Places like this are why I love London. Quite how a £16m, 520 seat theme park named after the Sumerian king of Mesopotamia can exist under my nose for so long is beyond me. I’ve walked the streets of Camden a thousand times, and been lost in that neon cybergoth dungeon on more than one occasion. I’ve been trapped in tattoo parlours, argued with the gremlin that advertises golf sales, been bewitched by the interplay between street preacher and street dealer, and spent more than my fair share of evenings darting between the Hawley Arms and the Proud galleries, the 24 hour garage and the Underworld (both literal and metaphorical). In short, I’ve done my Camden time.
Somehow though, up a narrow escalator and past two flaming torches, someone’s constructed a yawning warehouse of bad taste that’s half dining room, half goods yard and fully mental. Inside and among the heavy wooden chairs carved by 10,000 Indians you’ll find the longest bar in the world, hewn from Lapis stone (although doesn’t every town have that claim?), thick tables dressed with petals, embossed menus and all manner of missplaced statues, gold panels, palm trees, fairy lights and the most wonderfully odd toilets I’ve seen in a good week. The communal boys’ and girls’ room was studded with gilted pissoirs like Fabric transported to an ancient temple.
Gilgamesh’s garish interior laughs in the face of the iPhone 4’s lens – it will take Steve Jobs a lifetime to invent a cameraphone that can do this place justice – but here’s a peek anyway.
Weirdly, there’s also bits that feel half finished. The stairs to the toilets are more Bracknell leisure centre than mystical passageway, and bear only a few half-hearted brass plates. And there’s something much more Chalk Farm than Uruk about seeing the 8.15 train from Camden Road to Kilburn rumble by through the top window. Nevertheless, it’s all pretty bizarre.
The nine pound thirty five question is, though, does all this tasteless flamboyance justify charging nearly a tenner for three pieces of tuna sashima? And pricing tasting menus at 47 or 57 quid a head? We don’t know, we were there for the Eat Yourself Beautiful menu. Just to make the whole thing a notch more ludicrous (and lasso a couple hundred more gullible punters per night), Gilgamesh recently launched a whole menu based around collagen and its magical face-saving properties. I say a whole menu, it’s more like a six item gimmick at the back of a lengthy tome of a menu, but we ordered most of it.
If you have a friend that derides health food culture and likes nothing better than to quote Ben Goldacre every time you crack open a flaxseed and hemp bar in front of them, take them to Gilgamesh and order two glasses of wheatgrass and avocado. Then sit back and watch their face light up like the night sky around Misurata. Not only were they flavourless and limpid but they were also tiny. And expensive.
A “collagen and seaweed salad” with goma dressing was sloppy, slimy and snotty, cool fingers of cucumber and chewy seaweed covered in jizzy goo that made me envy fussy eaters. I don’t often eat meals with a grimace but my mind was working overtime as I munched through this; images of used tissues, discarded condoms, underwater reeds and tadpoles danced a merry dance through my head with every bite. It was a tangled viscous mess and I wanted to throw it back into the section of Regent’s Canal it had so obviously been dredged from. A “collagen inside out dumpling”, meanwhile, was relatively benign, soft and gooey and slightly flavourless, although the dipping sauce had bite.
Back to the sexy eating and a “clear soup of chicken, collagen jelly, wild rice and ginger” managed to mask the collagen but came out lukewarm and yielded cartilage on first bite. It was some time around this point we abandoned the vanity menu and plunged headfirst into the wild pan-Asian choices elsewhere. Duck spring rolls were a surprisingly moreish mix of minced bird and cucumber shards enveloped in filo pastry while vegetable tempura was probably the star of the evening, huge chunks of avocado and sweet potato deep fried and dipped in orange ponzu that raised a much-needed smile. While every other dish was meagre in proportion this was a platter fit for The King.
The entire place was empty when we arrived until they ushered in a table of gangsters who were plonked practically on my lap. After some quiet protestations we were moved, to a raised circular pimp table that I imagine is prime real estate come Friday night. From here we could survey the scene as the place filled up, and judging by the faces peering out at me from the gloom, the Eat Yourself Beautiful diet is a bit of a con.
In Gilgamesh’s defense the service was faultless, even if I was a little disappointed we weren’t served by minions from the year 2500 BC, and the head chef is Ian Pengelley formerly of E&O, so you may get a little luckier food-wise on your own visit. And despite it all, I really enjoyed myself. If I ever win the lottery and accidentally ingest several mandrake roots, I’ll probably build something like this myself: a proud cosmetic fuck up in a tired place, the Bride Of Wildenstein of the restaurant world.
Price per head: £30.50
Soundtrack: A smoky cover of ‘Live And Let Die’ was the only tune that sunk in.
Clientele: Think Tool Academy meets The Only Way Is Essex meets Get Carter.
As a postscript, I just noticed celeb chef Gino D’Acampo called the food at Gilgamesh “crap” which prompted an outcry from regulars Johnny Vaughan & Lisa Snowdon. Been there? What do you make of it?
VOTE FOR £31.75 in the OFM awards, if you fancy…