Saturday, March 09, 2019

EzraEats: Gaggan's Emoji Menu (March 2019)

El-bulli in Spain is no more. The days have gone by since I first learnt about Ferran Adria's experimental kitchen in Spain from watching (the late) Anthony Bourdain's review of El-Bulli in 2011 on the No Reservations show on Astro (satellite TV).

I never dreamt of spending so much on one meal, but here I am, at the restaurant of one of Ferran Adria's proteges: Gaggan Anand. He's made a name of himself after moving to Bangkok from India in 2007. His restaurant, Gaggan, has been voted the best in Asia four years running (2015 - 2018).

I consider myself an amateur chef - I owned the original PolyScience Sousvide machine way before the consumer ones (like the Anova) became available. The type of person who makes his own brandied maraschino cherries. I also have a vacuum sealer and smoking gun for the the same purpose - elevating food to that next level.

Gaggan uses staples in any molecular gastronomists' arsenal - dehydrators, spherification, dry ice, freeze drying, flavoured foams, and emulsions. Presentation is artful, with a practical side of providing scent and aesthethics to each course. Some courses bordered on the whimsical and had a clear artistic prerogative.

It took a few emails and phone calls to reserve a space at one of Asia's hottest restaurants. With some luck - and arriving half an hour early - we got a seat at the Lab, the experimental kitchen where Gaggan devised many of his dishes. It has a square counter seating only 12 people, attached to a beautiful colonial bungalow. It had glass walls on all sides and a glass ceilings. A greenhouse in the 35C Thai weather (it's ok, there was a wall of four air conditioners on one side). This is where you want to have the Gaggan experience - there are nice speakers flanking the scene (music plays with each course), and the atmosphere is laid back and open.

25 courses, delivered over two hours, paired with 9 wines (well, one was a sake). Music to match. That is the Gaggan Experience. Four chefs worked continuously to deliver the 25 courses. Our sous-chef was a Singaporean lady, and alongside was a middle aged japanese chef, young french chef, and ?thai chef. Three waiters performed the required swaps of dishes and wine glasses for the 11 people seated around the lab. One guy was behind the bar just keeping up with the dishes. So yeah, I counted 8 people giving their full attention for the duration of the meal. A good amount of prepwork had also obviously occurred in the days leading up to the dinner.

Note: We did not know the names of any of the dishes until the very end where the menu was displayed to us. We only had a list of 25 emoji's during the course of the dinner.

Course 1: A Little Citrus

Berry meringue sandwich with orange sorbet. Served on a frozen stone slab with aromatics.
TL;DR - Refreshing. Interesting texture. Citrus macaroon.

Course 2: Yoghurt Explosion

Gaggan's take on spherification - Yoghurt with indian spices.
It tastes like yoghurt on biriyani rice...without the rice... just the flavour. The essence of it.
It is cold. It is unusual. I like yoghurt on biriyani rice. I dont like this. I like sweet lassi.
TL;DR - Fans of salty lassi will love this.

Course 3: What Did U Lick?

Tastes like three purees of chutneys. The western style of chutney that comes in a jar that you put on a sandwich. With a layer of green providing texture and crunch. Very whimsical dish.
TL;DR - Fun rendition of chutney. Cili sos + ketchup.

Course 4: Chilli Egg Nest

This is nothing like it seems.
The egg is made of white chocolate. It is wafer thin.
Inside is some kind of indian soup with a bit of spice.
It sits on a 'nest' of really delicate and light fried batter (muruku).
It explodes in your mouth with an unexpected symphony of flavours.

TL;DR - White chocolate goes well with kari and muruku!

Course 5: Idly Sambar Breakfast

Idli is a cheap as chips common man breakfast food in india. Sort of like a rice pancake.
This is the $13.50 AUD (~9.5USD) version of it.
The sambar is a light paste in the middle. The bottom is the idli. It's topped with some fragrant foam and a (?dehydrated) curry leaf that is coated with some crunchy thing that also tastes like indian spices. Unmistakably Idli, but with texture (crunchy) and fragrant.

TL;DR - Idli in it's lvl 80 final form.

Course 6: Bombay Bhel Sandwich

Light and breaks up in your mouth. Center is tamarind based. Top is asparagus powder.
I'll be honest - this dish didnt stand out and neither me nor Peggy could remember exactly how it tastes like. I vaguely remember it being a sour indian curry type dish.

TL;DR - Fancy rice puff sandwich.

Course 7: Egg Tart Ghewar

TL;DR - Creamy egg on top of a really crispy (vacuum dried?) spiced fluffy thing.

Course 8: Charcoal Pyaz Kachori

The charcoal infused flour/batter is just for show. It's a very light batter coating a dal paste. The creamy yellow filling tastes almost exactly like dal you have with your roti canai at the mamak stall.

Interlude: Map of India

So it is revealed the last five courses represent typical flavours from five different parts of India. The plates were custom made in Japan - because nobody in India wanted to make them.

Course 9: White Asparagus; No It's Cauliflower

Cold ?cauliflower soup. In a thin shell of white chocolate. Dry ice in the grill. Before serving, an aromatic broth is poured on to the dry ice - it smells like curry with a strong aniseed component to it. Eaten with the aroma from the dry ice. Its hard to describe the flavour, but it does taste indian. Strong points on theatrics. This dish exemplifies how smell is so important in the way we experience flavour. Eaten by itself it doesnt taste very Indian at all.

TL;DR - Cold curry like soup with an aniseed/clove nose.

Course 10: Cheese Porcini Pav

A delicate cheese filled bun. Something like a chinese custard bun, but filled with a few different cheeses instead. Burnt aromatics infuse this dish and take the experience to the next level.

TL;DR - The best damn cheesy buns I've ever tasted.

Course 11: Eggplant Pomegranate Sundae

The wrapper is some kind of dehydrated confection from ?green apples. Pomegranate topped with key lime. In the wrapper is a paste of roasted eggplant. Tastes amazing. Complex taste/nose. Key lime burst of flavour. Texture is remarkable as well, with a crunch followed by pops from the pomegranate and the smooth paste in the base.

TL;DR - Roasted Eggplant with a satisfying crunch.

Course 12: Puchka Liver Mulled Wine

A crispy shell. Red paste ?pate inside. Light, delicate, slightly vegetal/herbal from the greens.

TL;DR - Complex crunchy balls.

Course 13: Sea Urchin Hay Ice Cream

A generous serving of sea urchin, on top of a hollow roll of 'nori' (green apple confection). Inside the roll is a serve of hay flavoured ice cream (the hay that horses eat). The flavours and textures blend together very well. This was a special dish. Waste of good sea urchin though - i would have preferred it on sushi rice with nori.. That said, one doesnt usually taste uni with a crunch and ice cream.

TL;DR - An interesting take on uni.

Course 14: Otoro Sushi Tribute

Fatty tuna belly. A fingernail sized patch of freshly grated wasabi. Topped with yuzu zest. Atomized (read: spray bottle) yuzu juice for some acidity that perfectly cuts the fatty tuna. It's placed on a light crispy rice meringue that melts into nothingness in your mouth. A perfect balance of fat, citrus, spice (wasabi) and crunch.

TL;DR - Best fatty tuna i've ever tasted. Thanos would have been proud. Perfectly balanced.

Course 15: Winter Carrots Pepper Soup

What happens when an ang moh is told to name rasam?

I like rasam. I like this. Savoury and sour soup.
Unlike normal rasam which is light in texture, this is heavier - something has been pureed into the soup (winter carrots?)

TL;DR - It's basically a nice rasam. A nice 12 dollar serve of rasam.

Course 16: River Prawn Balchao

Big juicy tiger prawn. Perfectly cooked in a tandoor with indian spices. Coated with a creamy coconut sauce. The red stuff is not salt - the same creamy sauce was freeze vacuum dried and then pulverized into the powder. It's concentrated powdered version of the sauce.

TL;DR - Tandoori prawn perfectly cooked with nasi kerabu sauce.

Course 17: Scallops Cold Curry

Introduced to us as "Curry" - it's a western term unknown in india. This dish comprises only raw ingredients. It tastes like curry. It's cold. Marinated raw hokkaido scallops with creamed coconut, and spiced with chilli oil and curry leaf infused oil (the green stuff). You mix it up before eating it. It takes 7 minutes to plate each dish, but only a few seconds to eat. It's topped with Umibudou (sea grapes) that grow an hour away from the restaurant. The purple crisp is made from seaweed i think.

TL;DR - Possibly the most interesting take on scallop sashimi ever - raw curry.

Course 18: Tibetian Momo Vindaloo

A deconstructed savoury dumpling. In some kind of sourish pan jus or reduction. 10 points for presentation. Ultimately nothing special in terms of taste.

TL;DR - A pretty dumpling.

Course 19: Lamb Chop Lemon Chili

The best lamb cutlet I have ever tasted in my life. Period. I eat lab cutlets quite frequently as I live in Melbourne. This was truly next level stuff. It's as soft as the best wagyu steaks. It almost melts in the mouth. Perfectly crispy on the outside. Pink all the way through. Served with a emulsion that is also a bit sour which complements it beautifully. Emulsions coat the meat alot better than traditional mint sauce. I am certain the meat was cooked sous vide and finished in the broiler. Its not obvious in the photo, but the center has that pale color you get when you sous vide meat.

I've tried to make my own sous vide lamb cutlets. They dont come close. These are melt in your mouth amazing with a crunchy outer layer. Perfect spices. Perfect sauce.

Course 20: Sea Bass Bengali Paturi

Baked in a banana leaf. This dish came to us wrapped in cedarwood. It was burning when it arrived at the table. You eat this while breathing in the smoke from the embers of a thin shell of cedarwood. The bengali mustard sauce went well with the fish and cedarwood smoke.

TL;DR - White fish and mustard, with a hint of smoke.

Course 21: Grandmas Egg Spinach; My Death Star

The star wars theme played when this dish was brought out to us. Aged basmati rice served with a spinach curry topped with an egg yolk. Not bad. A bit gimmicky.

TL;DR - Decent curry. For those who need rice in their meal.

Course 22: This Rose Has No Thorns

Beauty and the beast. Obviously. The rose petals tasted the same for both the red and white versions. Mildly sweet. Nice cookie. Nothing special in terms of taste. 10 points for presentation.

TL;DR - Fancy cookie.

Course 23: Achu Murukku Strawberry Yoguri

You know that time you got bored during chinese new year and didnt know what to have for dessert so you took some new year biscuit and added ice cream and jam? Chinese new year biscuit with frozen yoghurt underneath and topped with strawberry jam. The biscuit is exactly like the CNY one, but without coconut and is more savory.

TL;DR - CNY biscuit with frozen yoghurt and strawberry jam.

Course 24: Yin and Yang Salt Pepper Popcorn

It's an ice cream cookie. The center is crushed savoury popcorn. It's covered in sesame ice cream and coated in sesame dust.

TL;DR - Popcorn with sesame ice cream.

Course 25: Dark Side of The Moon

Imagine a dry natural sea sponge that crumbles in your mouth with some chocolate taste. The colors are just colored syrup. Bland. Not very sweet. Doesnt really taste like anything. Lightly sweet and crumbly in texture. Served with much fanfare - lights were turned off, and everyone got the dish at the same time as the lights were turned on. Least exciting in terms of taste of all the 25 courses.

Cover to Dark Side of The Moon, by Pink Floyd.

TL;DR - Homage to Pink Floyd. I dont like Pink Floyd.

The Wine Pairing

AUD 210 for 9 glasses (roughly one for every three courses). I am not a wine person, but the Sommolier (An American guy Mr Otara) poured a good selection of diverse wines. This is not unreasonable, as each AUD 23 glass came with a running commentary and tasting notes. They were legitimately good wines.

My Girlfriend Peggy Notes:
- A french champagne that's nicer than regular Moet.
- A rose that was dry (not sweet) and unfined (read: cloudy).
- A weird wine made from unrefined grapes including skins/stems. Had a lambic beer nose, and tasted like a young scotch.
- A white with the old wine taste. Really good.
- A red with the old wine taste. Dont like that old red wine taste.
- A really fragrant Junmai sake that tastes better than most Junmai Daiginjo sakes.

The Kinky Bit
The THB6500 price is a lie. There's 17% tax on top of that. Also it's THB4000 for a wine pairing. Distinct pain felt in the wallet totalled AUD$902 (About THB 20k / USD 630) for two people with wine pairing for one person. 25 courses for two with 9 glasses of wine total. Sharing the wine pairing is not a bad idea, as you would be quite plastered after 9 glasses of wine.

TL;DR - Avoid using the safeword by sharing the wine pairing.

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