Having eaten in the San Pellegrino List’s former best US restaurant, Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago, I was enthusiastic to try El Bulli trained Gaggan Anand’s “progressive Indian cuisine”.
My friend was told the place was fully booked for weeks but a mixture of Twitter (@sifrew), and Amanda Hymdman’s office at the Mandarin Oriental, secured us one of the difficult to obtain bookings. I am told Gaggan means “sky” in Hindi and the Thai Royal Family frequent the restaurant.
I was surprised to find the restaurant housed in an old colonial style white wooden building down a side street but the whole place has charm.
We started with cutting-edge cocktails and opted for 15 courses, rather than 23. The first few courses came in groups of three and so it was not as daunting as it first sounded. We were mainly served by French staff who were very helpful at explaining dishes. Dehydration, liquid nitrogen, foam, sous vide, edible silver and smoking with spiced sandalwood chips play big parts but the meal was not as extreme as the Alinea version of molecular gastronomy and regional Indian spices underpin most of the dishes.
Dinner was a fun game of guessing what you were eating and drinking. Some dishes worked but some less so. I am still unsure what the “Indian lemonade” in thin tubes consisted of but it looked pretty. We were given soup spoons holding white jelly like spheres (“yogurt explosions”) which flooded your mouth with fresh tanginess which was sweet, sour & salty all at the same time; small white chocolate spheres filled with spiced liquid & sealed with edible silver; spiced nuts and Wasabi peas in edible ‘plastic’ bags; log shaped “magic mushrooms” (inspired by the name of a shop in Amsterdam) made from morels with truffles; papadams made from crunchy tapioca pearls; a “Charcoal” surprise which came in a mini dome of smoke and consisted of dehydrated vegetables with a spiced sea bass paste which was baked; a sandwich of foie gras mousse on an onion water ‘baguette’; fresh water sea bass sous vided in curry with Tamarind; chicken tikka masala etc.
My favourite dish was the Iberian pork sous vided with pickling spices and served with a vindaloo curry reduction.
Our meal ended with a succession of desserts included a Gaggan take on a Magnum ice cream with popping candy; carrot flowers with black carrot Indian ice cream made from Anand’s mum’s sweet carrot cake complete with carrot garden and dry ice; and a coconut & mango dish, with no sugar, where you broke open the shell.
It was a memorable evening because of the extraordinary food and my Old Salopian dinner companion explaining his family’s flight in a First Class Apartment on Etihad.
Overall 4 out of 5 ‘teddies’ - as not every dish worked.