"Pan Asian Camden cod-opulence"Review Rating: Reviewed by Matthew B
I’d occasionally walked past the red carpeted entrance of Gilgamesh, the escalator rising up away from the Cyberdog shop, greasy food outlets, dubious market stalls and cobbles of the Stables Market below. It always seemed out of place, like some dodgy Mayfair bar for footballers, but I kind of admired its chutzpah for opening where it did, in such contrast to its surroundings.
To finally visit and ascend, the incongruity only continued. Gilgamesh is a big place, and quite over-the-top in its design and décor. ‘Babylonian’ in theme, it feels like something you might find in Disneyland or Las Vegas. There’s a desire for glamour and luxury, but it doesn’t quite pull it off, and you can see many of the joins of the mundane building it came out of. Along with lighting rigs like those of a nightclub, the curved glass and steel ceiling ruins the Babylonian illusion and is akin to something from an airport terminal.
I have a pet-hate of toilet attendants, be it in a bar, club or restaurant. This more than anything says ‘no class’ to me, and at Gilgamesh you are able to purchase packets of Polo mints in the gent’s loo, somewhat bafflingly. Back when it opened in 2006, executive chef Ian Pengelley said ‘the prices are going to be reasonable. Just enough to keep out the people with six earrings or more and tall spiky haircuts’, presumably referring to Camden’s indie clientele, and not the bridge and tunnel brigade who seem to make up part of the place’s customers. It’s flash - Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon are purportedly fans - and it’s true you need a bit of wedge to eat there, but it’s not extortionate in London terms.
Back inside the restaurant, Gilgamesh is a feast for the eyes: the bar is made of stone and two large statues book-end a large communal table, exuding quite phallic overtones. We sat at one of the elevated circular booth tables with a carved wooden exterior - there’s a lot of wood, it must be said.
The ‘Pan-Asian’ theme is still in evidence, with some of the dishes also attempting the dreaded F word: Fusion. ‘T ‘N’ T pizza’ was sashimi on pizza flat bread pizza with white truffle thrown in for good measure. I had no idea what this might taste like and it wasn’t displeasing. The delicate taste of the sashimi was a little over-powered by the truffle, but you still had the lovely mouth feel of the fish. I wasn’t wowed, but it was novel and interesting.
Salmon and apple ceviche with popcorn stretched the Pan-Asian theme right over to South America, and was another odd-sounding but entertaining dish. Served in a cocktail glass, the cutting tang of the lime went well with the sweetness of the popcorn. The signature crispy squid with garlic chips and fresh chilli was nicely cooked, but a rogue chilli had me reaching for my cocktail to cool my mouth which unfortunately, although very nice, also had chilli in it. A welcome mellow dish of black cod and prawn dumplings was smooth and moreish.
Tuna and salmon sashimi tartare was served on a bed of ice, but we preferred it when it had warmed a little and the flavours were less numbed by the cold. At £16 this was quite a lot for a smallish serving.
Our main, fillet of beef bulgogi on chive mash was lovely and tender. ‘Hoba’ Chilean sea bass marinated in sweet plum miso was a fine piece of fish, but at £32 with nothing else on the plate it needed to be.
You will probably have an entertaining meal at Gilgamesh, as long as you are not expecting anything ueber-sophisticated; we left ushered down a back staircase (the escalator only goes up) through a grubby, litter-strewn lobby with a tawdry cash machine, and out through a dirty glass door held ajar by a cardboard box. It did make us laugh; I’d like to think this was a deliberate joke to remind you that, haha, you are back in dirty old Camden, but I don’t think it’s the case.
Matthew B reviewed Gilgamesh on Thu 26 Sep 2013