I can’t say that vegetarian restaurants are generally particularly high on my list to visit having had a mixed but overall good experience at Mildred’s and a shocking one at The Wild Food Cafe, but with The Gate’s recent prolonged moment in the spotlight, I thought it was worth giving a try.
Alice & I visited the Islington branch situated in a lovely, high-ceilinged and airy dining room, with the decor similar to that of any nice modern gastro-pub, which made a nice change to the usual hippie outposts you find dedicated to vegetarian food. The original Hammersmith restaurant was founded by two brothers 25 years ago, with the Islington branch a new addition to The Gate family. The cooking is intended to reflect the diverse cultural background in which the Daniel brothers grew up, or “Indo-Iraqi Jewish”, with the food blending Indian and Arabic cuisines with traditional Jewish food, with an added touch of French and Italian influence, resulting in menu options such as hazelnut and honey crusted goat cheese, grilled halloumi in Indian spices, and butternut rotolo.
Diago, the Manager, and Eve, our waitress for the evening, made our meal a thoroughly enjoyable experience in spite of the fact that our booking had somehow been lost and there were no tables available when we arrived. Nothing a glass of ‘Prosecco Brut, Stelle d’Italia, Veneto’ (£6.00) enjoyed at the bar whilst we waited couldn’t help to assuage however.
Alice & I decided to share starters of miso glazed aubergine, one of my all-time favourite dishes (which is executed entirely faultlessly at my darling Roka restaurant), served as a half aubergine roasted and glazed with miso sauce, topped with toasted cashew nuts, micro coriander and ponzu sauce (£8.00), and the watermelon and feta salad made up of both red and yellow watermelons, fresh feta, baby gem lettuce, toasted pumpkin seeds and honey dressing (£7.00).
The aubergine was good, the meat a little overcooked and watery but the miso glaze on point giving a rich, umami flavour. It was also straight-outta-the-oven-piping-hot, which is not always the case when ordering vegetable dishes such as this and was certainly welcomed by us both. The watermelon and feta salad had all the right components but didn’t quite deliver due to the overwhelming presence of lettuce which overshadowed the classic combination of sweet watermelon and creamy feta. The pumpkin seeds were a nice, crunchy addition and, overall, it was a very refreshing dish.
With glasses of ‘Chenin Blanc, Saumur Blanc, Cabriole, Cave De Saumur, Loire, France 2013’ (£6.25) in hand, we were ready to delve into our mains. Alice had the green dragon salad of glazed smoked tofu, avocado, sweet potato, red cabbage, pak choi, daikon, heritage carrot and peppers with a teriyaki and sesame dressing (£12.00). It was a very fresh and decent tasting pile of vegetables, and though it did what it said on the tin and was presented nicely, it lacked any real cooking skill. My choice of sweetcorn and cilantro fritters served with a black bean, roast pepper and grilled corn on the cob salsa, topped with chargrilled Mediterranean vegetables and chunky guacamole (£13.00), on the other hand, was somewhat more accomplished. The fritter could have been a little crispier-edged but the flavours were excellent and the guacamole provided deliciously smooth contrasting texture, which quite frankly I would have liked a lot more of!
We shared some sides too (because obviously vegetarian means low calorie…), opting for the classic flavour of the moment, roasted spiced sweet potato wedges with garlic & chive sour cream, which were absolutely spot on, as well as the cauliflower with smoked paprika tahini, pine nuts and pomegranate, which wasn’t quite as impressive due to the cauliflower being overcooked and a little school-dinner-like in consistency, though much improved by the smoky, creamy sauce and crunchy, fresh pomegranates.
With Alice only having gone over to the dark side and turned veggie since January (and it not being a topic of conversation we usually get on to when out on the town in our glad rags) it was interesting to hear how her relatively newfound commitment to plant life was going, and I was over the moon (for her, ain’t nobody denying me a steak) to hear that she’s really enjoying it.
Apologies in advance as I’m about to go on a bit of a tangent… so on my way home I started to think (hypothetically, of course) about whether or not I could be a veggie, and though vegetarianism isn’t something that I could or would personally want to commit to, it’s something which I can fundamentally respect and I do think has positive aspects, such as focusing one on eating more greens. That said, veganism still boggles my mind, as despite some of the food being genuinely delicious and quite creative, it’s so incredibly restrictive and, in my mind, very anti-social, and I’m not sure for what bettering purpose (other than belong to the current social trend and Insta-community of sharing “Goddess Bowls” for lunch) than a “normal” vegetarian’s mission. Completely eliminating any and all animal products from one’s life seems to me only to fulfil a self-perpetuating (false due to being unnecessary) feeling of superiority and make food companies dreams come true whilst they make a big buck fast off our sudden demand for “cacao, cashew cream, tahini, bee pollen, buckwheat, nutritional yeast, rosewater-infused, gold leaf, baobab, hemp and chia seed energy balls”. Don’t get me wrong, I love kale chips more than most and there is nothing wrong with a good raw brownie, but I don’t believe this way of eating to be the only way of eating or in any way better than others (and, in fact, it really isn’t, with the nutrient deficiencies that one can develop from a vegan diet as long as my arm), and I certainly wouldn’t dish out hundreds of extra pounds per month to finance it. Maybe I’m being naive but I just don’t quite get it? Why does eating free-range (or any, for that matter) eggs make you a bad person? In my pursuit of wisdom I found this article both hilarious and infuriating. Eggs are a nutritional POWERHOUSE recommended for regular consumption by dieticians and nutritionists the world over. Anyway, I’ve completely lost the plot here [sorry to those only interested in looking at pictures of The Gate’s food, promise I’m just about to get back to that] but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and if someone could enlighten me on the need to be vegan (in terms of diet only) over vegetarian, I would be genuinely grateful.
Sorry, back to the good stuff and on to dessert. Alice and I shared the dessert trio of honeycomb cheesecake served with butterscotch sauce, sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice-cream, and strawberry eton mess with strawberry coulis (£15.00). It was all really rather good. The sticky toffee pudding could have been more moist (and I would definitely call that tiny pooling of butterscotch sauce stingy), but it was rich and sickeningly sweet as it should be, and thus well paired with the balanced salted caramel ice-cream. The honeycomb cheesecake wasn’t too sweet, which was a good thing in light of the sticky toffee, though I would have preferred the biscuit base to have a little more crunch than crumble texture. The third and final member of the trio, the eton mess, was a light and summery addition and complemented its heavier companions nicely.
There were a lot of things that I really liked about The Gate. The staff were lovely and attentive, the surroundings nice with the dining room filled with happy diners giving a great, buzzy atmosphere, and value for money on point. But, for me, the food was just good, and that’s not because meat was missing, but because there was simply no wow factor or impressive flavour profiles present. It was simple cooking done reasonably well, and well-priced for what it was.
*I dined as a guest of The Gate, but all opinions are my own.