Thursday, March 10, 2016
Review: The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant, Islington
Confession: I must have passed The Gate Restaurant in Islington over 500 times on my way back from work, given the number of years we lived in Islington - but I never went in. Not once. I knew it was a vegetarian restaurant and ... I just didn't think it was for me. As strange and illogical as that line of thinking sounds, it's the truth. Sure, I've been to vegetarian and vegan cafes for a casual spot of lunch, but a 3-course vegetarian dinner? It didn't appeal to my omnivorous habits.
Then, after a wonderful meal with my veggie friend Natalie on Tuesday, I realized just how much I'd been missing. Because the menu at The Gate is anything but boring or clichéd. It's not all chickpeas and lentils and cous cous. In fact, the descriptions of the options sounded so fascinating, we had to ask for more time twice because we couldn't decide what to order. That kind of fascinating.
We started with plantain fritters and grilled halloumi in chermula. I was intrigued by the idea of freekeh, the 'it' grain that has replaced quinoa at the top of foodies' trendy list.
Natalie's plantain fritters were delightfully crunchy on the outside, without any trace of excess oil or grease. Filled with carrot, sultanas, mint and pine nuts, the flavors worked well with the chipotle and blueberry sauce when served atop the bed of crispy fennel and pomegranate salad. A small dish, but bursting with flavor and ingenuity. I eagerly scooped up my grilled halloumi, dipping it in the harissa sauce and delighting in the pomegranate seeds that burst as I bit into them.
We agonized over what to have for our main courses before finally settling on the aubergine schnitzel (Natalie couldn't pass up that name!) and the tortillas (funnily enough, the table next to us had ordered the exact same items!).
A quick word about the presentation: it's beautiful. The plating is considered and innovative: stacking the beetroot and sweet potato-filled tortillas as rolled-up columns was ingenious! I was a bit sad to dismantle them by toppling them over. Natalie's aubergine was prettily layered with applewood smoked cheddar before being carefully arranged on top of a potato dauphinoise.
My tortillas were unlike anything I've tasted in a long while. I'm not usually a huge fan of sweet potato, but these little delicate cubes were delicious when paired with the chilli, lime and coriander, plus a generous dollop of guacamole.
When we didn't think we could possibly fit anything else in, the dessert menu arrived and we ordered with gusto: steamed treacle orange and poppy seed pudding and mille-feuille. I was too pre-occupied with the presentation of my mille-feuille to pay attention to anything else - the apple crisps made a sweet little hat and collar for the apple and calvados sorbet. But the caramelised sticky apples were my favorite part of this dessert. Like a mini version of apple pie (but even better). After much encouragement, I dipped my spoon into Natalie's treacle pudding which, while tasty, was a tiny bit on the dry side for me. I preferred my mille-feuille with all the endless taste sensations to discover!
We polished off our desserts with a fresh mint tea each, chatting away into the evening.
The restaurant itself is very enjoyable to dine in. I loved the open plan seating, which was far more inviting and warm than I'd expected it to be - after all, I'd only ever viewed it from the bus window! Staff were attentive and courteous, plus it was fun to see what other diners had opted for as we sneaked sideways glances at the tables next to us!
I never thought I'd say this, but I liked The Gate so much, I'm eager to bring John back for another meal. It's also made me realize how ridiculous I'd been to assume that the restaurant "wasn't for me" since I'm not a vegetarian. If there was one takeaway (pun intended!) from our evening at The Gate, it was that vegetarian cuisine is for everyone. It's the recipes and the quality of execution that matters most and The Gate ticked all the boxes for me.
Natalie and I were generously hosted by The Gate - thank you! There are two locations: Islington and Hammersmith. We dined at the Islington restaurant. All opinions are my own.