Updated: Sep 1, 2019
The name we'd love to hate right now.
It was a hectic week or two, I can't quite remember. World's 50 Best Restaurants took place right here in Singapore in June, and I agreed to undertake a reporting task (mostly on social media) for a foreign online publication. I wasn't expecting to rent a professional grade camera, lens, lights, and even an amateur camera guy. I also hadn't slept, juggling my demanding day job schedule and these evening events. Oh, did I mention I was about to move in a week? My whole life and kitties were about to uproot to a totally new neighborhood, and my husband was freaking out about all the unpacked boxes. I thought I smelt smoke, probably from my overused brain being fried.
Then fast-forward to the day after the results ceremony. A scheduled interview with Alain Passard was confirmed for that morning and I was freaking out...on the inside. Wrestling with my heavy trolley bag, I received a message from Gaggan. He extended an invitation to his namesake restaurant, "Tonight lol". Pulling all my camera equipment on wheels in one hand, and carrying another handbag over my arm while thumb-typing in lightning speed, I said no to that day, and yes to flying over that weekend.
Little did I know it was my last supper at Gaggan. And my most expensive meal yet. Why? Read on and it'll be revealed to you.
But one woman's callous spending can be another man's social media gain. Check out what I had for dinner at the now-shuttered Gaggan. It's a summer feast for the eyes. Out of the 25 emoji-led menu, 22 were intended to be eaten by hand.
"We will give you this advantage of food from here to here (chef's table) - two meters distance created so that you get the best of us. We need you to take photo's and video's because we love fame. Every hashtag that you tag me on, I get more likes. It's incredible."
But first, house rules as laid out by Gaggan himself :
1. You cannot have sex.
2. You cannot smoke, or take a smoking break.
3. No talking when we talk, and try not to do anything else but listen.
4. Try to be in your own zones.
👽 A granita drink of the seasonal fruits of Thailand including lychee, and carbonated lemon-ginger-mint infusion. "Summer pitcher" was best ingested through the bamboo straw.
💥 *Perennial favorite* Yoghurt and chai masala had always been on the menu since the opening for nine years. It's always wise to have the "yoghurt explosion" all in one bite. I'm pretty sure we'll see this resurface wherever Gaggan is next.
👅 Pretend you're at Gaggan and lick the image below with SOUND ON. Don't underestimate this plate. It has been carefully calibrated to jolt the senses of the licker from bottom up. I've licked the plate three times and everytime the design changes but the main elements stay the same - mushroom purée, green pea purée and chilli oil. I'm a chili fan so the spicier the better!
This dish was the ice-breaker for me. In which fine dining restaurant does one ever get to lose the cutlery and eat with our hands, literally lick the plate clean with KISS's Lick It Up blared loudly in the background, and laugh throughout the process with strangers to our left and right? According to Gaggan, 20,000 tourists make this gastronomic pilgrimage annually. We might as well have fun while we're at it.
🥚 "Panipuri". This challenging two-parter was inspired by the thin and crisp orb usually filled with flavored water, chili, potatoes or chickpeas. This quail-sized seaweed-shelled egg was injected with a refreshing mix of lime juice, coriander and spices. The shape of it evolved to a smaller and more pointed one since Easter, and sat on a potato nest. It took more than two hands to fit everything into my mouth at the same time. Because of the liquid center, there was no way to bite into it like a lady. I think the textures combined would take awhile for me to get used to.
❄️ Khandvi snow. This is a frozen bite of lentils, a common protein in India. It looked like tofu but the slight grainy-ness in texture did give away its true source. The tiny bursts from the pomelo pulp offered well-intended acidity. Also eaten in one mouthful, this was easy to chew.
🍪 Green peas kachori. The answer to most things in life apparently is milk (and fat). This was not an easy one to make. It was by no means a traditional cookie to me. I did try this a week before at World's 50 Best Talks where Gaggan demonstrated and talked through the recipe and gave everyone in the audience two different types to try. The "cookie" crust may look brittle but it was a sturdy one, not dense but ghee-fully oily. And that caught up with me after a while. The sweet and creamy green peas on top with shoots gave a stunning visual and much-needed touch of vegetal bitterness.
🌾 Inspired by that scene in Slumdog Millionaire (did you see a familiar chef in there?), this is the slumdog sandwich. Also known as bombay bhel sandwich, it was shrunk to a handheld bite-sized snack. Originally an Indian street food, the actual sandwich is your regular white bread spread with butter, grated mozzarella cheese, potatoes, tomatoes and a sprinkling of chaat masala (spice mix) that may be mistaken for brown pepper. The top of the bread is also spread with more butter before it's grilled/toasted. You wouldn't be able to recognize the original street food from this one. That's because it was Gaggan-ized - puffed rice sandwich, tamarind and asparagus powder.
🥔 Charcoal aloo bonda looked like a charcoal potato that was stuffed with piping hot onion curry in a tempura shell. BEST THING EVER. I am a curry fiend and this rocked my multi-sensory world like very few ever did. ENCORÉ.
🧠 Mind-F*%$'ed. Blindfolded and hand stretched out, I had BRAINS. Guess which animal? Beforehand, we were advised to give our cell phone to the server if we wanted to document this experience. Scroll down to watch the video!
So how did those brains taste like? And did I get smarter? Mushy, and not a chance.
"Let's go back to how we eat." Listen to what Gaggan had to say about this whole exercise. Do you think the founder and executive chef of four-time winner of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants and two Michelin stars was taking back "fine dining" and redefining it as his own? Like how he Gaggan-ized Indian food and called it progressive?
What do you think of Gaggan so far? The man or restaurant, you ask. Well, both. Email or message me on Jillyeats' facebook page and @jillyeats on instagram. Load me with your pics too and I hope to share all of your experiences, good and not so great, with everyone.
Stay tuned for the next part of this phenomenal meal very soon!
In the meantime, I leave you with this :
"Don't need to wait for an invitation You gotta live like you're on vacation There's something sweet you can't buy with money lick it up, lick it up It's all you need, so believe me honey It ain't a crime to be good to yourself
Lick it up, lick it up, ooh yeah it's only right now Lick it up, lick it up, ooh yeah Lick it up, lick it up, ooh yeah, come on, come on Lick it…"