Eating Abroad Featured Thailand

Gaggan, Bangkok

July 20, 2017

“Come for the experience, not the hype”. That’s what Gaggan suggests his guests do when they dine at his eponymous restaurant in Bangkok. Seemingly sound advice, a reasonable request even, but my problem was that regardless of whether I came for one or the other, neither stacked up. The hype is unavoidable. Even if you don’t have a Netflix account and an unhealthy obsession with current food culture, the chances are you’ve still at least heard of the runaway hit Chef’s Table. For the viewers, it’s an insight into the lives and inner workings of some extraordinary culinary minds, and for the chefs themselves, I imagine it’s ticket to celebrity chef stardom and a guaranteed full house for the next few years.

If Chef’s Table lured me in, it was the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards who sealed the deal when they awarded Gaggan the top spot for the third year running. Upon reading that, I decided on a whim to make a booking; with only a couple of weeks until our Bangkok visit, I wasn’t holding out much hope but imagine my elation when they confirmed our table for two. So yeah, I fell for the hype; hook, line and inspirational-sob-story sinker, but after embarking on this twenty-something course journey at Gaggan, I was disappointed to say that I did not fall head over heels for the experience.

To guide us, we were presented with a menu consisting completely of emojis; our only hints as to what we would be consuming were a series of lone pictorial symbols… was this quirky, cleverly relevant, or just plain stupid? At this point, we weren’t sure but gave it the benefit of the doubt and chalked it down to being part of the experience. So too was the lightning speed at which the first couple of snacks arrived at the table; the quick succession of the lemon, explosion, and wheat emoji dishes, all seemed to be mouthfuls designed to perhaps throw us off guard and straight into the Gaggan journey. The first came in the form of a citrus cola drink, the second was a play on El Bulli’s liquid olives as a nod to Gaggan’s short stint there, and the third was a curious looking and tasting cracker.

They were perfectly good snacks, and we always like starting a meal with amuse bouches as they serve a purpose, they set a scene. But then the next few dishes felt suspiciously like amuse bouches too and we started veering into rocky territory with Gaggan. An eggplant biscuit, a chocolate chilli bonbon, a green pea and mushroom roll were all well executed, some more delightful than others, but were mere mouthfuls again. With twenty-five items on the tasting menu, we certainly weren’t mad enough to expect all of them to be full dishes, but we also weren’t expecting to feel like we were chowing down on a steady stream of elaborate canapés at a very long party.

But as we ploughed on at this party for two, we did find several gems along the way. We could have demolished several of the Chettinad quail legs, and done with a whole plateful of the fiery pork vindaloo cubes or the moreish mini akami tartare tacos for that matter. Though they were three of the most restrained dishes, they were also three of the best examples of powerful spicing or knowledge of flavours. A chu toro nigiri, where the rice was replaced by a meringue, was simply sensational, and dare I say, maybe one of the few truly original dishes on this menu. It made us wonder if we were just a little oversubscribed to fine dining culture because despite everyone banging on about how groundbreaking Gaggan is, we weren’t reduced to wide-eyed awe at any time… There’s no denying that Gaggan is laden with a well-stocked armoury when it comes to gastronomic technique but we didn’t feel they were quite hitting the ambitious targets we had hoped.

We were told from the outset that this menu represents the chef’s culinary journey and influences. That’s all music to my ears because my love of an inspirational story is partly what got me here in the first place, but I also love a story that hangs together. By the end of Gaggan’s story, I felt like I had traipsed round the world and back again, and was still none the wiser about where I’d been. I love seeing chefs draw inspiration from different countries or even different chefs, and truly believe that the creative fusion of flavours can be genius, but it only works when the chef is confident in their own signature style. Without this, it feels like a chef is trying to emulate those he admires, instead of being influenced by them. Many will disagree with me but I felt like this menu was more about showing off everything, instead of being brave enough to only show off its best.

The service, another key part of the experience, was also a bit confused. It wavered between overly assured and patronising when dishes were being presented to us, to excessively contrite to the point of being awkward, when some basic but vital mistakes were made. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it all felt… insincere… and as a result, I never fully felt at ease or particularly connected to this meal. I really wanted to love Gaggan, but it didn’t make my heart, mind or stomach flutter. I wanted to marvel in the journey and leave nodding my head in agreement with whoever judges the Asia’s Best Restaurant Awards, satisfied that they made the right choice in putting Gaggan at the top. Instead, I left deflated by both the hype and the experience, and paid around twenty times the price of a local Thai meal for that pleasure!

 


Have you been to Gaggan, did you love it?

Have you dined at any other restaurants featured on Chef’s Table or the World’s Best 50 Restaurant list?


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  • This would be frustrating!

    • It was very irksome – I was really looking forward to it and really wanted to fall in love with whole experience but alas, it was not to be!

  • Charlie Elliott

    As soon as I saw this post come up in my feed, I clicked immediately. This place is HIGH on my to-eat list so this is fascinating and also super frustrating. I find fine dining a weird experience because I love indulgence and I never really get that from these sorts of meals. I’m planning on going to Chicago next year and have Alinea on my list of places to eat, but at £300 a pop, I’m certainly nervous that it won’t live up to the hype!
    Cx
    charliedistracted.com

    • Of course I would encourage you, Nano and others to still go if they really want to because everyone’s experience is always going to be different – I just thought it was really important to show a different opinion! I’m probably in the minority, but our experience just didn’t cut it – even taking the hype aside, we’ve had so many high end, highly creative and exciting meals that this doesn’t even make the top 20!
      I’d love to go to Alinea too – it’s such an iconic restaurant when it comes to true creative gastronomy that I want to go see for myself if it’s really that amazing!

  • Connie, what a shame that the meal didn’t quite live up to the hype, especially when it comes with a steep price tag. Like Charlie, Gaggan is on my bucket list as well, and actually someone who’s already dined there told me couple of days ago that it’s a must-do. Honestly, I’ve been disappointed by a few of restaurants that made it to World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and have had fantastic dinners at places that do not get as much exposure. This is especially true of restaurants here in Japan. At the end of the day though, it’s all about experience, good or bad, and you’ll have a story to tell for years to come.

    • I’m so pleased you have had both good and not so good feedback about it because it really does always come down to personal taste, doesn’t it?! The frustration, and I hope I portrayed this, was that the food was actually fine – my main issue was that ‘fine’ is not good enough and it was not a coherent meal… we’re done some ridiculously long tasting menus but there’s always a wonderful rise and fall to the experience which makes it feel whole.
      If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go try it for yourself soon as I know they are closing the Bangkok restaurant and opening somewhere else…

  • A roller-coaster it was! The episode was so interesting and inspiring that I was thrilled to have got a reservation at such last minute (even our hotel butler was surprised!) but in the end, it just didn’t deliver for me! I know others have loved it so each to their own!

  • Lesley Pittaway

    Oh, shame! Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the experience. It is on my list!! I have dined at a few places on the World’s 50 Best…Eleven Madison Park and Central truly blew me away.

    • Get there soon – I’m pretty sure they’re closing the Bangkok restaurant soon! I would absolutely love to dine at Eleven Madison Park – everything I’ve ever seen or heard about it makes it seem simply exquisite!

  • I feel exactly the same about Gaggan and I think I wrote the same blog title lol 🙂 – I also went to Nahm while I was in Bangkok (haven’t got round to writing the review yet). I enjoyed it but it didn’t bowl me over by any means. It just felt like just another nice restaurant

    • So interesting to hear that Maggie – I did wonder if we were just a bit spoilt with all the fine dining we’ve been lucky enough to engage in… and perhaps that’s why nothing felt particularly groundbreaking!

  • I tried to book Gaggan for Bangkok but they were fully booked so went to go Nahm instead! It’s such a shame you didn’t enjoy this, and I feel like I get what you’re saying when service sometimes feels insincere. See we had a themed dinner at Moments in Barcelona and though it doesn’t have the same accolade as Gaggan, I felt that service was so spectacular and made us enjoy the meal all through out!

    • The insincerity makes it hard to connect to a meal I think – so much of my experience is tied up in the culture/history/chefs behind the dishes or cuisines that if it doesn’t seem real or natural, I don’t feel as excited by it! Moments looks spectacular!

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