Gaggan Anand is done with fine dining restaurants, or at least the typical format of them.
As he announced during the Mandala Club fireside chat hosted by author Tom Wright in March this year, the charismatic personality and chef will be flipping the biggest bird to industry awards by solely doing pop-up dinners around the world.
While the details for that are yet to be confirmed (the last we heard, there’ll be some balloting for tickets, and each person can only attend these pop-up dinners once), he’s giving it a last hurrah by extending his Mandala Club residency till 30 June. It’s marketed as what could be the final opportunity to taste his culinary genius.
Whether it’ll actually be the last we see of Anand we highly doubt so, but this refreshed menu pledges to offer more with a selection of dishes that have earned him international acclaim. Named the Greatest Hits, both lunch and dinner will include unique Anand creations such as the Yoghurt Explosion, Lick It Up and Charcoal. This time, rather than stamps and red ink, we’re given emoji stamp stickers and told to guess which emoji represents each of the 10 courses for lunch.
Four more courses than the previous reiteration in the first pop-up at Mandala, it’s clear the Greatest Hits menu is more substantial (read: filling) but while it starts off strong, enthusiasm seems to taper out at the end. Most of Anand’s famous and well-loved, no-utensils-needed dishes are appetisers or desserts, leaving the mains much to live up to.
Perhaps we should have seen the third dish as a sign of how the meal would progress. Charcoal, an ash-coloured fried ball of batter stuffed with moreish tablespoons of chicken tikka masala or smoked eel – as it was in previous renditions – arrived at our table with a disappointingly ordinary filling of puréed potatoes with mustard seeds.
The courses that followed struggled to impress, with a few hits and misses. The cold curry (coconut milk cream, coconut ‘snow’ with droplets of chilli and curry leaf oil) with raw scallops, brought over wholesale from the previous menu, now felt passé. And the Kerala-style Alleppey Fish Curry with wild Atlantic cod grilled on the binchotan was not only too charred but too salty as well.
Although we didn’t find fault with the next two mains of dry-aged duck with tamarind honey chutney sauce and a tiffin of duck leg curry, basmati rice, bhajia (vegetable fritters) and pickles, they didn’t particularly stand out for technique or story. Even when presented with flourish from the ever-personable wait staff, one of Anand’s biggest selling points, the dishes paled in comparison to the innovation shown in his appetisers.
Likewise, the non-alcoholic pairing began with optimism with a pineapple, ginger and vetiver juice presented enthusiastically to the table. Care was taken to match our plant-infused juices with the natural wines paired with each course in colour and, sometimes, flavour – but midway through, the explanations started getting more impressive than the drinks themselves.
When Anand’s classic Suck It course of a mango and passionfruit lassi in a milk bottle was finally served at the end of the meal, it’s safe to say that the group had lost its initial sense of excitement. Going through the motions, the entire experience felt more gimmicky than inventive, which one could blame on the fast moving winds of gastronomical trends.
What was groundbreaking a decade ago will no longer be met with the same sense of wonder with audiences now. Either way, it’s affirmation that it truly is time for the Gaggan Anand to put these dishes to bed and move on.
Book Gaggan Anand’s Greatest at https://mandala.club/gaggan-anand/
- Gaggan Anand