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Opera and Asian cuisine is probably not a combination that is often uttered together but one soon learns to expect the unexpected at Gilgamesh.

Gilgamesh is the celebrated chef Ian Pengelly's uber trendy north London dining room, and has to be seen to be believed for its wealth of interior opulence and its surreal awe inspiring setting.

On this particular evening the sun was streaming into the sizeable bar and restaurant. The huge roof was partly retracted with classical music playing and it was clearly time for a drink. I chose a ‘Kutu’ cocktail, containing Absolut peach, Tanquerry, peach puree and cucumber – highly refreshing. My guest had a Don Corleone (suitable as he has Italian ancestry) comprising of Campari and Martini Rosso.

The bar area is both funky and beautiful with a choice of round tables with stools and sofas decorated in rich fabrics. The overall scene, with high ceilings and wrought iron work, is reminiscent of the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, which combined with Babylonian artefacts and very detailed wood panelling took 600 carvers six months to complete. A frieze around the walls depicts scenes of ancient Babylonian folklore which change colour throughout the evening. There is definitely the feeling one has been transported somewhere special, somewhere fun, hip and very civilised. To cap it all there is the bizarre added attraction of a railway line at the side of the building, adding a surreal element to the setting with the occasional goods train randomly gliding by.

We visited on a Tuesday evening which is when the restaurant throws itself over to Opera soirees. These magical theatrical evenings are a great way to combine an evening's dining with a spot of culture thrown in. At the first performance began and the singers, elegantly attired in evening dress, took their places around the room. The standard of performance is high and there is a wonderful atmosphere of the Belle Epoch – a heady blend of decadence, style and romance. (This would be the perfect place to take someone to introduce them to opera.) There is a break mid way through with plenty of time for conversation and then a second performance a little later on.

With all this activity I had to remind myself to focus on the food; but it certainly lived up to its reputation. We began with a mixed sashimi platter and Mr Chang Roll. The shashimi was stunningly presented on dry ice – a piece of theatre at the table. It was wonderfully fresh and tender. To follow we shared some crispy squid, (which is one of the chef's speciality‘s) pork & prawn siu mai, hoba miso Chilean seabass and twice cooked pork belly, pak choi and black vinegar. This was accompanied by steamed jasmine rice and stir fried Asian greens. The dishes represented a delicious and exciting blend of the exotic east whilst the squid and pork belly had the edge on the other dishes. The staff are attentive and very helpful, should you wish to have some advice on the menu. They also have a superb sommelier who suggested a Pinot Blanc, Alsace 2006 which complemented the dishes well with its crisp and fresh flavours. To finish we had a selection of sorbets - three intense refreshing flavours, ginger & apricot, raspberry & chilli, kiwi. The flavours were prominent and the chilli was genuinely spicy. Our other choice, a chocolate fondant, came with green tea ice cream which cut through the intense richness nicely.

Gilagmesh is definitely somewhere not just to eat but to experience. The Tuesday opera evenings offer something totally different - a combination of fine dining with a measure of culture that gives one the feeling of having experienced the best of both worlds..

Louise Elgin April 2007

Dinner for two a la carte with wine and cocktails is around £150.00
The special opera menu is £59.00 per person or £49.00 per person for the vegetarian menu.

See our previous review at:

Gilgamesh – Camden Stables Market –Chalk Farm Road – London NW1
Tel: 020 7482 5757

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