Larger-than-life and unbelievably busy, Gaggan Anand briskly walks into the dining room at Mandala Club when we’re almost done with lunch. Wearing a vintage T-shirt and jeans, he stops to say hello to a table before disappearing into the kitchen.
The force behind Asia’s Best Restaurant in 2019 that was then shuttered and reopened, with new partners in tow, Anand is as much a fiery, opinionated individual as he is a great advocate for contemporary Indian cuisine. His new restaurant clinched fifth place in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards in March.
He and his diverse team of more than 30 front of house and kitchen staff have been brought over from his restaurant in Bangkok for what was meant to be a two month pop-up (response was so good that it’s been extended to March 2022). With almost the entire team is here, he’s decided to temporarily close his flagship in Thailand.
His brand of rebellion and artistic vision takes over from the previous nature-focused Mirazur pop-up, transforming the first floor into a dark, moody area with splashes of pop art screaming his slogan “Hug me, I smell like curry” on the walls.
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Offering eight-courses for lunch and double the number of courses for dinner, the team pairs it with wines (“there are no natural or organic wines, only good wines”) such as the Oriol Artigas La Rumbera 2018 from a non-interventionist Spanish vineyard. Anand’s S-Wars dinner series, his take on the Star Wars franchise, makes an appearance in the dinner menu (in the form of Porg Kebab and Planet Hoth) while lunch feels more like a teaser of what he’s capable of.
Don’t come expecting a printed menu. On the table is a passport with a copy of Anand’s actual passport on the first page and the rest of the pages left empty. Small emoji rubber stamps and a red ink pad are also provided; there doesn’t seem to be any particular meaning to the emojis chosen (yes, there is a middle finger emoji). It’s all part of the intended experience — to travel to where Anand wants to take you to.
Granted that he’s unable to recreate a fully immersive experience as he does in Bangkok with music restrictions and all that, but his front of house staff makes up for that with their infectious energy and cheekiness. Each course, too, is served in quick succession and we’re encouraged to choose a stamp that best represents how the dish makes us feel.
For lunch, we start with the Yogurt Explosion, a dish that’s been on the menu since 2010 when it was created. The sphere of yogurt chaat masala and black salt slides onto a Green Lotus Pad made of green chutney, which is meant to be eaten in one bite.
It’s followed by the Surf & Turf, a plate of foie gras ice cream cured with almond liqueur and mango yuzu with a wedge of poached ankimo cured with miso and sake. Falling on the safe side, it’s a celebration of autumn and a testament to Anand’s love for Japan.
He pays another tribute to the country in the sixth course — the Kachang Uni. Inspired by the shaved ice dessert, he replaces cendol jelly for tongues of sea urchin and white almond milk tofu atop burnt eggplant miso topped with shaved kelp dashi ice, yuzu gelatine, wasabi espuma and shisho blossoms.
The rest of the dishes in the lunch menu are a collection of his ‘best hits’ from over the years. There’s the Idly Sambar where he reimagines the South Indian steamed cakes that are typically served with a lentil stew as an airy, fermented rice and lentil cake with fresh coconut chutney and a foamy top of sambar.
Another staple at his restaurant is Charcoal, an unphotogenic ball of fried black batter in a Makhani sauce made from tomatoes, fresh cream, spices and cashew nuts. Inside, it’s filled with moreish marinated chicken tikka masala. An unexpected flavour bomb, it’s one of our favourites from the meal.
Basmati rice, a household ingredient in every Indian kitchen, comes as the final hot dish with a bowl of mud crab curry; a surprisingly simple and hearty way to end the meal. And for dessert, Anand’s favourite Tiramisu with four types of chocolate — white, milk, caramelised and dark chocolate.
For the uninitiated, the six courses are a fair introduction to the creative universe of Gaggan Anand but for the full experience, we’d have to go with dinner. Our only gripe, however, was the lack of aural stimulation that was felt even more acutely especially for a gastronomical escapade like this.
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