Bangkok was always going to be a transition point. When we began to plan our epic journey all those months ago, the backbone of it was a Round The World (RTW) ticket with stops in Asia, Europe, New York and South America. It turned out that we could get a great deal on a RTW ticket that saw us arrive into Asia at Singapore and exit from Bangkok, taking three months to wander between the two. That fitted our plans perfectly, and avoided any unnecessary and costly backtracking, so we jumped at this option.
As we’d both been to Bangkok previously (separately) we didn’t intend to do much sightseeing this time around, and in fact were prepared to stay just one night if required to maximise our time elsewhere. Like much of the detailed planning for our travels, we were happy to leave the decision about exactly how many days Bangkok deserved until we were closer to the time. In the end we settled on three nights in Bangkok, as that would give us enough time to do two vital things before leaving Asia. In some ways both of those activities were the result of the randomness of travel: One had come from our impromptu Big Day Out in Penang weeks earlier, the other from a chance reading of a magazine in a hospital waiting room!
Meeting CJ in Penang was a great day for many reasons, as we’ve blogged about previously. He lives in Bangkok and we’d made a firm promise to catch up with him when we got there in mid-June. Fitting in with his work commitments required a little juggling, and we settled on a Tuesday night dinner at an Italian restaurant run by a mate of his in the sprawling Sukhumvit nightlife zone. It was great to catch up with him in person, instead of via regular facebook updates, and again he regaled us with some hilarious stories that are too racy to be recorded on the internet! Amongst many things he also updated us on the progress of the Pakistani movie he co-produced, Seedlings, which I’m pleased to say was selected for the NY Film Festival just a couple of weeks after our dinner.
As the night wore on and the conversation flowed, we were all sorely tempted to head out afterwards for some post-dinner drinks and more merriness. But our host, CJ’s mate, brought out a free round of home-made (very delicious and very alcoholic) limoncello. Followed by another one not too long after, then another…. I think? At the end of this another hour had passed, and since CJ had to work and I was nursing a cold we decided to be sensible and call it a night. A great night, might I add, and one I’m keen to repeat when next we hit Bangers 😀
The other “must-do” we planned for Bangkok had its genesis while we were sitting in a hospital waiting room. But not just any waiting room: the one at the Skin and Cosmetic Centre at Phuket’s Bangkok Hospital more closely resembles the foyer of a five-star hotel rather than a hospital, as you can see from the pic above. With smart wooden tables and armchairs, flowers everywhere and staff scuttling softly about it was a world away from the grim, utilitarian ambiance of the average Australian hospital experience.
While waiting to see a doctor, we were perusing the luxury-minded magazine Thailand Tatler (how appropriate for the surroundings) and came across a restaurant review that immediately captured our interest. We’d been musing for several weeks about having one last fine dining experience in Bangkok, because once we hit Europe such extravagances were going to be almost entirely off the menu. The restaurant in this review, Gaggan, hit all our buttons and we knew immediately that we’d found “The One” for Bangkok. It was newish and aimed high by offering the unique fusion of molecular gastronomy and Indian cuisine. We are both fans of the “molecular” cooking style – when done with restraint – which uses various powders, gels, liquid nitrogen and other strange options to play with the texture and presentation of dishes. Some of the most memorable meals we’ve shared have cleverly incorporated these techniques (Royal Mail Hotel in Victoria and Iggy’s in Singapore), and we are greatly looking forward to our pilgrimage to the high temple of this style of food: The Fat Duck in London on August 29th. The restaurant’s chef-owner, Anand Gaggan, had honed his skills with Ferran Adria at the legendary El Bulli in Spain, and like most of the planet we love Indian food. How could we not try this place out?
Though we both thought the meal was very good I enjoyed it more than Kristen, who had some reservations about the overall value and memorable-ness of its 12 courses. The obvious use of molecular techniques was wisely limited to just a couple of dishes, with chef Gaggan letting the sublime flavours of each dish shine most of the time. We both agreed the tranquil and spacious setting of our table – facing as it did out through the window into the plant-filled courtyard – was lovely, and a nice touch was that Gaggan himself visited our table twice during the meal to see how we were enjoying it.
We also had a very friendly and camp waiter, an older Thai man who was very playful throughout the meal. He took a particular fancy to the makeshift camera case that I use for my pocket camera (a woven pink, blue and grey glove that fits my camera well… like a glove!), at one stage borrowing it to drape over his shoulder and parade around the room. He then proceeded to greet newly arriving guests, not remembering until halfway through that he was still wearing the glove!
The sommelier recommended an excellent wine match, Discovery Point sauvignon blanc from NZ, and for the record here is the menu with some comments noted in blue:
Degustation menu, Gaggan, 13th June 2012
Yoghurt – our signature, we can’t take it off the menu
Served in a spoon, this is the size and shape of an egg yolk but white. Texture on the tongue is exactly like a soft-cooked egg yolk, until the warmth of your tongue melts the surface and an explosion of yoghurt flavour ensues. Gimmicky but good, we both really enjoyed it
Non-Fried Samosa, and Papadams two ways – reconstructed chutney chips with potato filling and fresh fennel seeds; spiced glass of carrot crisps air-dried, and homemade rice crackers
Tasty, but didn’t quite work as well as the other dishes
Liar Liar – an artificial Bellini with fresh royal farm peach and cheap chardonnay carbonated together
Truffle air – pressurised truffle espuma with green chilli oil
the truffle flavour was very strong and the green chilli offering a spicy accent. The “espuma” was foam, which didn’t stay foamy long before melting into a watery truffle soup. One of the top dishes for both of us
Goose liver – foie gras with spiced red onion chutney on a naan bread
Eggs and greens – 62 degrees slow 2-hour cooked eggs with funny tasting greens and moilee curry
One of Kristen’s favourite dishes, the “funny tasting greens” somehow having the flavour of oysters!
Matar Paneer – Indian cottage cheese tortellini in a curried green peas sauce
Delicate, tasty and very carefully spiced. No fancy technique here, just great flavours
Back to Indian – minced chicken sheesh kebab with green chutney foam
The presentation of this dish left something to be desired (see pic above), but Kristen especially loved the samphire on the side. It was like “saltwater explosions in your mouth”
Go Goa!! – choice of fresh Spanish alaj or prawn and crab meat in spiced vindaloo curry
We both went with the prawn and crab option, this dish was very hot but balanced. Served with a superb naan bread
Lamb grilled with whiskey smoke – optional, cost approx. $10 extra p.p.
A worthy addition, this dish consisted of New Zealand lamb cutlets perfectly grilled and served with garlic cream and garlic chutney. A theatrical flourish was provided by it being served underneath a large glass bell filled with the smoke of burnt shavings from a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel. It added a definite (and delicious) whiskey flavour – our favourite dish of the night
Garden of Eden – Iranian pistachio 50-second cake with pacotized pistachio ice cream and edible flowers
Kristen loved this, I thought it good but not as great as the next dessert
I Love Chocolate – chocolate crisps, milk chocolate water mousse and cold chocolate powder
This had a wonderful golden “Crunchie” bar flavour, light with white chocolate foam underneath
We didn’t do any sightseeing at all over these three days in Bangkok, as the rest of our time was spent preparing for the next phase and simply relaxing around our excellent hotel, the Royal View Resort. We had masses of laundry to wash, blog posts to write and photos to upload, plus some shopping to be done. And we were both in various stages of dealing with colds, so there was plenty of down time too. We did everything we could to ensure that we entered our next phase as ready as possible: bring on Europe!!