Pleasures of flesh are all but forgotten with the Gate’s meatless masterpieces

I originally wasn’t going to write about The Gate because someone much more qualified than I – specifically Marina O’Louglin of Metro – has already summarised it in a single sentence so pithy the restaurant has it chalked up on a blackboard outside: “The Gate isn’t a good vegetarian restaurant, it’s simply a good restaurant.” Amen sister.

But then it occurred to me that whilst most grub-loving grown-ups would never rule out an entire cuisine, most of them would take some persuading before booking a table at a vegetarian restaurant. Why? Because vegetables are not natural stars. Sure, they can wink from the wings, and shine in their own way, like Robin or Woodstock or Garfunkel, but they rarely get to be the main event. And when vegetarians are usually left choosing between a nut roast or Portobello mushroom burger, you can’t really blame the ominvores for eschewing the vegetarian route (root?) with a firm hand.

The three of us were actually at the Gate to celebrate Becky’s birthday. Neither she nor Carla are big meat-eaters, so I suggested it knowing it’d be something we’d all love. Unfortunately, it was also the day of my work’s ten year anniversary do, which had started six hours previously, so I rolled in 40 minutes late and pissed as a fart.

The Gate London restaurant review
It is taking all my effort not to dribble or fall off my chair.

Fortunately our waiter was totally cool with it, even though the restaurant was packed and my dinner date duo were camping out at the table with a bottle of white.

I’ve now been to The Gate a couple of times, and I think it’s probably one of my top five London restaurants. I eat out a lot – and almost every dish contains meat in one form or another – so a vegetarian restaurant is very refreshing. I especially like how it doesn’t try at all to recreate the taste of flesh but draws on ingredients’ natural strengths to create interesting, inventive dishes packed with flavour. (Although my baby artichoke ‘carciofini’ starter (£8.00) came – adorably – presented as two little drumsticks). You  won’t find any plant life masquerading as meatballs here, no ersatz ‘burgers’ piled with cheese in an unimaginative ploy to hide their peculiar sponginess.

The Gate vegetarian restaurant review
Baby artichoke filled with wild mushroom duxelle and dolcelatte served with puy lentil salsa and a bit splodge of garlic aioli.

My baby artichoke starter was satisfyingly hearty (in fact, all the portions here are pretty big). It was my dad’s pick last time, and my main reason for coming back so soon.

Carla chose the three onion tart (£6.00), which I picked last time. It’s good, but not as unusual as my artichoke drumsticks.

The Gate restaurant review
Leeks and shallots baked with crème fraîche in a cheese pastry, topped with caramelized red onions, finished with herb oil

Birthday girl Becky had the feta cheese and couscous fritters (£6.00), “a sort of cross between Italian arancini and Middle Eastern flavour”.

The Gate Islington restaurant review

As founding members of the sweet potato and blue cheese fan club (email me for a membership pack), Carla and I plumped for the alien but jolly-sounding ‘Rotolo’ (£13.00), which turned out to be a small, edible headpiece, as worn a few days later by Sarah Jessica Parker at the Met Ball.

The Gate Islington restaurant review
Highly recommended: fennel and dolcelatte rotolo with butternut and leeks served on French beans finished with green peppercorn and mustard cream sauce.

It looked like a tropical island in a beautiful sea of green peppercorn and mustard cream sauce, which I mopped up greedily with a side of chunky polenta chips (£4.00).

The Gate Islington restaurant review

The Gate Islington restaurant review
Wild mushroom risotto cake (£15.00) – Saute girolles, king oysters and Paris brown served on pan fried risotto cake finished with creamy cep sauce, rocket and cheese shavings in lemon and truffle dressing. “Beats the living shit out of a bean burger,” said Becky.

Mindful that it isn’t a proper birthday dinner without something sweet, we pushed the boat out and ordered the ‘dessert meze’ to share, which turned out to be five full-size puddings in one glorious, sugary cornucopia.

The Gate Islington menu

They claim this is for two, but considering we couldn’t even finish it between us (“Scandalous!” our waiter scolded, with a wink, as he cleared it away), I reckon it could do three or four. Highlights for me were the zesty lemongrass cheesecake and chocolate, griottine and chestnut torte, which came out with a sticky hard halo of sweet caramel. The panna cotta was agreed to be a bit on the slimy side and seemed like a bit of an afterthought, but reports of the prune and apple crumble were glowing (I declined, hot fruit ain’t my thing). 

Although the food was fantastic, what really made the evening was our waiter. He was hilarious and friendly, yet attentive, and happy for us to bum around for an hour drinking after our monster pudding had been cleared away. In fact, all the staff – including the people doing the actual cooking, who we could see doing their thing in the open kitchen – were excellent, and seemed to be really passionate about the food. I’d recommend it to anyone, even hardened carnivores; it may not serve any meat, but it’s got a lot of heart.

The Gate, 370 Saint John Street, EC1V 4N.

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Author: Emily Gibson

Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.