Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bangkok's Gaggan Unfurls Indian Tricolour at The World's 50 Best Restaurants as India Scores Another Duck

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

FOR THE second year in succession, Gaggan of Bangkok is the only Indian restaurant to figure on The World's 50 Best Restaurants. There's a big difference, though, between 2013 and today. Gaggan Anand, the chef-restaurateur who's without doubt the high priest of Indian modernist cuisine, was at No. 66 last year. Today, he's at No. 17, which has got him 2014's Highest New Entry accolade, and he's closer than ever to his dream of being in the hallowed Top 10, a dream that took hold of him when he was apprenticing at the 'laboratory' of the then World No. 1, Ferran Adria's El Bulli.
The much-awaited list was announced at a glittering ceremony at the Guildhall, a London landmark dating back to the 12th century.
When I met Gaggan last year at his 60-cover, one-seating-only restaurant operating out of a classical Thai home dwarfed by some of Bangkok's most expensive real estate in the Rama I neighbourhood, he was clear about his goals. The Kolkata-raised IHM-Thiruvananthapuram graduate, who earned his initial spurs at Taj Palace, said he wanted to be in the 20s and 30s, for starters, and eventually make it to No. 1 like Ferran Adria, at whose 'laboratory' near Barcelona he first got exposed to the techniques of the patron saint of molecular gastronomy. Well, it looks like he's getting there, and how!
Gaggan Anand (centre) exults in the company
of Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca (left)
and another guest at the Asia's Top 50
Restaurants in Singapore, where he
was ranked No. 3 some weeks back. 
The other big news about this year's list, which is followed closely around the world though it was dismissed instantly by The Guardian newspaper as "a menu of predictable names for the food bores", is that Noma, Rene Redzepi's mould-breaking Scandinavian seasonal restaurant in Copenhagen, has re-established itself as the World No. 1.
Noma (which The Guardian describes as "the purveyor of sea urchin toast and rock moss"!) dislodged the 2013 topper, Spain's El Celler de Can Roca, which has, in just seven years, established itself as a temple of modern Spanish cuisine in the working class suburb of Girona in the fiercely independent state of Catalunya. El Celler de Can Roca spoilt Noma's party after the Copenhagen restaurant completed a hat-trick of years at the No. 1 spot.
At No. 3 for the second consecutive year is Massimo Bottura's Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, where a traditional menu of Emilia-Romagna's celebrated staples, such as Bottura’s spectacular tortellini with Parmesan sauce and tagliatelle with meat sauce, coexists happily with modernist creations, such as the five ages of Parmesan and foie gras crunch – a take on a Feast ice cream with a hunk of foie gras bound in hazelnuts and filled with balsamic vinegar.
Italy, surprisingly, is under-represented on the list, brought out annually by the London-based Restaurant magazine, which is a respected trade journal. India, like last year, figures nowhere, nor do restaurants run by Indian Michelin-star chefs in Britain and the U.S. In searing contrast, with seven restaurants each on the list, Spain, France and the U.S. (New York's Eleven Madison Park is at No. 4 and Chicago's Alinea at No. 9) are right on top; Italy has three, and Brazil (Sao Paulo's D.O.M. is at No. 7), Peru and Thailand have two each.
Apart from El Celler, Spain is represented by Mugaritz (No. 6) and the venerable Arzak (No. 8), both in San Sebastian. And Britain has two in the first ten: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (No. 5) and The Ledbury (No. 10, up from No. 13), Brett Graham's modern French restaurant tucked away in a corner of London’s fashionable Notting Hill neighbourhood. The Asian champs, apart from Gaggan, in the Top 50 list are: Nahm, Bangkok (No. 13), Narisawa, Tokyo (No. 15), Amber, Hong Kong (No. 24), Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo (No. 33) and Waku Ghin, Singapore (No. 50).
India's absence is the only reason its presence is being felt. It's time to re-visit the old debate. Why does India, for long represented by the dowdy Bukhara, not figure anywhere on a list that has been responsible for turning unknown gastronomic jewels into world destinations?
(Note: I'll keep updating the story through the day, so watch this space!)