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On my regular wanderings around The Stables Market in Camden, I've often noticed and indeed photographed the sumptuous and exquisitely hand-carved entrance to Gilgamesh. I've never bothered to go past the red carpet (which has a muscly bouncer guarding it).
Last week though, my partner R & I celebrated our 2nd year together and a very generous family friend took us for a meal at Gilgamesh to celebrate. It was a really kind and thoughtful treat, particularly because I've been quite upset and fretting a lot recently - work has been horrid.
The entrance stairway leading into Gilgamesh was as impressive as ever with its Sumerian carvings easing upwards into a lounge area with an Eastern wooden swing outside. We had to wait a while in the lounge, as although they had taken our booking for 6 pm, the restaurant area was still being readied when we arrived. A bit disorganised on their part, but not too annoying, as some of our friends were running late too.
I had called in advance to make sure our menu options were vegetarian and to pre-advise them that we would be using their two-for-one set meal offer. The restaurant serves a broadly pan-Oriental menu and insists on a minimum food spend of at least £20 per head if you choose a-la-carte dishes, which means that a two for one set meal at a whopping £40 per meal, is pretty much the same price. Very pricey!! I had also specifically asked for a vegetarian pudding option having heard that the dessert contained marshmallows (which, as you know, contain gelatine) and our booking was taken as such.
When we finally were seated at our tables, we spent a fair bit of time admiring the ambience. What must have once been the area under railway arches (and what used to be a horse hospital a long time ago) had been turned into a magical paradise fit for the fantasies of the mythical prince Gilgamesh. I felt a real sense of changing dimensions because the train line outside runs at first floor eye-level with the occasional goods train trundling past. Very surreal and weird.
The chairs we were seated in had hand carvings of various mystical, medieval scenes on them and the pillars and decorations were really exotic. The restaurant also boasted quite tall palm fronds that gave the place an indoors-yet-outdoors feel.
A little later, and with some difficulty we turned our attention to the food. I was really annoyed to find out that although Gilgamesh say they have a vegetarian menu, one of the listed vegetarian main course options isn't suitable for vegetarians (something they didn't bother pointing out, until I specifically asked our head waiter, who then checked with the kitchen) - it contained fish sauce and shrimp paste. So veggies, beware - the reservation staff don't really know about veggie options and often neither do the waiters.
Our starter consisted of vegetarian sushi (reasonably good and freshly made, although eschewing the traditional seaweed wrapper) and dimsum, stuffed with mushrooms and little else (very mono-flavoured and boring).
For mains, I had them change their seafood-based supposedly-veggie dish to a delicious, thai red vegetable curry which could have been a bit hotter , chilli-wise. The others at the table had noodles in a soya sauce with tempura topping (avocado and sweet potato tempura, it turned out). I cannot think of a good reason why avocados (or Mars bars) would need to be dipped in batter and fried, and this tempura dish has only strengthened my opinion on that count. The tempura outer was soggy and the inside was weird and vile. The noodles were a sludgy green but edible. They also served us a side dish of some greens in a light sauce, which went surprisingly well with the rice that came alongside.
When our puddings arrived, (and despite our repeated requests at the start of the meal), the cheesecake was topped with a marshmallow. So I asked yet again, if I could have a pudding that was suitable for vegetarians and finally I was given an exotic fruit salad which was fresh, sweet and absolutely fantastically put together in terms of combining natural flavours.
Our bill for four including one cocktail (£8.50, if I remember correctly) and some water was just under £100. Service was erratic, the food was so-so but had a few highlights such as the red curry and fruit salad. If you're a wee bit cooler and trendier than I am, then the one redeeming factor was that the atmosphere was absolutely buzzing with the 'young and the restless' and those wanting to be spotted by other trendy types . (Last but not least, the restaurant's management audaciously pre-include an optional service charge of 12.5% -- something I absolutely abhor. I do include a 10% tip usually, but I'd like to be given the option if indeed the service charge is deemed optional.)
All in all, Gilgamesh was not particularly good . It's not somewhere I would go to again, but it was just about worth one visit, if only for the ambience.
Gilgamesh Bar and Lounge
Chalk Farm Road,
London NW1 8AH