Quarantine during the coronavirus crisis has made most travellers long for the return to favorite places. For me, I’d love to return to Bangkok, Thailand and try Gaggan’s new restaurant. Here is a revisit of my experience at the two Michelin-starred, top restaurant in Asia.
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Getting A Reservation
In a previous post, I outlined the tremendous difficulty in securing a reservation due to my own lack of foresight. For those interested, I’d recommend reaching out at least six weeks prior to the desired day or being very flexible. As the restaurant’s closure nears, patrons would be advised to reach out with as much notice as possible.
Address: 68/1 Phloen Chit Rd, Khwaeng Lumphini, Khet Pathum Wan, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand
Phone: +66 2 652 1700
The staff also encourage finding a way to stand out, I’d suggest Instagram as a possible connection as it is more personal and responses more immediate.
The address took our taxi driver to the street outside the restaurant. It’s tucked back on an alleyway. The white building filled with glass atriums greeted us and reminded me of something between old Bangkok (you can still find houses like that around the city dotted beneath the shadow of skyscrapers) and countryside England.
As we checked in, Chef Gaggan was at the host stand and milling around with guests and staff before disappearing. He was affable and approachable, and we should have asked him for a photo. We thought we would see him again that evening but we did not and regret not asking for a quick photo.
We were taken to our table, a four-top between the patisserie atrium and underneath a mezzanine level where larger parties were dining. Though the seatings are timed (we had a 9:30 pm slot), the tables around us ate their meals asynchronously giving us clues to the next course.
The menu presented is a vertical line of 25 emojis, some a play on words for the course, others indicative of the experience. The second course, for example, was an emoji of an explosion and the dish was a chilled thin membrane akin to an egg yolk that burst once in your mouth. Our favorite listing was the “lemon” course in which we were served a lollipop of lamb. Our server loved quipping that this course is the “lamb one” and pointing to the lemon. It was clear that the menu was as much as a creative guide as Gaggan and his team playing with the guests.
We were quietly dreading one aspect of the experience. Our daughter, who can only be described as a trooper, was looking forward to the fancy part of the night, getting dressed up, being generally decadent. But her five-year-old palette simply wouldn’t have enjoyed the meal. She has always abided by our “we try everything” policy whereby, as a family, we will try any food presented to us even if we are fairly certain that we won’t like it. We don’t have to finish it, but we have to at least try it once. As a result, her favorite food in the world is not chicken fingers or pizza but xiao long bao (soup dumplings.)
Concierge staff at the Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit secured the reservation for three people. Our daughter is, of course, a person, though we were hoping she’d be able to just eat off of our plates. The dinner consists of 25 courses, some just one bite, some many bites, and we could have made that work. The price, however, is rather high ($220 before service and tip per person) and paying for a cover when we knew it wouldn’t have been our daughter’s cup of tea, gave me indigestion.
Without batting an eye, Lucy was offered pasta (cream or tomato sauce) or the menu. She chose a tomato sauce pasta but they still brought a portion for her to enjoy the first few courses and the desserts. We were terribly relieved and the pasta was as one might have expected, excellent.
Much of the meal was eaten with our hands only, wet towels brought at intervals throughout the service. Where appropriate, a musical accompaniment would join the course. Gaggan, a rock and roll enthusiast, combined the menu with his musical preferences, playful nature with the emojis, and humorous play on words. Some courses would be served with a portable speaker and iPod Nano on the table, such as Lick it Up by KISS for a course by the same name where guests lick sauce from a plate beautifully decorated.
Due to the complexity of the dishes, my inability to deliver an accurate culinary description and the desire to publish a post under 45,000 words, I will simply include the images of the course with our best guess as to the order in which they were presented.
My personal favorite dishes were the lamb and prawn courses. The meat was high quality, perfectly seasoned and these were some of the only dishes that could be considered a main course (by design.) The dessert courses also stood out as particular favorites and I was surprised by how much I liked #5 an Indian rice breakfast dish, #6 a take on a grilled ham and cheese, and #10 a warmed, smoked cheese-filled dumpling.
Carly’s favorite dish was the charcoal dish. She also enjoyed the cheese ball and particularly the final dessert, a crunchy, frozen, sweet bite that also blew smoke when you ate it, accompanied with edible rainbow splatters and sounds by Money from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon epic album. The course was beautiful, tasty, fun and, as the bill comes next, rather funny and lighthearted.
The food was great. There were really interesting dishes, it was well-executed, a cool concept without a doubt. But the service – wow! Everyone that works in that restaurant will get to call their shot when the restaurant closes the doors forever in the middle of 2020 and not just get a job anywhere but be the absolute shining stars at their new gig. A clever, high-powered chef should take over the building when Gaggan leaves and retain every one of the staff members.
The service is highly coordinated, difficult to execute and requires a working knowledge of the gastronomy involved coupled with the cleverness with which it was meant to be delivered. The staff truly cared about their job, they seemed like band members that were all over the moon to be able to play together every night which makes it more enjoyable for the guest.
One of the manager’s spent a lot of time at our table. In addition to being personable, removing dirty dishes and making small chat, he saw that our five-year-old daughter was fading fast. She snuggled up next to a cushion on her chair and made a little bed for herself. He took it to the next step, gathering another chair, a few pillows, and a shawl to use as a blanket.
We loved the experience of Gaggan as much as we enjoyed the food. The thrill of getting the (nearly) impossible reservation, the relief as Lucy was able to participate in a limited fashion but was also graciously accommodated, the food, the music, the humor, and the service – it was worth every bit of the price we paid.
I highly recommend a visit if you have the time, the magic concierge (or forethought) and the means.
Have you eaten at Gaggan? How was your experience? Where do you long to return?