A very ambitious opening in the unlikely setting of Camden, in a cavernous building tucked away off the market next to the railway line. The décor is vaguely Egyptian, with figures of Egyptian style around the walls, yet Gilgamesh was a Sumerian king (the equivalent of Hercules in Greek myth, though Gilgamesh probably did actually live, with various legends attributed to him). Quite what the connection between an ancient king of (what would now be) Iraq and pan-Asian fusion cooking is a PR mystery rather than an ancient mystery. The place is big: 200 covers seated in the main dining room, a private dining room as well, and a large bar area off the side of the main room. The bar and main dining have elaborate wooden chairs made in India, with inlaid wood much in evidence on the tables. The menu is essentially a cut down version of that at E&O, where Ian Pengelley used to cook.
At my most recent meal the best dish was prawn tempura, half a dozen good quality prawns cooked through nicely with a light batter and a simply soy dip (4/10). This was better than har gau steamed prawn dumpling, which again had good prawns but whose bun was not a patch on that at a top dim sum place like Yautacha.
Beef bulgogi was a lovely dish in the old days of E&O, but it was not executed as well here. Strips of beef were suitably rare but sadly were rather chewy, suggesting less good sourcing. This came with a good, rich sauce of chilli and garlic, but rested on a bed of mash which has been sitting around for toolong and so had become tepid (1/10). Better was a Thai red curry made from assorted vegetables e.g. aubergine, pea aubergine and sweet potatoes; this had an enjoyable, rich sauce (2/10). Asian vegetables e.g. Chinese broccoli were cooked with as suitably light touch (3/10). Ian was "on the pass" supervising dishes going out; it is always nice to see a chef in his own kitchen these days.
Below are notes from a meal in summer 2006.
We had good quality sashimi yellowtail (3/10), duck spring rolls with good pastry, served half open, the duck being tasty and still moist (4/10). Soft shell crab “spider roll” with rice was also well made (3/10). There were some cooking issues though. Asian greens actually seemed to be broad beans and broccoli (!) but in a spicy broth and they were cooked well (3/10). Yet som tam Thai papayai salad was for some reason prepared with mint, and in such quantity that it swamped the delicate flavour of the papaya (round up). Worse, a Thai prawn curry .had excellent green curry sauce made with authentic ingredients, yet the prawns were very overcooked and like an old shoe in texture. I sent these back and the same thing reappeared (0/10 for prawns, 3/10 for the curry). Fried rice was excellent, just as it used to be at E&O, with just a hint of spices (4/10).
The wine list is appealing and cheap, with plenty of choice under £20 and little over £35 – plenty of Riesling and Gewürztraminer to go with the spices. Service was a little uncertain but pleasant and willing. Even on this Tuesday, two weeks after opening, the place was full of young things (and us). They did 340 covers on Saturday according to the manageress, and even on this Tuesday night they were pretty much full, with some tables being turned. Doing 250 covers on a Tuesday just days after opening is the stuff of restaurateur dreams. Ian Pengelley was on display running the kitchen, looking very busy but very pleased with himself, as he should be.
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