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A new direction for Gaggan

It has probably been the most awaited restaurant opening of the year.

Around three months ago, Gaggan Anand fell out messily and angrily with his partners at Gaggan, the modern Indian restaurant that had won two Michelin stars and had been voted Asia’s Number One restaurant (for four years in a row) and been among the top three restaurants in the world.

 

The dispute got ugly. Anand says that the partners went behind his back and offered huge bonuses to the staff if they agreed to stay and manage the restaurant without the chef. Only three members of the staff accepted the deal. Sixty-five others (the rest of the team) walked out of Gaggan and the restaurant shut, never to be opened again.

 

   But Anand had a plan. He wanted to open a new restaurant, using his full name (the first name is still owned by the company he formed with his old partners). He wanted it to be even better than the last place, to serve fewer guests and to make it more cooking- intensive. At any given time the kitchen would cook for only ten to fifteen guests because bookings would be staggered through the evening.

 

   The highlight of the old Gaggan had been The Lab, a counter dining space where the chefs (and often, Gaggan himself) would take guests through the menu, explain each dish, cook in full view of the diners, tell jokes and play rock music.

 

   By the end The Lab had become more famous than the main Gaggan restaurant itself. You could not reserve it. Gaggan looked at the bookings each day and decided who would get to eat in the Lab.

 

   Celebrities started off at an advantage. Ed Sheeran was there a few weeks before Gaggan closed. So did famous chefs who made the trek to pay homage to Gaggan. But, for the rest of us, it was totally random. Often, guests at The Lab had no idea why they had made the cut.

 

   The new restaurant, Gaggan Anand, has a Lab-like area called G’s Spot (the apostrophe is important) which seats 14 people. But while the Lab had two seatings, this has just one and Gaggan cooks and performs himself every night.

 

   I went for dinner to Gaggan Anand on Monday. It was the restaurant’s fourth day of service and things were still falling into place. I will write about Gaggan Anand more fully in Rude Food in ten days or so. But till then, here’s what I thought: in a series of bullet points.

 

The Look: The old Gaggan started out small and then grew in all directions. The Lab, for instance, was added years after the restaurant opened.

 

   The new place, however, has been designed as a showcase for Gaggan’s cuisine so there are no design mixups or second thoughts or later additions. This is a smart sleek, operation in a leafy house on a quiet street off Sukhumvit Road. G’s Spot is the heart of the operation; you see it right as you enter and the music from inside fills the night.

 

   Upstairs the tables, crockery and cutlery are what you would expect from a two Michelin star restaurant. All the design elements have been sourced from Bangkok architects, designers, decorators and artisans. Even the super smart uniforms are from a Bangkok fashion designer.

 

   The G’s Spot kitchen is state-of-the-art. Miele the kitchen equipment company has filled it out with devices that are not yet commercially available. There is, for instance, a long-wave oven, which can do things that no microwave oven can.

 

  "This menu has one or two nostalgic references to that phase but beyond that, there are no El Bulli-type techniques or foams or airs employed at all."

The Staff: No change there. It is the same Gaggan team and the service still ensures that the experience is a unique mixture of informality, warmth and efficiency. Gaggan’s right hand chef, Rydo Anton still handles the food and Vladimir Kojic is still the head sommelier.

 

The Food: It is very hard to explain the character of the new menu because it is the same food --- and yet it is not.

 

   This is, effectively, a smaller restaurant because they turn tables over less often. This makes it possible for the chefs to devote more time and attention to each dish and makes it easier for the kitchen to turn out dishes that the old Gaggan Kitchen could not have handled because of the pressure.

 

   There is also a fundamental difference in approach. When Gaggan started out, much was made of his time with the Adria brothers of El Bulli and he was called (but never called himself) a molecular chef. His most famous early dish, the yoghurt explosion was essentially a dahi sphere with chaat flavours using a technique developed originally by Albert Adria but tweaked by Gaggan so that it worked with dairy products.

 

   This menu has one or two nostalgic references to that phase but beyond that, there are no El Bulli-type techniques or foams or airs employed at all. The yoghurt explosion re-appears in a new form as a first course but it looks completely different and is now made without the spherification technology.

 

   One of the most famous mid-period Gaggan classics is Lick It Up. This consisted of a paste of some kind (the ingredients kept changing) spread thinly on a plate. The Kiss song Lick It Up would play and guests would be asked to lick it off the plate. The dish re-appears now as a small smear but the plate is full of multi-coloured Holi gulal made entirely from vegetables dyes. You can’t pick it up and lick it because the colours would slide off. So you are encouraged to lean down and lick the smear off the plate (though the phrase Lick It Up and the Kiss song have both been junked).

 

   Nearly everything else is new and much more ingredient focussed. A single bamboo shoot is covered with vindaloo style masala and served like a skewer. Monkfish liver is combined with duck and goose foie gras to create a new flavour. Gaggan’s re-invention of ghewar, the Rajasthani sweet has been widely copied. It turns up here now as a savoury dish, filled with porcini cream and topped with fresh black and white truffle.

 

   Indians love potatoes, Gaggan tells the diners at G’s Spot. But like the Thais (and unlike the West) we are not familiar with the distinction between waxy or starchy potatoes. He shows us the difference between both textures in a dish that recalls the Dum Aloo he ate while growing up in Calcutta.

 

   Sea urchin (the Japanese call it Uni) is unfamiliar in India. But it has always struck Gaggan as a fish that would work with Indian food. In one of the new menu’s show stoppers he pairs it with strips of baingan cooked bharta-style to create a masterly instant classic.

 

   There are many others innovations. Anand has begun to use more millets in his cooking. A kachori is made from ragi, for instance. Even the non-vegetarian dishes use new kinds of meal. A modern shahi korma is made from baby chicken (poussin) cooked for several hours in a new kind of oven. A rare lamb breed from Australia (“the wagyu of lamb”, he calls it) goes into a Laal Maas.

 

   All of it represent a new direction for Gaggan, one that is far more sophisticated and complex than anything he has done before.

 

Should you go: You bet! This is the world’s best Indian chef at the top of his game. I always knew that one day, somebody would open a better restaurant than the much lauded Gaggan.

 

   What I did not realise was that it would be Gaggan Anand himself.

 


 

Posted On: 06 Nov 2019 04:30 PM
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