“Ooh, they do fries,” said Mike, brightening up slightly as a plate of polenta chips went by, before being immediately distracted by a Nigel Farage lookalike at the bar.
I’d dragged my meat-loving boyfriend to one of my favourite restaurants, The Gate, to try its new summer menu. For a man who doesn’t consider a plate of food a proper meal without at least one, ideally two, dead animals on it, he was a long way out of his comfort zone. In fairness to him, he isn’t opposed to vegetables when accompanied by, say, an entire leg of lamb; he just has a deep-rooted mistrust for ‘all that hippie shit’ that often comes with them. (Examples: £6.00 juices, quinoa and any vegetable described as ‘heritage’.) It’s not his fault, bless him, he’s from Birmingham.
But, I thought I’d found a way in. You see, The Gate is not a health food restaurant; it is a marvellous, luxurious restaurant that just so happens not to serve any meat. It’s the perfect gateway (ha) cuisine for people like me who are always trying to cut back on the stuff, but who aren’t naturally compelled to drink kale smoothies. For instance, there’s a lot of creamy sauce, and cheesy ingredients. And cocktails, with – oof – lots and lots of alcohol. (Special shout out to the delicately perfumed Lavender Lady (£9.00) which absolutely knocked my socks off. Cor.)
For 26 years I didn’t think I liked olives, but Mike made me re-try them recently (only fair, really, as I’m such a dick about making him try everything) and it turns out olives are AMAZING. I love olives. I’m frankly devastated about the years of my life I spent not eating them; in fact I’m eating a punnet of garlic-stuffed ones from the deli at my desk right now. They are wonderful. And so was the black olive tapenade – like a salty paste – that came with the fresh focaccia bread (£3.00). Yum. Hook it to my veins.
Aubergine sits high on my winners’ podium of Outstanding Vegetables so I ordered the Miso-Glazed Aubergine with Cashews, Micro Coriander (!?) and Ponzu Sauce (£8.00) – a tad more expensive than the other, many examples I’ve sampled, but more complex in flavour with its tangy ponzu and crunchy cashews. Mike suffered some starter envy as his Grilled Halloumi in Chermula (£6.00) was less harmonious, and came with a smear of especially fiery harissa, which rather drowned out the more delicate flavours from the accompanying pomegranate and mint salad.
For the main course, I couldn’t choose anything other than the Wild Mushroom Chipotle (£16.00), which sang to me like an injured water buffalo sings to a hungry lion. I love fancy mushrooms and this dish comprised chiefly a solid mass of them, sautéed in a chipotle and sour cream sauce and topped with rocket. It didn’t need the bed of braised wild rice but that’s probably because we ordered, totally unnecessarily, sides of chunky sweet potato wedges and dreamy polenta fries (£4.00 each).
Aubergine teriyaki – glazed, grilled and stuffed with a flavour bomb of horseradish, coriander pesto, roasted peppers and shiitake and ginger duxelles – came with a crisp noodle salad and a gob of chunky mango and coriander salsa.
After some initial trepidation, it went down well!
I can never believe how filling The Gate’s vegetarian food is, but I guess it’s because a lot of it is quite rich. Needless to say, the sides were somewhat superfluous and pudding was a to-share affair. I.e. I had a spoonful; Mike had the rest. He has a theory that he has a fourth stomach for pudding, like a cow (the second and third ones are for crisps and beer).
Now, I know I rave on and on about The Gate and at blogger meet-ups I usually cite it as one of my favourite restaurants, but, Christ, it really is worth a whirl. You won’t try anywhere else like it.
And Mike? “It was nice,” he said, as we got up to leave, “but I won’t be giving up meat any time soon.” Not quite the rave review I was hoping for, though better than than total revulsion I suppose. But then, a week later at our favourite Italian restaurant, he nonchalantly ordered a (meat-free) aubergine parmigiana to start.
The Gate, 370 St John St, London, EC1V 4NN
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 Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.