Gaggan at Pujol
“Sir, there’s a problem with your reservation for Thursday afternoon at our restaurant, Pujol.” It was not the phonecall I was looking for.
Their definition of a problem was very far from my idea of a problem, though. The issue was that my visit clashed with a special event. “We have no idea what the menu will be but we can rebook for you to attend the event or come another day.”
“What’s the event?” I asked.
“A collaboration between our chef Enrique Olvera and a chef from Bangkok called Gaggan.”
From the jaws of crushing defeat I was suddenly one of around 40 people with a seat to sample the work of two absolute legends of the game feeding us…well, who knew what.
Pujol is a widely acclaimed restaurant with a strong commitment to showcasing local ingredients and traditional dishes of Mexico. Their chef, Enrique Olvera, is subject of a Chef’s Table episode with his molé madre signature dish regarded as one of the greatest in the world.
Gaggan Anand is similarly celebrated with his Bangkok restaurant Gaggan currently rated number five in the World’s 50 Best (Pujol is at number 13). He seeks to elevate Indian cooking beyond perceptions that a few dishes – tikka masala, naan, etc – are all the cuisine has to offer. His success has been in blending modern techniques with the full diversity of cooking styles that exist across the Indian sub-continent.
Anand was essentially in charge of this evening’s menu having worked with Olvera and his team to adapt and fuse classic, new and emerging ideas to produce a one-off showcase of the interplay between Indian and Mexican dishes. This was served at Pujol’s bar which is usually devoted to their famous omakase taco menu, which is what I’d originally booked to sample.
The meal opened with some snacks of corn tofu and baby corn topped with coffee grounds. These were a gentle and refined way to ease our way into the dazzling parade of dishes that followed.
Anand then cracked out the big guns with his signature spherified yoghurt explosion alongside two wonderful riffs on panipuri. I ate the white chocolate fake quails egg with shirt endangering messiness.
We were then in taco territory with a squid ink shell encasing blackened beef belly with aubergine and yuzu sauces. It was top notch stuff.
We then had a classic fish tikka cooked in a corn husk rather than the more conventional banana or pandan leaf. It was as beautifully cooked fish as you’re likely to find with excellent fresh, green spicing.
The next dish was probably my favourite of the evening. Sea urchin and scallop tartare were served in a chilled green wasabi molé then topped with sea vegetables and flowers. It looked wonderful and tasted even better.
We then had a highly entertaining chicken tikka taco. As Gaggan outlined, chicken tikka masala, while powerfully emblematic of Indian cuisine, draws its origins from restaurants in the UK emptying tins of tomato soup onto curry dishes to make them more saucy. This was a great fun rendition.
Our last savoury dish was from the kitchen of Gaggan’s grandmother, via a reinterpretation of eggs florentine. Served with crisp tortillas and topped with a couple of different fish roes, this was a splendid soft poached egg with intense and warmly spiced spinach. It was exceptional and one that I could eat every day.
Dessert featured a simple but highly elegant millefeuille with power-packed local fruit in cream with crisp layers of brittle. Outstandingly crisp and light churros were a splendid high note to end on.
It was pure luck to have stumbled upon this amazing evening and an absolute privilege to have had the opportunity to experience it. These are two of the world’s greatest chefs, with Anand and Olvera proud standard bearers for the cuisines of their region. This was a glorious fusion with some stellar dishes that are unlikely to be repeated any time soon. It was a joy, an inspiration, and an undoubted highlight of my time in restaurants.
I ate: an Indo-Mexican feast
I drank: tamarind ponche, Oaxaca mezcal, Bocanegra lager, sparkly water
I wore: orange and purple
Total bill: $3000
Address: Tennyson 133, Polanco, Ciudad de Mexico