Gaggan in Bangkok has claimed the top spot at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards for a second consecutive year. Maida Pineda was there to hear the results

The ceremony for Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna, was held at the W Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, on 29 February. Guests were at the edge of their seats, waiting in anticipation for the top three spots to be announced. With only Gaggan, Narisawa, and Andre left, it was a toss up among the best restaurants in Thailand, Japan, and Singapore. Gaggan scored the spot again, with Narisawa again taking the second highest honour in the region.

Moments later chef Gaggan Anand revealed to the press, “I hate this day and I love this day, too. Because I am anxious until the results come out.” He admits holding the hands of Richard Ekkebus, chef of Amber (No. 4), to calm him down. Securing the top spot for a second year in a row is sweeter, especially since it was awarded in his adopted country, Thailand.

Anand says, “Winning in your city, is pretty much like winning a cricket match in India. At least, I can go back to my family and to my team in my restaurant tonight to celebrate.”

The awards were held for the first time in Thailand, after its three-year run in Singapore.

William Drew, group editor of World’s 50 Best Restaurants said, “Now in its fourth year, these awards reflect the growth and diversity in Asia’s dining scene. The 2016 list includes 10 new restaurants and showcases the best dining experiences in 13 countries, more than ever before.”

New entries include Mingles in Seoul at number 15, claiming both the Highest New Entry award, as well as the Best New Restaurant in Korea. Other new discoveries include Gallery Vask in the Philippines and Locavore in Bali, Indonesia. Japan also welcomes newcomers, namely La Maison De La Nature Goh (No 31) in Fukuoka, as well as Tokyo’s Den (No. 37) and Kyoto’s Kikunoi (No. 42)

Tokyo’s Quintessence, modern French restaurant jumped up 29 spots making it this year’s highest climber, with Burnt Ends, Singapore’s laidback brick oven grill rising 16 spots up to number 13. The evening also celebrated David Thompson, recipient of the Diner’s Club Lifetime Achievement and Margarita Fores, named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016.

Last year, an emotional Gaggan Anand cried uncontrollably learning of his win. More calm and collected this year, he recalled his Asia 50 Best journey in three short years: “When I went to the awards in 2013, no-one knew me. Bangkok loved me, but nobody in Asia knew who I was. They thought I was a sponsor. In 2013, I was number 10. In 2014, I was number three. Then in 2015, when I won number one, it was a gathering of friends.”

Apart from himself, Anand recognizes how the awards help discover fresh talent in the region such as Joannes Riviere, a French chef serving Cambodian food, who rose 7 spots this year or even Florilége, a modern French restaurant in Tokyo bestowed with this year’s One to Watch honour.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants is a competition among restaurants. According to Gaggan, on its fourth year in, it has become a homecoming of sorts for the chefs: “We were all teasing each other, pulling each other’s collars, and taking selfies. It’s become a gathering of the Asia’s 50 Best family.”

Not surprisingly, the celebration continued on into the wee hours at Gaggan. In the kitchen, Anand was in his element whipping up batches of chicken tikka masala. Next to him was Narisawa, manning the tandoor oven and serving up hot naan. Piling into the tiny kitchen, one by one top chefs from all over Asia arrive greeting Anand, tucking into some hot curry and basking in the warm friendship this talented community share.

Maida Pineda