I was put off vegetarianism / veganism at a very young age, when my family was on holiday in Vermont, and we stopped off unsuspectingly at what we soon found out was a vegan restaurant. This was a good 20 years ago (goodness, that makes me feel old), when veganism was far from the relatively mainstream diet it is today, and vegetarian/vegan cuisine has certainly improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. I still remember the plate of strange tasting, cold noodles, served with a drizzle of olive oil and nothing else that so unimpressed my 10 year old self (I’d spent the past 5 years in California after all; sushi was my favourite food).
Ever since then, I’ve tended to view vegetarian/vegan restaurants slightly suspiciously; however, when I had the opportunity to try out The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant in Islington, I leapt at the chance, as I’d read so many rave reviews of it in the past. First opened in 1989, The Gate has long been topping the lists of the best vegetarian restaurants in London, and I was soon to find out why!
Earlier in the week, I took my friend John along with me for what I thought would be a fairly quick lunch, but in fact our meal turned into one of the most leisurely and delicious I’ve had for quite some time. It was wonderful, and a particularly great half-term treat to be able to spend so long over a mid-day meal.
The Gate Restaurant’s original branch is in Hammersmith, but as well as the Islington location, it’s opening a Marylebone branch in December, which is super news for me as Marylebone Village is always a favourite area of mine. I chose to try the Islington restaurant, as I noticed how nearby it is to Sadler’s Wells, and I always find it so useful to know of good dining options close to a favourite theatre. The Islington branch is a large, attractive space, with plenty of natural light streaming in from from a wall of windows.
John arrived, and we decided to order a carafe of wine to share between us (I always appreciate restaurants that offer you the choice of a carafe, as it’s definitely a more lunch-friendly option, and I generally wouldn’t want more than a carafe to share between two people anyway). Our waitress helpfully suggested a wine she thought we would particularly enjoy – the Picpoul de Pinet, Mirande – but also said she would bring it for us to taste, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc, to see which we preferred. She was right – her recommendation was by far our favourite and proved to be the perfect accompaniment to our meal.
Apart from the food, what really stood out for me at The Gate was the exceptionally good service. All the staff were so friendly, knowledgable and attentive, which added a great deal to the pleasurable experience of our meal. The quality of service can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss in London, so it was really refreshing to be in a restaurant where the staff hit just the right note.
Feeling our stomachs beginning to rumble, we perused the menu. I should mention that all dishes are clearly marked as being vegetarian or vegan, as well as gluten free. Some vegan dishes can be made vegetarian, and vice-versa, and there are options to have nuts or not in a dish, depending on your preference. The restaurant is also child friendly, with a menu offering kid friendly options like potato and cheddar croquettes and the pasta of the day.
We decided to start with the mezze platter: an inviting dish to share between two people, offering a taster of the a la carte starters. The mezze selection takes about 15 minutes to prepare (and is marked as such on the menu), so our waitress suggested we enjoy some bread, tapenade and olives whilst we waited.
The homemade warm, crusty bread was perfect for dipping in the olive oil and tapenade mix (we both love tapenade so particularly enjoyed this over the more usual plain bread and butter offering). The olives were tasty as well, and we nibbled happily away, catching up on each other’s news and exchanging recommendations for TV shows and books we were enjoying (I’m currently gripped by The Missing – anyone else?!). Our platter arrived, looking stunning, and John got his first proper taste of what it’s like to dine out with a blogger: lots of camera snapping and me exclaiming ‘oh! I must post this as an instagram story!’
We tried: miso glazed aubergine (my favourite!), three lentil pate terrine, hazelnut and honey crusted goat cheese with beetroot carpaccio, couscous fritters with a Moroccan style carrot puree and a three onion tart. Everything tasted so fresh and flavourful and looked so pretty on the plate (I always think food should be pleasing to the eye, as well as the stomach!). The miso glazed aubergine was the standout for me: the mix of sweet and salty was just right, and the scattering of nuts and sesame on the top gave a pleasing contrast in texture to the meltingly soft aubergine.
I loved sharing the platter: it was such a fun way to start the meal, and it was nice to get such a different variety of mezze from the more typical mix of dips and salads. John pronounced everything as exceedingly good too, and we managed to polish off so much we began to worry we’d have enough appetite for our mains!
I liked the sound of the butternut rotolo: layered potatoes stuffed with butternut squash, Italian sundried tomato and basil, served alongside celeriac puree, apple and celery salad, sweet potato crisps and a creamy sorrel sauce.
It was a wonderful autumnal dish, and despite my fears, I managed to polish off every bite! The sweet potato crisps were delicious – I insisted John try some too – and I loved the butternut rotolo, which somehow managed to not be too starchy. The celeriac puree was perfectly seasoned, and the salad provided a welcome freshness and bite. When done well, I love how vegetarian food tastes luxurious and delicious, and yet doesn’t leave you feeling too heavy and sleepy at the end of a meal.
John went for tortillas filled with black bean, sweetcorn, soft onion and coriander in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, with guacamole, green tomato and sweet pepper salsa. He had the non-vegan version, opting for a topping of sour cream. A confirmed meat eater, he still thoroughly enjoyed this dish, as he did all the food, and neither of us missed the presence of meat at all.
For sides, we had some mixed steamed greens (I always love getting as many greens into a meal as possible!), and our waitress told us the chunky herb polenta chips with garlic aioli were a must-try. Again, her recommendation was spot-on: the chips were beautifully crispy, with just the right amount of salt, and were exceedingly more-ish. We both loved them!
Of course, when the dessert menu appeared, I found I couldn’t resist. I love anything with almond in it, so settled on the apple and almond tart, with apple and calvados sorbet.
John, as I could have predicted, ordered the sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice-cream (I have yet to know a man who doesn’t say yes to this pudding whenever it’s on a menu!). We sampled each dessert and pronounced them both delicious!
John and I agreed that we’d both had the most lovely lunch, and if you find yourself in Islington, Hammersmith or (from December!) Marylebone, then I definitely suggest planning a meal at The Gate.
I would equally recommend the restaurant for a quick, working lunch break, as well as more leisurely meal in the day or evening. There is a shorter lunch menu that is offered, which lists extremely reasonable dishes (£7-£8.50) that are ideal for a healthy, satisfying mid-day meal if you work in the area and fancy popping out for your lunch break. The Islington branch is where I’ll be booking for a pre or post theatre supper next time I’ve got tickets to see a show at Sadler’s Wells or The Almeida. I would also suggest The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants as ideal places to book if you’re planning a meal with friends who you know have specific dietary requirements. With a flexible menu and wonderful service, you’ll all be guaranteed to enjoy a lovely meal (even the die-hard meat eaters amongst you!).
Have you been to any of The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants? Which dish would you most like to try from the ones we ordered?
** This meal was complimentary, but as always, my opinions (and those of my friends) are my own and theirs. It is my policy to share only the best on Miranda’s Notebook!
** Want to read more of my restaurant reviews? Check them out here.