The Return of Gilgamesh


The Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem supposedly dating from some time between 2100 BC and 12OO BC – the ancients weren’t too hot on dates, but suffice it to say that it was a very long time ago – contains one of the first indomitable heroes in world literature, in the form of the eponymous Gilgamesh, who combines strength, perseverance and endurance in combating his many and varied foes.

It was little wonder that, many years ago now (2006!), a suitably epic, 400-cover restaurant of the same name opened in Camden Market, where it survived until 2018. Those in the know mourned it, for all of its excess; it served some of the best pan-Asian food in London, and offered an operatic experience to compare to few others. So, when I heard that it had reopened on St Martin’s Lane, it was time to saddle up and recruit the only man I know who can vie with me for heroism, strength and endurance when it comes to lunches; Larry.

“Well, this is all very decent, old boy”, quoth the heroic one as we settled into our banquette on a wet, cold Wednesday pre-Christmas, and prepared for what was going to be a true and worthy feast of pan-Asian favourites – but in a distinct evolution from its previous incarnation. Once, the décor and opulence almost overwhelmed the diners, but now it has sensibly situated itself on three levels, meaning that the opportunity for excess is far more limited – although not, it should be noted, when it comes to eating and drinking.

We settle ourselves in with a couple of the signature cocktails – a Ziggurat for Larry, a spicy little watermelon number, and the strongly recommended Aruru for me, a rum and mango delight – and we ask the ebullient manager and the fantastic waitress what we should order. I could have sworn that there was a theatrical wink with the words, “We shall prepare you a feast.”

Had it not been lunchtime, I suspect that we would have become giddy at the sheer onslaught of excellent, innovative food that then came onto our plates. Kicking off with appetite-whetting prawn crackers and truffled edamame beans, we then were taken on an inspirational tour of the house specialities; the dragon roll, sushi filled with soft shell crab, was an early highlight, as was a pitch-perfect duck and watermelon salad. I started off taking detailed notes, as Larry looked on approvingly correcting points of spelling and grammar, to say nothing of fact (“It’s the king prawn har gau, not the prawn & chive dumpling, old chap”), as we took delight in everything that we tried.

The seafood ceviche was perfectly on point, and the Miso Chilean seabass was like a superior version of Nobu’s now-passé black cod. The only thing I wasn’t bowled over by was the lemongrass chicken, although accompanied by the innovative asparagus and cauliflower fried rice – made out of cauliflower, naturally – it proved to be a more than fitting accompaniment to the bottle of Gavi that the manager recommended to match with everything we tried; it was a long, luxuriant and delicious lunch of the kind that’s supposed to have gone out of style when – well, Gilgamesh last existed. Not a bit of it, we are nothing if not able to recreate the sagas of old.

We concluded with very fine desserts of matcha fondant and mango cheesecake, accompanied by some equally excellent sake cocktails – the Pazuzu, named after the demon in The Exorcist – and then it was time to head out into the dark, wet afternoon, after a quick glance at the well-appointed upstairs and downstairs lounges, which stay open until 2am on selected evenings.

But Larry and I, committed men of early nights – as soon as we’re out after 9pm, both of us start shivering and scratching and talking wistfully about tog levels on duvets – shake our heads knowingly, before we take a happy leave. “That was just what the doctor ordered,” the great man said, “and not a Christmas turkey in sight.” God bless us, every one.

Gilgamesh, 4a Upper St Martin’s Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9NY. For more information, and for bookings, please visit