Saturday, 5 October 2013
Gilgamesh - Gilga-meah in Camden - Oct 2013
It's been a while since Gilgamesh opened. The 800 seat 'super restaurant' landed in pre-gentrified Camden Lock market in 2006 like a blinged-up supertanker gatecrashing a Levellers gig.
Visually, it's stunning. The diner-to-be ascends a narrow escalator, which opens out into an atrium space, a cavernous daylight-filled dome, stuffed with ornately carved dark woods and squadrons of hushed staff. It's definitely one of the more extravagant spaces in the city, as distinctive as the tall tower dining of the Shard and its ilk.
Sadly, it didn't take long to go downhill on a recent lunch visit. Paper towels, scuffed and peeling menus and cheap, unwrapped disposable chopsticks clash with the opulent surroundings. We were the first people in at 12.30 on a weekend lunchtime, and indeed the only diners for a while, so maybe they only bring out the good stuff (and staff) for the beautiful people later on in the evening.
It's a surprise that it's so quiet, given the vast hordes chowing down on hideously stodgy, reheated muck from the noodle merchants below. Despite the prices being more Chelsea that Camden, Gilgamesh have a set lunch menu at £12, so are not so far from competing in price and are surely a step above a styrofoam tray of MSG. I think there's more they could be doing to create a welcoming entrance - either that or they need to actively compete with the serried ranks loudly peddling their deep-fried chicken drowned in gloopy sauce, and offer people a taster.
Given the pricing on the main menu, the disparity between the pricing of the set dim sum menu and the a la carte causes some confusion. The latter offers a pan-Asian mix with most main dishes hovering in the £17 to £25 level, the former offers 3 'types' of dim sum for £12. With no idea how much that might deliver us we go a la carte.
Mushroom dumplings were green, glutinous and somewhat grim. They filled a steamer basket like claggy shopping bags filled with a lukewarm mushroom vol au vent mix. Similarly, an £8 dish of three unremarkable chicken gyoza arrived flabby and too cold again, their skin lacking any crisp or crunch. Mottled, soft and wrinkled like swimmers who've spent too long in a municipal pool. Overall, the mixed temperature of the food became a lunchtime theme, with most dishes just not hot enough. Admittedly, it's an enormous restaurant, but it didn't take so long to get from the kitchen to justify the tepid temperature of so many dishes.
Ribs were of decent enough quality meat, but had been cruelly treated. Cooked in (or at least covered in) a glossy oilslick of black bean sauce, tasting like a sweet soy that had been punched in the face by a rogue gang of star anise pods and not much more. A rare high came with great tempura prawns. Scattered with a sprinkle of crushed something, jade green methamphetamine maybe, they were as moreish as they were fresh, though four of them for £17.50 is definitely on the steep side.
Conversely, the T'n'T 'sashimi' pizza (I'm not entirely sure that's where best to place the quotation marks, but they need to go somewhere in a half-baked concept like this) wasn't the best idea of the day. There's a T for the tuna, wafer-thin slices of very good sashimi, thrown away on an over-salted flat biscuit base and violently assaulted with truffle oil (that other T) and acerbic micro greens.
The Chef's sashimi selection was thickly sliced, lumpen and way too cold for the flavours of the fish to have opened up. I wasn't expecting Dinings or Umu standards, but I was hoping for better than M&S. We've moved on with Japanese and Asian dining in the capital, it just doesn't feel like the team at Gilgamesh has noticed. Two pieces each of salmon, tuna, prawn and (I think..) mackerel were plonked down unceremoniously by the server unannounced and unexplained.
At £40 a head for an a la carte lunch with no drinks it's difficult to see me being back to try their evening atmosphere, though I'm sure that for some, the idea of a roped-off luxe lounge in the heart of newly wealthy Camden is de trop. It's a world away from the Hawley Arms that's for sure. But come here for food? I'm not sure I could do it (and I'm not sure anyone else does). It's a gigantic bar and club that also serves food. Overpriced mediocrity I know your name. And it is Gilgamesh.
DISCLAIMER: We were invited to dine here (anonymously) by the restaurant. We walked in unannounced, paid in full and then were refunded by the restaurant PR after we'd left the restaurant.