At Gaa, a Mumbai-born chef fashions local and homemade
ingredients into an eclectic and highly personal cuisine
In a narrow, quiet alley off Soi Lang Suan, one of the hottest restaurants to open so far this year occupies a spot directly opposite Gaggan, the legendary Bangkok eatery that has earned a number-one ranking on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants three years running. The first of three new restaurants that chef and restaurant entrepreneur Gaggan Anand plans for the same alley, Gaa is helmed by 29-year-old Mumbai native Garima Arora.
A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Arora worked at Le Quartier du Pain, one of the French capital’s top boulangeries, before accepting an internship at prestigious Noma in Copenhagen. While she was at Noma, Anand contacted her through mutual friends to discuss cooperating on a restaurant in Mumbai. Two months later, she moved to Bangkok to train at Gaggan. When the Mumbai enterprise didn’t happen, Anand suggested that Arora start her own place in a former massage parlour opposite Gaggan.
The simply decorated, multi-story structure boasts steel-framed windows and glass doors, with separate dining areas on three levels, along with a chef’s table near the kitchen, and a bar lounge which offers a short a la carte menu. Although celebrity chef Gaggan Anand owns a minority share in Gaa, it would be a mistake to think of the latter as a spinoff.
“He was thinking I might do a curry house here,” Arora says. “But when I decided to go my own way, Gaggan gave me free rein.”
Resisting existing genre names for Gaa, Arora refers to her cuisine as modern eclectic. “I do what I do with no particular cuisine in mind,” says the youthful chef. “I’m inspired by my experiences in five different countries over the last 10 years. The main thing is I work almost exclusively with local ingredients.”
Gaa’s team of 11 chefs make all cheeses, butter, soy sauce, and fish sauce used in the kitchen. Even plates, cutlery, and pots are locally sourced, according to Arora.
Two tasting menus are offered, one with 12 courses and a shorter one with eight. Dishes are assigned simple names that state the basic ingredients, making it easy to follow. Each dish is brought to the table by a different server or chef who explains a bit about the ingredients and cooking methods.
We start with Crispy Cabbage, Roasted Peppers, Bitter Gourd, a dish in which cabbage leaves are air-dried and flattened into translucent bright green discs which form a sandwich for the savoury pepper and gourd filling. Simple, easy to eat, and very easy to appreciate, it’s an immediate hit at our table. This is followed by Chicken Liver, Longan Berry, consisting of slivers of frozen chicken liver atop a berry sorbet, one of the most unique and innovative of the starters.
Next up, the simply titled Corn turns out to be stalks of incredibly tasty young corn grilled in the husks and brushed with salt and chili. It’s served with a thick corn emulsion, which intensifies the flavours and sets it apart from otherwise similar Mexican-style grilled corn. Another North American native, the canistel—or eggfruit—plays a role in Crayfish, Egg Fruit, Pomelo, a delicious rectangle supporting perfectly cooked crayfish morsels topped with citrusy pomelo.
Indian inspiration is apparent in Banana Flower Dumpling, Tomato Fennel, Split Peas, a beautiful deconstruction of Indian dal in which a savoury ball of goodness floats in a spicy, tomato-ey broth. Thailand comes to the fore in Fish Khanom La, inspired by a Southern Thai sweet. Here caramelized milk skin, fashioned into a crunchy taco-like shell, holds chunks of fresh, succulent grouper.
Crab, Cauliflower, Whey with Potato Mochi looks and tastes exactly like it sounds. Grilled cauliflower buds nestle alongside fresh-picked crabmeat atop a foamy layer of potato and whey in a delicious Indian-Japanese fusion. Pork Ribs, Pickles, Bread features a single thick pork rib brined in split-pea miso and grilled to perfection, and then layered with a topping of pomegranate, shallots, and onions. A nod to India again arrives in the form of Butter and Pav, a saucer of whipped home-churned butter to be folded into fresh-baked pav, the Mumbai-native soft roll.
The menu turns to its sweet side at this point, with two consecutive dessert offerings. The first offers a choice of three different ice cream cones made entirely from scratch: Jaggery and Coriander Seeds with Toasted Whole Wheat Cone; Turmeric and Toasted Safflower with Black Sesame Cone; and Beeswax and Wild Honey with Bee Pollen Cone. We enjoy them all, but our favourite is the jaggery (palm sugar) cone.
We’re further indulged by Four Elements of Chocolate, a complex plating that includes a bai cha-phlu (betel leaf) dipped in dark chocolate on one side and dusted with fennel powder on the other, flanked by three chocolate truffles of differing composition. It’s so Instagram-ready, we hesitate before digging in, but once the spoons are out, it doesn’t last long.
Along with wise wine pairings for each tasting menu, Gaa offers a juice-pairing consisting of novel fruit concoctions made on the premises, a nice option for non-drinkers. Standouts include Strawberry Kambucha, Pumpkin Mango Kaffir Lime, and especially Guava Mint Chili.
Asked about the future, Arora says, “I want to travel around Thailand more, scouting new ingredients. There is so much here to be discovered, and that’s where I’ll find new dishes, through those discoveries.”
interview by Joe Cummings/CPA Media