Innovative Indian cuisine served in Bangkok
Gaggan is a 2 Michelin starred Indian restaurant in Bangkok that shot to further fame by being nominated the 6th best restaurant in the world according to the Top 50 Pellegrino list, 2018. Regrettably, this was an all-time low restaurant experience for me on my visit and whilst there were some peak moments of food during this meal, I have detailed why this was such a poor experience overall at the expansion button (this is a lengthy review). All in, this 25-course tasting menu equated to £270 with two drinks which, for what was gained is just too much. Innovative Indian cuisine yes, but with spectacularly poor handling of the customer by the restaurant and a menu that only just squeezed into the ‘true’ 1 Michelin starred territory overall, I was astounded not only at how I felt after this meal, but moreover its nomination as 6th best restaurant in the world. I can never return.
My arrival first. My table was booked for 7:30pm and as it is a very popular restaurant, I was on best behaviour and arrived early at 7:15pm to cater for crowd-shuffling. I discovered there is no bar at Gaggan, Bangkok, with only a couple of tight areas for the lucky few to have a seat left and right of the entrance. Having been told there was no point in hanging around 15 minutes early, I was advised to go to a nearby reputable hotel bar around the corner which, as it ended up being a 6-minute walk away, gave three minutes at this bar factoring in return. Still, killed some time.
On return at just after half past, I was surprised to see a long queue of people, roughly 25m long waiting from the greeting lectern, all throughout the passageway to the very front entrance, extending to the open air and unbearable night heat of Bangkok. 10 minutes went by, I checked, still not ready, another 10 minutes went by and about this time I was getting pretty uncomfortable as were a number of others waiting. “This is bullshit” I actually heard from a crossed-armed lady of a couple, who was sweltering like myself, wishing her boyfriend to sort the equation out.
Finally, I was allowed to my seat, but I have to say that waiting stood up, in the humidity and heat for 25 minutes is an unacceptable start for any restaurant. What made it odd was to see the queue held up longer as the Head Chef was obliging selfies and chats with departing guests at the door, seemingly unaware that this was grating on the bemused guests waiting for entrance. I understand sometimes these things can happen if a service overruns but the telling part for me was that the restaurant response when I mentioned this (see the end conversation) was mainly on the lines of “Yes, I’m afraid this is what happens when you are so in demand”. I beg to differ. If you are not capable of providing the double service (for twice the profit it is primarily designed for) then you shouldn’t be doing it or, simply reduce the number of courses and improve on the delivery so that you can.
The menu at Gaggan, Bangkok is a non-negotiable (less allergies), 25-course canape-sized menu that is specifically designed to have no explanation other than emoji symbols. As the courses are given loose terms as they are served to you, I wanted to ask questions as usual as to what exactly each course was after each one. All’s not to worry, I was assured as I was going to be given explanations in writing at the end as to exactly what was in each, so I toned down the note-taking through the meal as a result. My second gripe with this experience is that this was not actually true as the menu I was given at the end had basically one word to explain each course – not a problem of course, but had I known or been told this properly, it would have shaped my quick chats with the waiting staff. Thus, I don’t think this restaurant actually wants you to know much about its methods or ingredients which seems to me to defeat the prime object of the meal when all said and done.
For the ‘Lick it up’ course, a chef de partie came to the table and gave a very disinterested explanation in barely understandable English – again, not a problem with any language barrier, but virtually dismissing any questions because words are not understood or clear means poor service. Music was played from the song ‘Lick It Up’ as you did literally this for the pastes that were present. A fun and theatrical piece of dining, marred by the disinterest from the chef de partie presenting the dish and bizarre, sudden explosion of sound at the table from no music in the background.
Sudden bursts of noise were actually a constant theme throughout the meal as the chef’s table, just visible but very audible to me through the upper-level window, would suddenly tear through the calm of the other parts of the restaurant for parts of the meal. It also sounded as if someone was literally shouting periodically throughout the meal and on closer glance, this was Mr Gaggan explaining his courses through swigs of beer to the lucky few at the chef’s table.
As I was one of the last to be seated, I was also one of the last to finish and was able to see Mr Gaggan oblige all those that wanted a selfie with him from my table. Where I can, I try to provide a picture of any head chef of each meal for the reviews on this website, so I asked Mr Gaggan if he would mind me taking his picture at the end of my meal which, was he smiled and adopted selfie pose. After I said that actually, it was just a picture of him that I was after for the site, his expression immediately changed, he withdrew and I was asked, “What website?”.
After explaining, I was asked what I thought of the meal and as usual, I gave genuine feedback, saying some really nice things and some parts of the meal I liked more than others. This was followed by what I can only describe as a barrage of aggression. I explained politely which parts gave more and less pleasure (exactly as per the review) and these are some of the genuine returns from Mr Gaggan: “Have you even been to India?”, “So you only enjoyed the easy bit to like right?” and “Yeah this is what really pisses my off with bloggers….”. Interesting. Am I to understand that you need to have been to India to properly enjoy the food at Gaggan? If so, that’s a pretty tall order.
There were other comments made by the head of the establishment and it was pretty challenging for me to stay calm through the heated returns. One thing however, struck me throughout the exchange, which is that food writer or not, I’m still a customer and it seems as though I had just paid £270 for being shouted at in response to simple, honest answers.
After Mr Gaggan finally stopped, I asked if we could go back to the original start of the conversation which was to take a photo of him, to which he answered, “No” and he walked off. I turned to the floor manager and asked how he thought this was as a general exchange and his polite but awkward smile was followed with, “I don’t think I can answer that question”. I think this sums it up quite well.
In general, this was a spectacularly poor finish and way to handle a paying customer irrespective of the differences of opinion and my own take on this is that the head chef simply become punch-drunk on the accolades and fame. It seems clear that this has clouded the need to embrace anything other than praise. I would offer a final word to the wise to be mindful of the whole customer base, as it is still very possible for the mighty to fall.
As usual, my score is based on the food which, in spite of coming short in relation to its fame, I thought was actually very fun – it more or less sits within the one Michelin star field in my view. However, for all the above occurrences, I would say in general that this is innovative food, worthy of note but certainly not at the top of the world and showed to be amateur and unprofessional in its customer hospitality.
I have never walked away from any restaurant so certain that I will never take a step back in, or to any of the brand ever again.
Food Grade: 72%
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