BANGKOK, THAILAND – When Gaggan set up shop in Bangkok and was crowned Asia’s No. 1 Restaurant time and time again, it was only a matter of time before the Thai capital’s food scene rapidly developed and began garnering one Michelin star after another. Of this new wave of fine dining restaurants that swept the city, it is natural that having tried Gaggan, the next restaurant we already had our eyes on was Restaurant Gaa. Run by Chef Garima Arora, herself a former pupil of Gaggan Anand, from the moment I stepped into Gaa, I felt like I had arrived at someone’s porch and someone’s home. There’s a sense of homeliness, one that immediately makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.
Having been shown to my table by one of the staff, I was then greeted by Gaa PR Manager Teerana Hiranyakorn, who meticulously explained what Gaa was all about, taking me through Gaa’s origins, its status as a restaurant that “taps into age old Indian techniques and apply it to locally sourced ingredients”, and how she grew with the restaurant, having been there since it first opened, and watching it grow from its humble beginnings to the award-winning establishment it is today.
Fred, the Head Sommelier of Gaa, introduced himself to me, and started the evening off with a flute of champagne that was refreshing, considering the sweltering 34 degree celsius heat outside. At this point, Teerana suggested we begin dinner service.
Having chosen to go for the tasting menu that evening, the first course was a chilled soup of pink guava, topped off with roselle and pomelo that had many different taste profiles which helped open my tastebuds and prepare me for the evening with its refreshing flavours. The fermented mulberries in the soup provided the savoury kick. This is a dish that took me straight to the streets of Bangkok, paying homage to the fruit vendors hawking small bags of sliced guava seasoned with salt and chili.
For my second dish, I was served a trio of appetizers – the first: a duck tongue served with chickpeas, well-cooked and still maintaining the viscosity of the tongue’s texture.
The second: a ‘savoury betel leaf’, eaten almost like how you would seaweed. Betel leaf is something I would never have expected to try, but with the right blend of spices, Gaa managed to mask the strong taste of betel and make it taste delectable.
And the third: a sourdough doughnut stuffed with duck meat. Eaten in one bite, the duck meat seasoned perfectly with spices created a symphony of flavors in my mouth.
For my next appetizer, I was served a caramelized milk skin resembling a taco, containing perfectly grilled beef, and served with a side of yeast aquafaba paste. One can practically imagine the street food vendors fanning furiously at their charcoal to grill that one piece of glazed beef.
Prior to my next dish, Fred serves me their house-made lychee ‘sake’, made by having the lychee first fermented for 2 days, then sealed in a smaller bottle for 5-8 hours before serving it. This would then my next dish, which was chicken liver and lychee.
The chicken liver is made into a pâté, before being frozen. The pâté is then shaven on top of this dish, providing that richness and saltiness to bring the dish together. The chiku, a naturally sweet and meaty fruit, was placed next to the lychee on this dish. But what was most impressive was the thought that went into making sure the diner is able to taste every single element in the dish. From the moment I took my first bite, you first taste the lychee, then the smoothness of the spiced pâté that gives it that rich flavour, before the chiku steals the show with its distinct taste profile, South American in origin, like the Argentinian pastry chef in Gaa who feels immensely proud of this creation.
Corn, Gaa’s signature dish, is now being served.
Reminiscent of the Indian street snacks one finds from roadside vendors, the humble corn is sprinkled with salt, spices and lime, served with corn buttermilk. While I’m one who usually distances myself from corn, the wow factor from removing the husk of the corn enticed me enough to try this handsome looking dish. Having told the team at Gaa that I had no dietary requirements and I would have tried anything on the menu, I went straight for it. Taking the first bite of the corn, you taste lime, then the spices, and then, the sweet corn. The dish comes together perfectly and it’s just so comforting, one that jsut makes you feel so happy eating it. I thoroughly enjoyed this display of simplicity at its finest.
The quail, a delicate and tricky meat to cook, was presented in two ways, as one of Gaa’s newer dishes. First was a quail leg pan-fried with rice puffs to perfection, seasoned with coriander and green chili that complemented the meat well.
Fred serves me a Tenerife red wine from 7 Fuentes, a bold move, considering he could have just gone with a safe choice like a sherry. The wine, with a smoky profile but light to the taste, went down well with the rich flavour of the quail. This helped go down well with the fatty and oily taste of the quail.
For the other dish, a quail breast was cooked perfectly pink on the inside, along with spring onions, ginger, and a touch of cardamom, and served with green chili and cucumber pickle. This dish reminded me of a nice spring onion and ginger dish that I would have from a roadside hawker stall. Together, this blend of flavours helped clean my palate after that dish.
Fred now serves me a nice Burgundy, which he assured me would complement my next two seafood courses. First up, the crayfish head was served. I took the shell with my hand and slurped it up. It was rich in and you could taste the ocean.
Next came the pièce de résistance – the flesh of the crayfish, with its meat cooked in the tandoor, perfectly seasoned. This was served atop khakhra, an Indian flatbread made in-house aromatic with a beautiful smoky smell. The meat, carefully seasoned with spices, allowed the sweetness of the crayfish to shine. And with what was served, I was thoroughly impressed with how much finesse and skill was presented in creating this dish.
One of the dishes i was more curious about that evening was the blue swimmer crab served with long peppercorns and macadamia milk, along with a jaggery emulsion. The blue swimmer crab, steamed to absolute perfection, kept its shape, and the quality of the crab was evident from the sweet flavour of the meat. The macadamia milk provided a necessary creamy element to bind the dish, while the jaggery emulsion helped provide a tasty jolt with every spoonful of it.
Quintessentially Gaa, this dish was what Gaa was all about – caviar from sturgeon locally sourced from Hua Hin, served atop a slice of their in-house baked koji bread, with a flute of banana water.
This is something I found was in perfect harmony. The caviar provided a natural saltiness, while the banana water provided a natural sweetness to make each bite pure bliss. This is what Gaa was all about – thinking out of the box and really one that shook me with how smart it was, and proving how far Garima and her team are willing to go to source for local produce to use at Gaa and really encapsulate the spirit of Thailand.
Moving onto the mains, I was served the grilled pork with a tamarind glaze, topped with pomegranate, onions and coriander, beautifully plated.
Completely unique to Gaa, we are now served our main by the very knowledgeable Samantha, hailing from the Philippines – unripe jackfruit and pickles. She explained that I was to imagine it like I was eating a Peking Duck, the slice of unripe jackfruit is first cooked in jaggery that gives it a savoury sweetness.
What hits you first are the bright colours from the different pickles, from carrot to mango to cucumber pickles. Samantha then showed me how to eat one. Sportingly, I again went for the whole deal. What surprised me most was how instead of tasting each element individually, it was like a symphony of flavours, each complementing the other. But most importantly, much like how the duck remains the star of the show in Peking Duck, the jackfruit stands out. This dish was definitely a triumph for Garima and her team. Paired with a German Riesling (my personal favourite wine), making this dish fun and enjoyable.
As they say, no matter how full you are, there’s always room for dessert. First up, an organic burnt coconut sugar ice cream served with pork floss. While an unexpected combination, juxtaposing the savoury and the sweet helps both flavours stand out, and certainly, is one of chef Garima’s masterstrokes of culinary intelligence.
In the second dessert, Gaa served chocolate betel leaf with cardamom. The betelf leaf, traditionally eaten to freshen the mouth, this dessert was a perfect way to end my meal.
Ending off my meal in a way Gaa would be proud of, I was offered an espresso martini, rather than just a coffee. I’m sure you’ve had an espresso martini before, where the vodka just overpowers everything. But this drink was done perfectly, well-balanced and allowing the coffee to shine.
Coming into Garima’s home tonight, I felt welcomed, like I was seated at my own family’s dinner table. More specifically, I felt like I was part of the Gaa family, with an atmosphere that was warm, inviting and relaxed. Throughout my experience, it was evident that all the staff felt the same way each and every day, whether they were kitchen staff, waitstaff or even restaurant manager Felice Tavolario. The reason for all this? Chef-owner Garima Arora is a nurturing force that has not only seen this restaurant grow, but has also taken care of each and every one of the people involved here to ensure that this restaurant is run exactly the way she wants it to. It’s only because of this that all the elements she’s brought together in the entire experience has so much balance, rich in flavours and rich in cultures. Garima’s, and therefore Gaa’s, culinary ethos is clear from start to end, and it’s little wonder it’s been bestowed the many deserving accolades it’s received.
Gaa is located at 68/4 Soi Langsuan, Ploenchit Road Lumpini, Phathumwan, Bangkok 10330. For more information and to make a reservation, visit their website here