An Emoji Evening at Gaggan

Gaggan Menu

The Emoji Menu at Gaggan

I used to watch Masterchef on TV and turn up my nose in disdain when looking at the food that was prepared. Tiny bite sized portions, surrounded by edible flowers and “negative space”.  What the hell is negative space? It’s an empty plate! I wouldn’t pay for that! When I go out for a meal I want a decent sized helping of food. I’m still growing!

But this all changed after I visited a restaurant in Ubud called Locavore and had an eight course degustation menu. The food and the experience blew my mind, and I actually wasn’t hungry afterwards. Eight courses ended up being over twenty once you added in the amuse bouche’s and various other tantalising morsels and after a two hour lunch I left the restaurant stuffed and with a very satisfied smile on my face. No more would I scoff at Master Chef! I had seen the light. In fact, I learned to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into conceptualising and then creating each dish. I loved the way too that dishes would look like one thing but taste of something completely different. It really is an art.

One day while watching Netflix, The Boss and I chanced upon a series called Chef’s Table. One of the episodes was about an Indian Chef, Gaggan Anand, who despite an underprivileged background became a world class Chef and created the eponymous restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok, now ranked number 7 amongst the Top 50 restaurants of the world ( 2017 ). His story was fascinating and inspirational.

Now, The Boss and I never go out to eat Indian food. We can eat it at home, cooking being one of The Boss’s innumerable talents. Most Indian restaurants turn out the same average homogenised dishes which bear very little relation to what one would get in an Indian home. Mainly slight variations on a few North Indian dishes and completely ignoring the incredible diversity that makes up real Indian cuisine.

However the documentary about Gaggan piqued our interest and we thought that maybe, one day, when we were in Bangkok and tired of eating Thai food, we might give his restaurant a try. But it wasn’t high on our list of priorities.

Then, in a masterstroke of marketing genius Gaggan announced he is closing the restaurant to pursue other ventures.

Boom! I went online and booked a table.

The earliest booking I could get was three months later but as time does, those three months passed surprisingly quickly. As the day neared, the excitement and anticipation grew although we sometimes questioned the extravagance of flying to another country just to have a meal. But we hadn’t been to Bangkok for a while and we saw it as a good excuse to take a break from Hong Kong for a few days.

On the day itself we were ready early, having read in online reviews that if you don’t arrive on time your reservation is cancelled. We didn’t know if this was true or not but we weren’t willing to take a chance especially with Bangkok’s notorious traffic. We opted for the BTS SkyTrain as the safest way to get there and then walked the 1km from the station to the restaurant arriving 15mins before our scheduled seating time. Gaggan is located in a converted and renovated old wooden house to the rear of an apartment building and we walked down the driveway from the main road to be greeted at the door by smiling staff who after checking our name led us into the crisp white interior. Surprisingly we weren’t the first to arrive, there were already other diners seated and waiting, and we were taken past them and up the stairs to the first floor all the while being greeted and welcomed by other staff members as we passed.

Once seated a waiter came over and introduced himself. He happened to be from Bombay so The Boss and he established which part of the big city each other was from and where they grew up. Formalities over, the conversation soon moved on to the single sheet of tracing paper that lay on the table in front of us.

“That Sir, Madam, is your menu”

The paper was blank apart from a single column of emojis running from the top to the bottom of the page.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yes Sir, it’s an emoji menu. You have to guess what each dish is using the emojis”

The Boss and I looked at each other and laughed. This looked like it was going to be a fun evening.

“All the food is finger food. You will have to use your hands for all, bar a couple of courses for which we will supply you with cutlery. But don’t get used to it!”

We both examined the menu more closely. Some of the emojis gave an obvious hint as to what the course contained, a prawn, an aubergine for example, but others were confusing. Fire, a cup of tea, a martini glass, a fire cracker.

While we were puzzling over the menu, another young man in a suit approached our table.

“Good evening I am your sommelier for the evening. Here is the wine list. Please take a look and I will be happy to answer any questions or make any recommendations”

The wine list was huge and I could have spent all evening finding something to drink so I asked for something white by the glass that would go with everything, hoping he wouldn’t bring me a glass of Lassi.

“I will be right back” he said, returning a few minutes later with a bottle of German white which he proceeded to open in front of me, all the while explaining it’s antecedents.  It sounded very impressive and I arranged my face into what I hoped was a suitably knowing expression, trying to give the impression that I understood what he was talking about. I nodded here and there at what I thought were suitable intervals and he poured some into a glass, pausing to allow me to taste it. I took a sip and thought to myself “does anyone ever tell the sommelier that the wine he chose is terrible? What happens if I don’t like it? He just opened a fresh bottle in front of me. Will I still have to pay for it?”

Instead I went for the easy answer, “excellent choice! delicious, Thank you.”

The Boss had other thoughts on her mind. “Are you French?” she asked.

“Yes I am.”

“But you don’t have a French accent.”

“I can do one if you prefer” he replied with a grin.

The Boss wasn’t about to let him off that easily. “Why not?”

“I was brought up in Scotland, lived in Denmark and spent a year touring around India on an Enfield motorbike.”

“Oh really! That’s interesting. What was your favourite part of India?”

“Galouti kebabs in Lucknow.”

We all laughed.

“That wasn’t the answer I expected” admitted The Boss.

“Well, it was my favourite part of India. I consider Awadhi Cuisine to be the most developed and complex cuisine in the country. I love it” and with that he was off to the next table with the rest of the bottle.

The first course promptly arrived, a tiny but beautiful bite sized morsel. The waiter explained what it was and how it matched the first of 25 emojis on the menu.

I don’t want to give anything away and ruin the experience for any readers who decide to visit the restaurant so I wont describe the food in detail. I also don’t want to sound like a pompous food critic and talk about complexity of flavours and textures etc but suffice it to say each dish was a piece of art and an incredible explosion of flavours in the mouth.

Every dish was completely different and we were both amazed as to how Gaggan had thought of them. He has to be some kind of genius. To come up with one of the dishes is clever enough but to think of 25 courses is beyond comprehension.

I will be the first to admit that The Boss and I had an unfair advantage over many of the other diners having lived for a considerable amount of time in India and being able to recognise certain flavours in a dish that bore little or no resemblance to the traditional original dish, but even so, the flavours and combinations were such that anyone would be amazed by the meal.

As each dish arrived we tried to guess what it was from the corresponding emoji on the menu. Sometimes the waiter would tell us, sometimes he would give a hint, and sometimes we would have to guess while he walked away with a grin on his face.

Each dish seemed to build on the anticipation of the next, as they were all so different and incredible it was hard to imagine how he could better it.

The dishes were tiny though, often consumable in one mouthful. The Boss wondered if she would need to go for another meal afterwards as she was convinced she would still be hungry.

After one particularly tasty mutton dish, the Thai waiter asked us how it was. “Delicious” came our unanimous reply.

He grinned and said “If it was bigger it would be perfect.”

We agreed but by the time we had finished the tenth course The Boss admitted she was getting full.

Adding to the enjoyment of the evening was the interaction with the staff. Their service was exceptional and the repartee between them and the guests very amusing. They obviously enjoy their jobs.

After a poultry dish one of the waiters asked us “Did you know what that bird was? No? It was penguin.”

Some of the dishes were prepared at the table by one of the Chefs and this added to the whole theatre like experience.

It wasn’t just us that were enjoying it. The oohs and ahh from the other tables and the facial expressions on our fellow diners indicated that everyone was having a similar experience.

The meal was extra special for me as it was like a journey around India, each dish reminding me of something I had eaten, somewhere I had been, sometimes the flavours very familiar, but sometimes hard to identify because the visual aspect of the dish in front of me didn’t match the picture created in my head by the flavour.

It was a wonderful experience, not just a meal but a form of theatre and if you are planning a trip to Bangkok in the future I highly recommend that you make a booking as soon as possible before Gaggan closes down. You wont regret it!

I am looking forward to his new venture in Japan.

Reservations for Gaggan can be made online at

www.eatatgaggan.com

or by phone:

Ph. (662) 652 1700

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