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In the late-'90s, mega-scale restaurants such as Mezzo and Quaglino's were taken as proof that London was becoming the centre of the culinary world. But funnily enough, none of those spaces ever made you want to say 'wow'.
'Wow!' is a word that easily springs to mind as you enter this vast newcomer, in the offbeat location of Camden Market. You don't need to have read the press release about the 500 covers, the 10,000-strong Indian design team, or the longest bar in the world (hand-carved from Lapis stone) to realise that someone has just dropped shed-loads of cash creating this place.
Huge wood carvings span from floor to ceiling. Down one side, a glass curtain-wall looks - bizarrely - onto a heavy good line (with the odd passing freight train for added amusement). Do we sound impressed? We were! And also by the affable service. Inevitably, though, the sensation is of eating in a huge venue or nightclub rather than a restaurant - something the huge bar and prominent DJ did nothing to dispel.
How could the pan-Asian food live up? And especially at prices, which certainly don't aim to attract passing Goths, punks or whatever Camden trendies call themselves nowadays. The initial crowd looked more staid than you might expect for such a scene, presumably having heard that Ian Pengelley (ex E&O and the doomed Pengelleys) was at the stoves.
All our dishes were beautifully presented, and the sushi and sashimi in particular passed muster. Overall though, awareness of the hefty prices stifled some of the enjoyment, as did a middle-of-the-road quality in many dishes. Puddings were extremely boring.
All that said, the place delivers a very different Big Night Out. So we've awarded this brave but batty venture four stars. Can it succeed? Well that's the $64,000 - no, if the rumours are true make that the £12 million - question.
The Stables, Camden Mkt, Chalk Farm Rd, London, NW1 8AH
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Lunch Mon - Thur: 12:00 - 15:00 Fri - Sun: 12:00 - 17:00 Dinner Sun- Thur: 17:30 - 22:00 Fri and Sat 17:30 - 23:00
Last orders: Sun-Thu 10 pm, Fri & Sat 11 pm