Gaggan - My Most Expensive Meal Yet
Gaggan-ized for our dining pleasure.
So I'm assuming you've read the first post here.
Also I'm assuming you're searching for the answer to how Gaggan became my most expensive meal to date. Before I dive right in, let me clarify a few things. By a long shot, I'm definitely not one of those stylish gourmands who can travel to the ends of the earth at the snap of their fingers. Although I wish I could in one of those super-luxe suites in the air! My cash is also a limited resource, and as you might notice dining out has become increasingly pricey, let alone in € £ kr ¥ $, Yes, I pay for ALL of my meals and do not ask for any sponsorship pertaining to this website. Some nice folks do reach out to me now and again to offer a meal on the house. These invitations are accepted sparingly, but will not find its way on this blog. Because if you've met me, you'd know how strong a believer I am in the complete dining experience which includes the booking process. At Gaggan, it's usually ridiculous as they could never ever get a reservation date or time and/or even number of guests correct. The confirmation emails (any email) can take up to a week which is like a century of waiting. (Gaggan booked this particular meal for me.) And paying for the meal from your own pocket, won't you say, makes or breaks the whole experience?
But having said all of that, I LOVE planning REAL foodie trips. We (my husband and myself) pick our wish list restaurants then book them before securing our flights. There is no special occasion to celebrate, or any specific reward for hitting a milestone at work or need for a stress reliever for an awfully tough period. This is my life. Though small and inconsequential, I squirrel funds for eats to live for, and just breathe.
Some of the places I've had the privilege to dine at are Eleven Madison Park in New York (before the major overhaul), Zén in Singapore, Sushi Saito in Tokyo, The White Rabbit in Moscow, Sepia in Sydney, and the list goes on.
So, back to the question at hand. How much did I spend this time?
+ Late-buy return air ticket on a budget airline, $456.74
+ Overnight stay at a reasonably-priced international hotel chain, $159.50
+ Chef's table degustation dinner with one non-alcoholic drink (ginger beer), $451.11
= $1,067.35 Singapore dollars
This cost did not include land transport, travel insurance, wi-fi router and other incidentals.
✋ Wait. If you're thinking right now, travel and accommodation expenses cannot count toward the meal's check, well. What if I told you that the only reason I flew to Bangkok was to partake of a meal at the invitation of the chef? I flew in the day of the dinner, and turned around in 32 hours. In fact if it wasn't for this dinner, I would not have considered Bangkok for the weekend at all. And this is how I racked up the numbers for this one dinner.
Is your next question, was it worth every penny? Read on to find out.
Here's how the rest of the meal looked like.
🍄 This looked like a huge truffle rock cunningly displayed on rice grains in a woven basket. In fact, Gaggan suggested, "Please when you photoshop it, make it look bigger...for your friends, not for you." Are you jelly yet? It's the "biggest truffle", mushroom-stuffed dim sum that I mistook for a meteorite. How did this fit into progressive Indian cuisine? I guess if there's a will, there's always the Gaggan way 🤷♀️
🍅 It's no secret that the man behind his eponymous restaurant (reportedly 25% shareholder) is in love with Japan and its outstanding produce. He's flown over to the land of the rising sun over 80 times in the past 4-5 years. So it's no surprise to see familiar nihon produce which are staples at sushi-ya's at the modern gastronomy slash fine dining Indian restaurant. Have you ever been presented sushi as part of an Indian menu?
What immediately struck as unusual here was the "wrap' of carrots, described as doily, all round the scrumptious morsel. Then there's the absence of shari. In its place was tomato ice-cream, topped with ikura which the bold chef referred to as "sea tomatoes" (salmon eggs). The presentation of "tomato sundae" on mother-of-pearl shell was perfect as a summer treat.
🌽 Corn dog. Or is it? At Gaggan, they made it snazzy with foie gras ice-cream, mango and yuzu inside the crispy, fried cornmeal coating. The thick meaty ribbon is that of katsuoboshi (dried and smoked tuna). This is a major departure from the traditional corn dog which I would travel for miles to have when I was living in the US. The hot, piping sausage on a stick sealed in a protective layer of deep-fried cornmeal batter. Biting into all that fat was exhilarating.
This one though not so much.
🍊 Smoked eel and Indian assam tea prop the lid of this edible orange candy seashell. I ate it like a mini sandwich.
🤤 The monaka or crispy rice wafers made in-house appeared in the 25-course menu as a savory called "onion & uni orgasm". In traditional Japanese menu's, the monaka is presented as wagashi to be enjoyed with hot green tea at the end of the meal, or as mid-afternoon snack. Here, it was filled with onion ice-cream made and frozen on the same day at 4.30pm (my dinner was at 9pm), then thawed for ten minutes before serving. The onions come from Awaji Island, Japan which is apparently famous for the sweeter and much less astringent variety. Do they still make one cry though?
I remember the first time I ever had savory ice-cream was at a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant in Hong Kong in the nineties. It was such a rebellious thing to have and I felt so cool licking up all that trumpet mushroom ice-cream 🤣
Topped on the icy offering were the plump and bright orange bafun uni also from Japan. I'll admit I'm a purist when it comes to uni. They don't need any embellishments. And temperature is of utmost importance when savoring these expensive gonads.
🍣 I guess Kyushu-mae sushi has a place in an ultra-modern Indian restaurant afterall? Made famous by Tenzushi in Fukuoka, this type of sushi uses salt and sudachi (or citrus) only. Leaving out shoyu or soy sauce, flavors are layered on one sushi via different ingredients and even grilling or roasting the produce. Here, regular akami (tuna) from Nagasaki is torched on a ball of rice and seaweed cracker.
It was at this point where I think the menu became quite estranged from the advertized cuisine.
🌱 Gaggan is a tea fanatic, we were told. Hence, mushroom tea layered with fresh and dried mushrooms for complexity and depth was poured onto hojicha chawanmushi with mustard and puffed grains. Mustard-y horseradish notes were lent by chewing on microgreens - the heart-shaped micro arugula.
🦐 It was past 11pm *yawn* The heavier and meatier dishes started piling up from this point. Here was Gaggan's riff on prawn balchão. It's a Goan cooking technique which involves "almost-pickling" seafood and lots of fiery spicy-ness in curry. However this prawn was not pickled but infused with smokiness. Chili and tomato powder stained the plate orange right next to the river prawn. Boy, did it burn!
🍜 Another winning Goan recipe is the Portuguese-influenced vindaloo. South Indian-style rice noodles or idiyappam were dunked into this pickled pork base. Spices were added to make the gravy more aromatic. Then masala was added before cashew milk, potatoes and water cress joined the mix. As you can see, the presentation in a mini claypot dressed in pretty flowers and greens didn't let on to the stiff noodles submerged in what can be mistaken for curry. The stringers kept breaking up into unappetizing bits when lightly lifted with chopsticks. I couldn't eat this even though I tried really hard to.
💨 Tastes like fart? Well, that's what someone likened this lamb dish to many years ago. I know many people give me a scrunched up face when "lamb" is mentioned. Sometimes it's because diners have a false expectation of how lamb should taste, sometimes the cut of the lamb is too fatty, and other times, the gamey meat can be cooked to bring the worst out of it.
This free range lamb chop however was OUT OF THIS WORLD. The balance of meat to fat, the housemade spice rub and the "smoky-ness" level were 100% outstanding. The rather big piece on the bone was first sous vide, then grilled, and then smoked. Yuzu and coriander oil were applied on it. I tore into this "drumstick" caveman-style.
A restaurant concept selling just these lamb chops would do very well, don't you think?
🦀 A childhood dish for Gaggan is fried crabs in butter, garlic, chili and pepper. So a reinterpreted memory was served. Keeping the original flavor notes intact, steamed crab was cooked in dashi made with crab shells, and infused with black pepper, white asparagus and garlic.
I hardly remember this dish, but then again the lamb chop completed me.
🔥 *CLICK RIGHT ON PHOTO*. The last savory dish punctuated this meal in a traditional Asian way - rice. (Read more about this here.) Macher paturi or Bengali "fish leaf" preyed on big red-eyed snapper or kinmeidai from Japan. The steamed fish fillet and raw mango curry were wrapped up in banana leaf with long-grained rice. Then the room went dark, and the light show began. Right before our eyes, the chefs in the kitchen were torching our food while the music blared on. I would show this to you except I accidentally deleted the video 😬
I was also extremely full and couldn't eat anymore. But I took a few digs at this anyway.
The last segment of this meal is coming up in the next blog post.
Are you one of the many that got to dine at Gaggan before it prematurely shuttered? Please share your best dishes with me!