Camden has long been a favourite haunt of mine, with it’s busy, bustling and full of life atmosphere, in addition to the amazing array of market stalls and street food vendors. It is one of the very few places in the world where you can very easily (and very happily) lose yourself in a maze of incense sticks, patchwork quilts and vintage furniture, without feeling too out of place. However, located in the very centre of all of the Camden chaos lies one venue that has intrigued me for years – Gilgamesh. With flame torches illuminating a rather glamorous looking entrance (complete with a one way escalator to the top), it is both mysterious and fitting with regards to its surroundings – so when the opportunity arose to dine there, I grabbed it with both hands.
With our reservation booked for 6.30pm, fairly early in comparison to most London dining times, Dominic and I were excited to see what was at the top of the mysterious escalator (after all this time) and luckily, we weren’t disappointed by what greeted us. Ceiling to floor windows, dark wooden carvings and a slight ‘temple’ feel all contributed to what is a truly stunning venue. We were seated near the entrance, on a gorgeous circular table overlooking the majority of the restaurant, complete with real rose petals and an extensive wine list. What more could you ask for?
With a pan-asian theme throughout, the menu is full of rich, luxurious but accessible dishes – ranging from black rice stir fries (a healthier, bran take on the rice we’re used to) to sushi, to the very special Wagyu beef steak (available on request). I consider myself a fairly fussy eater, but I was delighted to see that there were a number of dishes that suited my taste buds – so much so, I couldn’t narrow myself down to just one starter.
After a well deserved glass of house white wine, Dom and I decided to order two starters each – with the aim of sharing and tasting each. When exploring a new cuisine, I think it’s lovely to order a few dishes and really indulge your taste buds, as trying new things is what it is all about. Avocado and sweet potato tempura with orange ponzu was my first choice, arriving at the table on a very photogenic wooden slab and bursting with flavour. Tempura can often tend to be a little greasy, however this dish was beautifully made and had a gorgeous soft, yet crunchy texture. Complimenting this was a portion of Gilgamesh’s famous spring rolls, which were so much lighter in texture than others I’ve tried – filled with glass rice noodles rather than lots of starchy vegetables, in addition to several delicate mushrooms, peppers and corns. Dom opted for a portion of black rice – which was intriguing to look at (and photograph) but apparently delicious, as well as duck spring rolls.
We requested a 15-20 minute break before our main course, as the starters were so filling (but oh so hard to stop eating) and the portion sizes very generous. As a restaurant which is catering for the luxury market, it is very reassuring to see that portion sizes aren’t scrimped upon – as even though it is a ‘treat’ night out – you still feel as though the experience is value for money and completely worth the price you pay. At the end of the evening, as I waddled merrily out the door, it dawned on me that perhaps two starters were a little ambitious – and that a better idea would be to share 5-6 little dishes with friends. As the restaurant started filling up with large groups of friends, it became apparent that this is a very popular restaurant for sharing, experiencing new things and standing as a ‘hub’ for social get togethers.
Absorbing our beautiful surroundings and catching up really did allow time to fly by and before we knew it, our main courses had arrived at the table ready for consumption (well, not before photographing them of course). After much deliberation, I had opted for the Hoba Miso Chilean Sea Bass, which is a very generous fillet of sea bass – marinated in sweet plum miso sauce and cooked delicately in a hoba leaf. I know I often overuse superlatives, but oh my goodness – this was the most amazing dish I think I’ve ever tasted. The melt in the mouth texture of the fillet was bursting with sweet plum flavour – and the edges were slightly crispy with glazed sauce. A side of coconut rice was the perfect accompaniment and although after just a few bites I was starting to feel full, I powered through on the flavour’s account. At £32, the sea bass isn’t the cheapest option – but even if you’re not a particularly ‘fishy’ person – I would certainly recommend you try it. One portion, in my opinion, would be suitable for two people, however if you’re hungry and fancy treating yourself, no-one will judge you otherwise.
Dom chose an equally generous sized dish, in the form of Crispy Chilli Chicken with black vinegar sauce, with a side of fried rice and seaweed salad. Each dish was graciously devoured, however the black vinegar sauce was very rich – so need only be added in very small portions.
Another short break paved the way for a spot of cocktails, which saw us ordering a pomegranate and raspberry concoction, in addition to a rather creamy (and sickly) rum and caramel creme delight. And with our appetite for sweet things watered, we decided to try out a dessert each. In hindsight, this was probably a mistake – as I’d already been very overzealous on the starter and main ordering, so could barely fit another drop of water, let alone a pudding – however determined not to be beaten, I went for a portion of the chocolate and lemongrass brûlée, whilst Dom tried a chocolate fondant with cinnamon ice cream. Unfortunately we couldn’t finish everything on our plate but both dishes were extremely well made and tasted luxurious and indulgent without being too pretentious. I was a little unsure of the lemongrass addition on my first bite, but the slight zing it gave made the overall flavour much more accessible, toning the sickly sweet chocolate down a little.
Overall, we had an absolutely incredible evening at Gilgamesh – proving it really does pay to be adventurous and explore. The service throughout was helpful, kind and unobtrusive and the food was above and beyond my expectations. It is a fantastic place to go for a family gathering, social get together – or even a first date, since there is plenty to talk about. The visuals of this place are not overshadowed by the food, and everything is centred around presenting the very best of pan-asian cuisine. My only regret is that I hadn’t ventured up the flame lined red carpet sooner.
Gilgamesh Restaurant Bar & Lounge, The Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AH, 0207 428 4922