Of all the venerated fine dining chefs in Bangkok, Gaggan Anand is the one you here about most often. Fancy dining isn’t really something we do here – there are far too many great, cheap meals in Bangkok to warrant blowing the budget on tasting menus every week. But Gaggan is somewhere we have always wanted to go, and was always top of the list of recommendations from others.
We never made it to Gaggan Anand’s original joint and oft-quoted best restaturant in Asia on Soi Langsuan – the eponymously-named Gaggan. Back in the old days when you could visit Thailand it was a 3 month wait for tables, and in between us making the booking and having the booking the restaurant closed down.
No matter though, as Gaggan was relatively quick to spring back to life with the new, also eponymously-named Gaggan Anand between Asok and Phrom Phong. As you can see, I’m really enjoying using the word eponymous and will be aiming to shoehorn it in a couple more times.
Gaggan Anand is distinctly unlike your typical fine dining establishment, and for me that’s a very good thing. No crisp white table linen and sommeliers judging sir when sir shops from the very top of the wine list. No stuffy interior and soft generic string music. At Gaggan Anand you walk in to Pearl Jam pounding out of the speakers at a fantastically indiscreet volume. We are seated around an open prep area surrounded by a long bar on two sides, while black-clad chefs stir things, poke things and while one poor soul does fancy shaping things with a cup and some seaweed for a full two hours. Once all the guests are in – there are maybe only 14 of us that can fit around the bar so it’s quite intimate – the fun begins in earnest.
We’re at Gaggan Anand for the weekend lunch menu. At time of writing it’s 2000 THB++ and comprises 9 courses. There are several elements I love about this – one is that it’s obviously a treat but not an absolute wallet-killer, two it’s not a 15+ course marathon that becomes a grim slog for my miniature appetite towards the end, and three is that afterwards you get to go home and have an afternoon nap.
As every course comes out and is finished in front of us, the main chef turns down the soundtrack which has now careered wildly through Johnny Cash, Nirvana, Interpol and the Cure and explains what you’re eating and why. A really nice touch is that they give you a little sheet of paper, a pencil and some stickers, and you can write down what you had, what you thought of it, and actually be able to recall it afterwards. Normally somewhere like this is so overwhleming that any subsequent discussion follows exactly this path:
Person: ‘Was [restaurant] nice?’
Me: ‘Yes it was unforgettable’
Person: ‘What did you eat?’
Me: ‘I can’t remember. There were too many things. I think one was a duck.’
It’s not exactly Jay Rayner commentary. So having my child-like scribblings does actually help me remember the food – and it does deserve to be remembered!
First up is a slick of yoghurt with popping candy, and as per my extensive notes – a ‘crunchy leaf thing’. It obviously tastes amazing, as does pretty much everything that follows. It’s also gorgeously presented, as is everything that follows.
Up next comes a disc of aged tuna sushi in a crisp tart case with ginger and other friendly accompaniments; being a mongrel I nail this in one bite while Frankie delicately works her way through it. It’s smoky, creamy and satisfying and I could eat about twelve of them. In each dish there are a whole host of textures, temperatures as well as flavours. I describe it as ‘fit’ in my notes because I am a child.
With most of the courses they don’t really tell you what you’re eating until it’s gone or going. The next thing that disappears rapidly into my maw is unmistakably foie gras, which trips all manner of guilt alarms until it’s explained that it’s (more) ethical foie gras made by getting the geese to just eat a lot of their own volition. The story of this and the sole farmer who makes it in Spain is worth a read – they have essentially created a goose paradise which is so replete with delicious acorns that the birds don’t want to leave, get fat and then get ‘sacrificed with a knife’ which sounds a bit less fun for the goose. Anyway the result is served up as a kind of savoury ice cream with pistachio and mango and I am on board with all of those things.
A charcoal deep-fried prawn larb is the only dish to split the crowd – I quite liked it but I can see why the charcoal part isn’t for everyone. The menu definitely jumps around Asian flavours and styles but in a good way. Nothing jars or doesn’t make sense, and it felt to my uneducated sense like everything flowed nicely together.
Up next is the nicest pea soup in the world and one which Frankie seems ambitiously hopeful I can recreate at home. An onsen egg, bonito flakes, herbs and some fish roe re topped in a cup by a velvety, silky soup and then mixed to (relatively) simple but delicious effect.
A paper thin and crisp potato dosa emerges on a plate shaped like a rice terrace with a sharp green mango sauce and gunpowder spice, and it’s another big tick in the ‘please can we get eight more of these’ box.
Things take a more flame-based turn when the lights go out and one of the chefs starts casually torching the next course with the same casual air with which you or I might chop a carrot or open a bad of crisps.
The thing that is being torched is a gorgeous piece of steamed seabass wrapped in banana leaf with mustard, which is a terrible description of a delicious thing.
The thing de resistance on the savouries is a pilau of confit duck which is just sensational – like the beautiful offspring of an onion bhaji and a duck leg, all mixed with rice, corn, pomegranate, duck fat and happiness.
I’m about spent by this point but when the dessert shows up I am a stomach reborn. It’s a custard apple – one of Thailand’s lesser-known but excellent fruits which tastes exactly as good as it sounds. This time it’s diced and served alongside a slightly salted coconut ice cream, flaked toasted coconut and a kind of coconut meringue. These are not things I would normally choose but honestly it’s one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.
Booking Gaggan Anand for lunch was surprisingly easy, we managed to get in just a week in advance which I think in normal times will be a rarity.
If you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok, lunch at Gaggan Anand is a great weekend treat that you will definitely remember. It’s among the best 2000 baht you’ll spend. The setting is relaxed, modern and fun, the food is insanely good, it doesn’t break the bank and it’s a top experience all round. All the info you need is on their website. Happy eating!