Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
Opened in 2006, Gilgamesh will be familiar to anyone who spends any amount of time in Camden Town’s market area. Facing you as you enter the stables market, alongside the railway arches, stands a large, imposing triangular shaped building, with a doorway leading only to an upwards travelling escalator. This could be interpreted as either welcoming or terrifying, allowing you no way out.
Upstairs, in the dark interior, we were welcomed by a maître d’, who printed out a copy of our booking onto a till slip, and handed it to a member of staff who proceeded to lead us round the entire restaurant hunting for our table, before admitting defeat and asking another member of staff for directions.
The information we’d read about Gilgamesh in advance said nothing about the entertainment, but we were alarmed by the presence of giant speakers and an empty stage. We were offered a table at the front of the stage, alongside two or three other tables, but firmly declined in favour of a side booth beside the window which could happily have seated six.
We were welcomed at our table by a member of staff called Lorna – but it wasn’t until later that we discovered she was the duty manager. And there we thought she was just being nice – a proper introduction probably would have eased our confusion.
The 200 seat restaurant has a retractable roof, but given the torrential rain outside, it wasn’t about to be rolled back. Instead we noticed the array of LED lighting around the room, and giant heaters which presumably are needed throughout the winter as all the warmth in the restaurant disappears through the 12m to the fabric ceiling and straight out.
Given the stage – which was about to host three drag queens doing cabaret – we wondered who this pan-Asian restaurant was aimed at. The guests in the half full main floor seemed to be a mix of small groups of office workers, and a few middle aged couples wondering what they’d let themselves in for.
Indeed, before we knew it, the drag queens had sat themselves down in our comfy little booth and were chatting to us. The only problem was, they weren’t very good at being drag queens – they were chatting normally, rather than being cheeky, telling us what they’d done earlier that day, and forgetting to call each other ‘she’. In fact, they didn’t even know each other’s stage names. We were more interested in checking out the impressive bicep of one of the performers, which looked not unlike that of Felicia’s in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, just before she has to make a speedy exit.
Service was patchy – at times, the staff were coming over far too often to check if we needed anything; other times, they were nowhere to be seen. It seemed to be the restaurant’s policy to not actually tell you what anything was as it was being served – whether that was a glass of prosecco, or one of the 11 courses that made up the £55 tasting menu.
Speaking of which, we never actually ordered. We asked a question about one of the two tasting menus – the cheaper of which is vegetarian and comes in at £45 for 10 courses – and the next thing we knew it was being served, two or three dishes at a time.
There was some theatre when the tuna sashimi was delivered to the table, served on a mat on top of a bowl of dry ice, but sadly none of the other dishes reflected this. It was almost as though the chef had forgotten to order the rest of the fun. That’s not to say that the food didn’t make up for it, though, with the dishes ranging from pretty good to amazing. Standouts were a large slab of sea bass coated in deliciously sweet, sticky miso sauce; and the beef fillet with Korean barbecue sauce which was perfectly cooked, and melted in the mouth. This was served on pork, prawn and crab fried rice.
Because none of the dishes were announced, what we were eating proved to be a lottery. Having said that, a lot of the time it would have been hard to tell us what we were being served, since the music was so loud – and it got louder when the drag queens were on stage, doing high kicks while miming to classic pop and desperately trying (and failing) to get the audience to participate. We decided the audience needed to consume a lot more alcohol before anyone would be anywhere near ready to interact.
Dessert was beautifully presented: a divine cheesecake and perfectly flavoured crème brûlée, with a message at the top of the rectangular plate written in the best piped lettering we’ve seen in a long time.
We’d been promised a tour of the rest of the venue, but that didn’t happen – apparently, there are two private dining rooms, seating up to 200, and a studio space holding up to 500.
As we came out of the toilet – which had an attendant ready to hand us towels and help us work the automatic tap – we collided with a group of girls barely out of their teens, dressed up posh and with too much makeup ready for a rainy Monday night out. We weren’t sure whether to be more confused by the girls on the stairs, or the automatic tap. Maybe the restaurant managers think there’s a health & safety issue in allowing people to help themselves to paper towels.
By the end of the night, we found ourselves again looking around for staff. After 10 minutes of being ignored, we decided to leave, although the nice maître d’ did help us with our coats.
Gilgamesh is at Camden View, Camden Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH. Tel: 020 7428 4922 (ext 2).
Comments are closed.