Gaggan. After all these years, I finally tried this famed chef’s take on Indian cuisine. Never planning in advance, I never made it to Gaggan during my trips to Bangkok. Bizarre considering Gaggan held the top spot in the S Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for a record-breaking 4 years running from 2015 to 2018.
He closed that restaurant in 2019, only to open another, this time featuring his full name, in Nov 2019. Gaggan Anand Restaurant debuted in the 2021 Asia’s Top 50 Restaurants list at No.5.
That said, Chef Gaggan has brought over almost his entire team from the Bangkok restaurant for his residency at Mandala Club, so it’s the real deal indeed here in Singapore. (The restaurant in Bangkok is hosting another chef in the interim).
A foodie friend had booked a table for five for the 8-course lunch ($288/px). Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to finally try his inventive, molecular-driven version of classic Indian tastes.
Is it worth all the hype, asked another friend yesterday. Yes, I said, resoundingly. I, too, had my doubts about paying that pretty penny for lunch, for a cuisine that I grew up eating, but, oh yes, I see the light now.
Poppin’ my Gaggan cherry:
This is THE dish that started it all for Gaggan’s journey into molecular gastronomy. Inspired by El Bulli’s revolutionary version of a spherified olive, he created this version using a staple for Indians, yoghurt.
The wait staff gently placed the sphere on the accompanying green chutney cracker and once in, it was a medley of Indian umami as Gaggan would say – sweet, sour, salty, spice. For me, there was something so homely in the flavours, yet completely out of this world in its execution. A chaat masala like none other.
I liked this second dish a lot. Monkfish liver and foie gras ice cream. We later remarked that there was no “meat” dish per se in the menu but on hindsight, this was it. Again, something unexpected and to be savoured.
Can you beat my mom’s idli?
Ok, my mom makes the best idli I know of. This is Chef Gaggan’s take on one of my favourite Indian breakfasts. Did it transport me to eating pillowy, soft idli with sambar and coconut chutney at my mom’s? Yes, it did!
Chicken tikka masala, something ridiculously common in Indian restaurants. Ironic since the dish is actually a British invention. I liked Gaggan’s creative take on the dish which has a crisp charcoal batter coating piping hot chicken tikka.
Curry favour me, why don’t you?
If I told you this was Gaggan’s version of curry, would you buy that? He once said he wanted to change the perception of Indian food as being just a slop of curry. And this dish does just that. No pool of liquid in which some meat pieces float, but this is a curry nevertheless. A lovely coconut-infused scallop dish.
I never grew up drinking soup, it’s not my idea of comfort food, and I’m guessing most Indians might feel the same? In any case, while not my favourite from the 8-course menu, of course Chef Gaggan elevated this humble corn soup with uni jelly at the base, adding that umami to the dish. This was light and spicy.
In a village in India, far, far, away…
This made me feel like I was in some village somewhere where people still cook their meats by digging a hole in the earth and firing it up. Gingerly unwrap the leaf and its burning embers, and we had a perfectly-cooked fish – the marinade reminded me more of Thai cuisine but we were informed that this was Gaggan’s mother’s recipe.
That was something interesting for me to note and it shows just how diverse the cuisine of India is. I had never tasted fish flavoured this way despite having eaten my fair share of Indian food all my life.
An impromptu addition to the menu, this was Laksa and smoked duck. It tasted good of course, but felt rather random to me. I suppose that’s why they called it an impromptu addition.
So there was rice and curry, after all?
Aha, so there was a curry after all! Crab curry and fluffy basmati – this would be the most “normal” dish of the entire menu. Nothing fancy here, just comforting rice and curry.
Upon tasting this, my friend remarked that this reminded him of his business trips to India, where the chai wallah would serve up steaming hot mugs of masala tea. Sure enough, the team at Gaggan got the flavours down pat. So much so, I told the wait staff that I’d be impressed if they would follow dessert with an actual cup of masala tea! Which they did. I preferred the dessert though!
Taking a creative dump, and then some.
So, am I glad I finally checked out the mastery of Gaggan? I think the answer is obvious. I’ll say it anyway. I think he is one rare chef who has taken the classic, homely flavours of Indian cuisine, taken a massive creative dump all over it, and successfully managed to blow our minds about what Indian food can be.