sandwich we've got sorbet made with green-flesh melon grown in Thailand with a ripeness of 14 Brix, a perilla leaf, and some caviar from the House of Caviar.

Gaggan said he's "never" used caviar in his dishes, but while it's true we don't see gratuitous use of caviar with him and he's said in the past that it's an ingredient he didn't appreciate, I've seen it show up on at least one occasion that's not a GohGan popup.

In any case, I do believe it when he says that he doesn't want to do dishes where people just take pictures to show off the caviar. The eggs are there to provide the salinity to counter balance the sweetness of the melon. He stressed that no seasoning - salt, sugar, or otherwise - have been added here; that it was all "natural". I'll remind him that the caviar has already been salted in the production process. I did think, though, that the end result was a good one, and the fragrance of that perilla leaf added a little something to the mix.

Akishika 888 Junmai Muroka Nama (秋鹿 八八八 純米無濾過 生原酒), 2018 - seimaibuai of 80%. Very fermented and savory notes, a bit sweet on the finish. Definitely paired well with the caviar and also tomato. More rounded on the palate than I remembered from a few months ago.

Act 2:

The room goes dark while the next course is prepped.

Just a little sprinkle of magic... Actually, it's yuzu (柚子) powder.

Rasam oat latte - really enjoyed this nice and chilled "latte" with a hint of paprika.

2017 La Tangente L'Excuse - smoky, a little eucalyptus, a little meaty with leather notes.

So... then came the toilet break. I didn't see the point of leaving my seat.

Bamboo kebab - the black light came on so we could see the florescent "rat oil". There's some green stuff on the bamboo shoot which tasted a little similar like saag (ਸਾਗ). There's also an orange gel on the side that tasted like mandarin orange with some heat.

Momo methi malai - love the thin wrapper made with black garlic. The sauce was made with pea pods, "leftover Champagne", sour cream, and fenugreek oil.

We've got petit pois and fenugreek inside. Delicious with that sauce.

Hojicha pork taco - the crispy taco shell was made of jicama, and came with a pickled relish of green apple, green chili, and celeriac. The pork jowl was marinated in vinha d'alhos along with some spices, hojicha (ほうじ茶), and grilled before adding a glaze of apple juice reduction.

The pork was as tender as one would expect, and I loved the fruity sweetness and acidity from the apple. I couldn't really taste the hojicha, but I did taste the exotic spices with a tiny bit of curry leaf and Sichuan peppercorn. As Fábio Costa said, this was a combination of Portugal, India, and Japan. So delicious.

2019 Čotar Sauvignon Blanc - very fragrant nose and a little floral.

Eggplant burnt skin - it DOES look like the "funeral of an eggplant", with a little white flower to boot. The damn thing has been grilled in a wood-fired oven, and stuffed with dates and tamarind, The charred skin is taken off to make a sauce like a Hyderabadi salan (సలాన్) with peanuts, coconut, sesame, and tamarind. The flavors here are very familiar, with a little heat and a little acidity.

Fish chips - the croqueta had a very thick shell which reminded me of a falafel, but it was made of seabass which had been steamed, dried, and crushed into flakes to act as coating for a mashed potato center. Served with a mustard sauce. Unfortunately I didn't care for this, as I felt the shell was too oily and the taste was a little heavy and off, almost as if it's been fried in oil that has been used a little too much.

Once again the lights are turned off, this time complately, and Gaggan starts to torch the banana leaves in the bowl.

Scallop mustard - this seemed like an updated version of his paturi, with Hokkaido scallops and fish. Served with mustard oil, chili, salt, and lemon zest. Cooked for 2 minutes before torching.

The fish was saltier and more "fishy", with deeper flavors.

La Grapperie La Désirée - the nose was pretty fragrant but also pretty oaky, almost buttery like a chardonnay from Burgundy. Almost vanilla, too. But this paired sooo horribly with the fish and made the aftertaste very... fishy.

Ebi ice cream - the latest version of the "cold curry", which is a dish I loved a lot over the years, now comes with a show as it's briefly dipped in liquid nitrogen. The raw botan shrimp (牡丹海老) from Kanazawa (金沢) was marinated with seaweed for 4 hours, then dipped first in curry leaf-infused coconut milk to coat the shrimp, before being dipped a second time in liquid nitrogen to freeze the coconut milk into a kind of ice cream, with flavoring that comes from making a reduction of shrimp shells and the "daily garbage".

The flavors of the curry leaves were much stronger than before, and it's also much more creamy. The temperature is, of course, much colder thanks to the liquid nitrogen, but the shrimp was still raw like sashimi. Just a tad of finger lime on top for crunch and acidity. I love it.

Quail sandalwood smoke - the French quail was rubbed with a mix of 18 spices and flowers, then cooked over charcoal. I love quail, and this was definitely tasty with all the spices and fragrance.

I know Vlad picked the next wine just for me, as he knows how much I love these guys. So, so happy to drink this.

2018 Stephan Côte-Rôtie Côteaux de Bassenon - really nice vanilla and fruit on the nose, along with eucalyptus. Love this wine.

The long-grain basmati rice for our next dish as been aged for 5 years, which is something I first came across when Gaggan cooked for us at home on my last trip. We've also got Iranian bayberries and Spanish saffron.

Goat aged rice - rice is cooked in individual clay pots due to the brittleness of the aged rice, and it came with Burmese goat meat which had been cooked overnight and taken off the ribs to be cooked with the rice.

Every spoonful was delicious as this was totally up my alley, but I was getting sooooo full.

Peach Melba - crispy candied leaf made with juice from Japanese peaches, together with ice cream made with Madagascan vanilla and vanilla oil.

It's Raining Men - it's no longer called "Lick It Up" and the soundtrack is no longer from Paul and the crew at Kiss. Instead we have the Weather Girls - featuring the amazing Martha Wash - singing their famous tune. We still dutifully picked up our plates and licked them clean... most of us, anyway. Yogurt and cardamom in the clouds, passion fruit in the lightning, and blueberries in the rain.

2022 Meinklang Prosa - definitely got a little of that pungent sulfur on the nose, but also pretty sweet on the nose.

Twenty-two courses. Shorter than the twenty-five emojis from my last visit to the previous incarnation, but the meal took longer because of his extended speeches - especially the ones about rats and sustainability. This clearly didn't sit well with the couple seated next to Foursheets who, in my opinion, had no business being in the restaurant.

First of all, they were late by more than 15 minutes. I know the traffic is bad in Bangkok, but everyone else made it on time. They told Gaggan they were from Hong Kong, but when Foursheets tried to be helpful and translated Gaggan's request for the husband not to use the torch on his phone while filming, it was clear they didn't speak Cantonese. So... Mainlanders, then. That is, of course, not a sin in and of itself.

The wife barely ate. She took one bite of each dish and put it down, and both she and her husband didn't even touch the last course as it required licking from the plate. I doubt they actually like Indian cuisine or its flavors, and it is possible they had no idea who Gaggan is or what a meal at the restaurant is like. I can imagine that they are a couple with means, and they wanted to dine in a famous, hard-to-book restaurant while visiting the city... and someone with access helped them get their seats - possibly for a fee. The wife had absolutely no appreciation for the food, or maybe she eats like a bird naturally... but that didn't stop her from taking pictures of EVERY.SINGLE.DISH. Did she want to show the pics off to her friends?

They HATED Gaggan's playlist - starting from Foo Fighters, to Talking Heads, and ending with Justin Bieber and the Weather Girls. The rock-and-roll was too loud and obnoxious for them, and they left quickly after the last plate was served - but not before the husband decided that he was gonna finish all the wines regardless of whether he liked them, since they had been paid for.

I know there are people like this all over the world, at every restaurant, and especially the ones where seats are highly sought-after. Technically, they have just as much right to be here as anyone else... or do they? That they took up two precious seats in a fourteen-seat restaurant, when those seats could have been taken by people who actually APPRECIATED the experience. THAT really pisses me off.

But I just have this knack of running into people like that at fine dining establishments... most notably at Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう) in Hong Kong and Sushi Shikon by Yoshitake (すし 志魂).

Anyway, so, so happy to be back here and see how the cuisine has evolved. Some of the dishes have gone up a level, others not. But it was still a very happy meal for me, and I'm glad to see my friends doing well.

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