Being an unashamed carnivore, you’re highly unlikely to find me dining in a vegetarian restaurant. At the same time, I’m no stranger to them as my ex-girlfriend was one of those dyed-in-the-wool evangelical vegans. I’ve been nagged into reading online articles about the pitfalls of eating meat; pressured into watching YouTube videos of vegans talking bullshit; and worst of all sacrificing the pleasure of eating what I want whenever we were together. So I feel I can say with some authority that vegetarian restaurants generally deliver a level of satisfaction a few orders of magnitude lower than their less restricted counterparts.
I recently ate at The Gate in Islington which is the second branch of the long standing Hammersmith eatery to open in London. They claim to cook “refined Indo-Iraqi Jewish cuisine”. I made my thoughts on fusion restaurants crystal clear in my SUSHISAMBA review, so please understand why I’m not holding my breath. I do however like to keep an open mind. So with my preconceptions left to one side, I enter.
The first thing that strikes you is the sheer breathability of the space. An expansive, high ceilinged dining area is open plan with the kitchen and bar, but is severely underutilised with regards to decor. Plenty of natural light penetrates through corrugated screens. Naked dark wooden tables are spread throughout the floor with comfortable chairs. The waitress is friendly enough, but the kitchen staff and barman seem a little morose and embittered. Which when you’re almost the only one dining doesn’t exactly put you at ease.
Leek and trompette tart £6.25
I started with a leek and trompette tart that was fluffy and light, eggy and earthy, and the pastry just about thin enough.
Then there was a dish of carciofini (baby artichokes) deep-fried in a light batter and stuffed with goats cheese, leeks, sundried tomato, pine nuts and basil. This was pretty decent especially when gathering some of the slightly underpowered garlic aioli and fresh puy lentil salsa onto your fork with it.
Broad bean falafel £4 (from the mezze)
From the mezze was an overly smooth broad bean falafel served with tahini and schoog, which is an Israeli inspired cousin of Italian pesto.
Wild mushroom risotto cake £15.50
A main of risotto cake is a vertically stacked overcompensation of a dish. Girolles, pied blue, oyster and Paris Brown mushrooms blur in a peppery, nutty mess, with an impractically thick layer of rocket atop it. There’s shavings of neither here nor there parmesan, and a wild mushroom and cream sauce which is so so. It’s all a ploy to divert your attention from the overcooked – and even slightly burnt in places – truffled risotto.
Summer pudding £5.50
Salvaging the meal was a vivid magenta brioche that had soaked up the essence of a strawberry and raspberry compote. Every bite harboured the zingy intensity of fresh fruit. It was good to at least end on a high note.
So having channelled my inner veggie for an afternoon, and contemplated the future fallout over my ex reading this review, I stepped away from The Gate with the notion safely lodged in my head that I will probably never return. There’s nothing terrible about the cooking (for the most part) but there was nothing that good about it either. They weren’t able to convert me, though I doubt they even care. There’s a growing vegetarian contingent out there that will gladly be the lifeblood that keeps them afloat.
food : 6/10
service : 6.5/10
ambience : 7/10
value : 5/10
The Gate Islington
370 St John Street, London EC1V 4NN
0207 278 5483