As the token veggie in a sea of carnivorous friends it is not often I get to choose dinner venues. Convinced of every cliché surrounding vegetarian restaurants, it’s fair to say my suggestions go unheard. Whilst I never have a particular problem with this, if I am honest menu options are a tad limited. My secret quest has always been to find great vegetarian restaurants that can please even the meatiest of meat eating friends. Believe me this is harder than you might think.
The Gate in Islington came highly recommended to me as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in London. The Islington branch is the younger sibling of the original restaurant The Gate Hammersmith. Owners Adrian and Michael Daniel have been running the most successful vegetarian restaurants in London since 1989 and credit their grandmothers cooking and their diverse cultural backgrounds as their inspiration.
The restaurant is housed in what must have once been a large pub and retains many of the original features. With colourful ceramic tiles, white wash walls and wooden flooring the overall ambiance is light and airy and even on a dreary Friday afternoon, felt inviting. Tables are dressed immaculately with fresh white linen and an open plan kitchen is tucked away to the side of the room allowing you to witness the chefs in action. Staff are attentive and friendly with a good knowledge of the extensive seasonal menu. The menu, which changes every month, is interesting whilst also catering for a host of dietary requirements. Straightaway it is apparent there is nothing bland about The Gate.
The vast drinks menu offers not only a wide range of wines and local beers but also a larger than average variety of soft drinks including freshly squeezed juices and various teas. I was also very pleased to see that they have chosen Belu, the UKs most ethical water company, to provide the bottled waters. This means that the all the profits will be donated to WaterAid. We decided to put our trust in the hands of the patrons and go with the ‘Wine of the Month’ a Monrouby Chardonnay, which was light and zesty. I’m not normally a fan of chardonnay but this was impeccable and I would highly recommend.
A mezze plate of the various starter options was a perfect way to sample all of the delicious dishes on offer. Our huge and well-presented plate consisted of Japanese rolls, arancini a’la contadina, halloumi kibi, beetroot ravioli and leek, trompette and stilton tart. If I am honest the variations of flavours altogether didn’t make for the most harmonious of unions however there is no denying that each individual dish was prepared to perfection, delicious and exciting. It gave a complete overview of the range of dishes on offer, which is exactly what I wanted from a mezze plate, especially as my guest was yet to be convinced of vegetarian cuisine. The melt in the mouth beetroot and goats cheese ravioli has been on my mind ever since then!
For the mains I opted for a sweet potato and pomegranate salad with feta cheese, puy lentils, watercress, spring onion and mint. This was a very substantial sweet salad with generous helpings of everything. As salads go I don’t imagine this one would make it onto any diet plans in the near future but it tastes sensational. My guest chose the Asparagus Rotolo; Char grilled asparagus, courgettes & red peppers with herb ricotta & goats’ cheese. I had been worried that this might be the moment of truth where the lack of meat proved an issue however there were no complaints, in fact he assured me it was ‘very tasty’ and we noted how delicately this dish had been put together.
Although I had hoped that I might be able to sample the dessert mezze (a genius idea -perfect for serial desert thieves like myself) I was both short on time (it takes 15 mins to prepare) and space to put it all! Instead we went for the pressed chocolate and lavender torte served with crème fraiche and dressed with pretty little flowers. Needless to say this was exceptional; rich and moist and the perfect way to end our meal.
Prices at The Gate are perhaps a little higher than you would expect given the absence of meat however once you taste the dishes you understand the level of intricacy involved, justifying the expense. The Gate actually has two of its own cookbooks on sale allowing you to re create some of the dishes you have tasted and offering insight into how many ingredients are used. The food is fresh hence waiting times between courses seemed to be slightly longer than I would have liked but again the taste excuses the delay.
Whatever side of London you reside on, The Gate restaurants are the perfect place to take sceptical non-veggie friends to awaken them to idea of vegetarian cuisine. They manage to make vegetarian dining classy and glamorous and it is clear to see why after 25 years, they are still top of their game. Our overall experience was outstanding and I would thoroughly recommend everyone, veggie or not to go and try it for yourself.
Reviewer: Carolyn Owlett
The Gate Restaurant – Islington
370 St John St,
DINNER 5.00 – 10.30pm (last orders)
10:00 – 3:00pm (last orders)