Back in 1999, The Gate Vegetarian restaurant in Hammersmith was the second vegetarian restaurant I’d ever been to. I never went again, mostly because it was in Hammersmith and I lived over the other side of London, so when I heard they’d opened a branch in Islington, I was keen to try it out.
Despite booking a table for 6pm when it opened, there were already a few diners in there which I took as a good sign.
We were seated quickly but then left for a long time before the waitress came back to take our orders and ask if we wanted drinks. My friend, Tracey, asked what the soup of the day was. The waitress didn’t know, neither did the colleagues she asked. Eventually, a waiter came over who knew what the soup of the day was (sweet potato, coconut and chilli) which Tracey ordered, while I ordered the courgette flower.
Never having a courgette flower before, I had flashbacks to when I was 13 round a friend’s house where her mum had given me broccoli which I’d never seen before as, in our house, petit pois were considered exotic. Which bit did I eat? The fuzzy bit or the stalky bit?
Back when I was 13, I watched to see which bit my friend ate but now at 43, a bit of common sense told me that the stalky bit was the actual courgette and that could be eaten as well as the flower. Duh.
My courgette flower was filled with goats cheese, pine nuts, leek, basil & sun-dried tomatoes, served with lentil salsa & aioli and was absolutely gorgeous. I loved it so much, I could have happily eaten another twenty-three of them.
Tracey found her soup nice, but a bit sweet and she would have liked some black pepper. There was none of the table and the waitress hadn’t come over to ask if we needed anything. The waitress also didn’t ask if everything was okay when she came to clear away our starter, which wasn’t a problem as everything was indeed okay, it was just unusual. Saying that though, I’d far rather be ignored than have a waitress come over every five minutes to ask if everything’s all right.
For my main, I had the panko aubergine. This is a panko and cajun-coated aubergine filled with okra on a bed of char-grilled sweet potato and finished with a black bean, red pepper salsa & guacamole.
The panko crumb was beautifully golden and crispy and I even ate the guacamole, which I usually hate. So, well done The Gate – you have cured me of my hatred of guacamole – I may even try it again one day.
Tracey’s green vegetable laksa was a bowl of mange-tout, green beans, snow peas, tofu, rice noodles, poached egg & bean sprouts cooked in a Malaysian-style coconut broth, served with water chestnut and aubergine wontons. She said it tasted nice but the tofu was a bit chewy (I can confirm it was a bit chewy but I’ve had far worse – especially if I’ve made it).
Although the food wasn’t heavy and seemed a light meal, by the time we were finished we were full. As in proper full. Despite this though, we decided to pig out and have dessert.
I ordered the lime and coconut cheesecake which was creamy, smooth and cool but had no discernable taste of coconut or lime.
Tracey was disappointed her vegan fruit trifle had no lumps of fruit in it but she liked the vegan cream.
You won’t get a quick meal in The Gate; we were in there for nearly two hours. But if you want to linger over some good vegetarian food and wine, then The Gate’s for you. Just make sure you get the courgette flower.
Our bill came to about £80 for the two of us for a starter, main and dessert each, plus a bottle of wine.
Would I go again? Definitely.
During National Vegetarian Week (20-26 May 2013) The Gate are offering 20% off their Express Lunch Menu and 25% off their cookbooks.
The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant
370 St John Street