(admittedly “Nahm” on Thanon Silom is ranked number 3, but let’s ignore that for now)
Given we live about a two minute walk away we made a hasty collection of Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and The Professor – fresh back from a working vacation in Kathmandu – and headed straight to it. Having been ushered through its door into an interior that was spartan and distressed white, we settled into our comfortable wicker armchairs and plumped for the twelve-course taster menu at the solicitous recommendation of the maitre d’. Described as an epicurean delight, it brings together the finest local and international produce to take a traditional set of flavours and apply the Head Chef’s own innovative twist. Given we watch a lot of cooking shows like MasterChef and Iron Chef etc. this kind of verbal overlay where “it’s not gravy, sir, it’s emulsion” is the kind of sniffy vocabulary one is expected to froth outwards when confronted with the likes of Blumenthal, Torode or Wallace, then such a description is no longer sensational, but merely expected.
That said, from a beverage perspective (aside from the usual still water) we commenced with a cocktail and indulged in a couple of bottles of Sancerre midway designed to compliment the culinary voyage we were to undertake. Split into Four Acts (so not Shakespeare, then) it went something like this….
The Cocktail and the amuse-bouche
Whilst the Diplomat, Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and The Professor sipped on a “Fever Tree and Gin” concoction I plumped for a “Lychee Caprioska” which consisted of cachaça, lychee, and lime frozen with nitrogen dioxide. cachaça is a liquor made from fermented sugarcane. Less a drink and more a refreshing sorbet packing a powerful alcoholic punch. I have to say it frees the tongue for flowing conversation nicely. The amuse-bouche to the right was a double taste. First you took the entire strip of pineapple, then sucked (not snorted) back the yoghurt. Refreshing to say the least….
ACT 1 – Fun (inspired from street food)
Course One – Yoghurt (the signature dish)
Course Two – Burger on the Rocks
Exactly what it looks like. A light and fluffy meringue sandwiching a piece of burger meat. The meat is lamb, the meringue made of a tomato water . If you can, it should be a single morceau bite, a succulent explosion of carnivorous juice cushioned by a light tomato. The only problem is the propensity of some of the “bun” to stick to the roof of your mouth.
Course Three – Bay of Bengal
These are baby silver fish Bengali style with fresh wasabi mayonnaise. You can eat the tails. I chose not to, Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist assured me they were necessary to tune the vocal cords. Three fish served and increased the saline flavours of the night to date…
Course Four – Some Like It Hot
This was one of my favourites. Perhaps a nod to the 958 Gene Wilder Film, perhaps not; it was a course that was layered with flavours. Grilled green Thai chilies stuffed with cottage cheese and herbs (no idea which ones,I’d have to defer to the Diplomat’s far superior culinary palate for that). The street food fun over, we now moved into gourmet ingredients…
Act Two – Exotica
Course Five – Viagra
“It’s an oyster covered in sea foam” supplied the helpful description from Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist. (In fact it was umami oysters charcoal grilled Malabar-style with a lemon air – see what I mean about the necessary pompous narrative?)
“Uh. OK. Never had Oyster. How do I eat it? Do I chew?”
“Er no. Just close your eyes and swallow it all in one go.” Sniggers from the Diplomat and The Professor.
I crank open an eye as I dutifully obey. Everyone is watching for my reaction.
“Doesn’t taste of anything. It’s like drinking seawater.”
“Exactly! A briny, sea-water, slippery, fresh food” declared Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist
“So why eat it if it tastes of nothing?”
“Good question.” I never got an answer.
Course Six – Egyptian Secret
This was a foie gras (I know, you have to forget how foie gras it made though Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist did tell us a story about a foie gras free range farm he went to where he stood amongst a stampede of extremely happy ducks waddling as fast as they could go to their extremely rich dinners). Anyway, it also had a spiced red onion chutney and cold raspberry foie powder to garnish it. Not in my top three of the ten dishes but an interesting return to powerful flavour after the “slip ‘n slide” sensation of the oyster.
Course Seven – Eggs
I have to say this was both a fascinating and flavoursome dish. Basically it was a cheese souffle in an egg skin shooter. I expect one thing, got another and, boy, could happily have eaten a few more.
Course Eight – Truffle Air
This was my lowest ranked of the ten tasters. Simply because I associate truffle with the season of Autumn. Its earthy, rich smell, taste and texture is either best suited to a potage, or to add a powerful flavour to meat and root vegetables. A fluffy light truffle bisque somehow misses the point. This was a truffle espuma with waynaud organic pepper and soya protein.
Act Three – Food at Last
Course Nine – Treasure these Shells
A mixture of clams with mussels and spiced miso masala soup. The flavour of the soup overpowered the two mussels and three clams. Not to worry, as the miso itself was delicious and I could happily have had a much large bowlful of it.
Course Ten – Game On
This was a wild French quail sous-vide 6″ heure with chettinaud spices and royal farm baby peas. sous-vide is a technique pioneered in 1799 by Count Rumford and “re-discovered” in the 1950s by French cuisine. Essentially, it is a method of cooking food in sealed plastic bags in water for inordinate amounts of time. 6 hours in this case, at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than those normally used for cooking. This means the quail was cooked evenly, thus rendering it juicier. I am not a huge fan of quail or game in general as it is very fatty (as was this) but I could appreciate the skill in its production.
Course Eleven – Heaven on Earth
This is a baby shrimp in young coconut masala curry with cardamon. Also served with batter naan and spicy naan. If we ever go back, I am getting this as a full entree. It was exquisite. When we spoke with the chef after the meal he said he didn’t like to eat his own food because he was always cooking it. However, his mother’s food was amazing and he could eat it all the time. This was the most traditional Indian dish in the taster menu and it delivered.
Act Four – Sweet Ending
Course Twelve – Mount Blanc
In the UK you’d simply call this an Eton Mess. Strawberries, cream, meringue. A staple of most British pub menus. Give I unashamedly and accurately will say British strawberries are the very best in the world (check out Wimbledon for the proof) then it makes this a particularly hard dish to get a good rating from any Brit. I have to say, it wasn’t bad. Nothing special (though perhaps in Asia very special) it had an interesting twist of walnut. Everyone ate it fast
So, that was the menu. We added a couple of liqueurs at the end – mine was tequila and coffee, everyone else had an orange liqueur with vodka(?). For Thailand it was a costly meal, for Westerners it is not and as such I’d urge tourists or farang to go and try this place. It is excellent and I can see why it is ranked in the top ten of Asia’s best restaurants. It is welcoming, unpretentious, the service is excellent, the Chef is an affable chap willing to chat with you. To balance the happy review, we all noted that everything was served warm. Nothing was ever hot and we felt some dishes deserved to be so. It is not a big place so don’t expect more than thirty diners at any time – a facet which relaxes the ambiance. There is no sense of rush here, just efficiency. All in all….a great adventure and Gaggan is a place you should go and visit. We will certainly return.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?