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by Tom Marshall
Thursday, July 19, 2012
It’s not easy dining out as a vegetarian. There’s only so many times you can order a tart of goat’s cheese, however much you love the stuff.
Even in Islington’s trendy Upper Street, which surely has the highest concentration of eateries in the known universe, there’s barely anywhere that the anti-meat brigade, of which I count myself a member, won’t feel like an afterthought.
However, head the other way from the Angel junction and there’s a new sanctuary for veggies, a place where we can feel cherished and cared about.
Open barely a month, The Gate has been causing quite a stir with a flurry of positive write-ups leaving it with no trouble attracting the punters.
Given that vegetarians apparently make up a paltry five per cent of the population, presumably there’s a fair few meat eaters happily stopping in.
18-20 St John Street, EC1M 4AY
Tel: 020 7336 6099
Mains: From £13.25 or two-course set menu for £12.50
Wine: From £15.50
Disabled access: Yes
Children welcome: Yes
If you didn’t already know, there’s nothing to give away its vegetarian and frequently vegan tendencies.
The decor is stylish, a sprinkling of industrial-style fittings, with filament lightbulbs hanging freely from the high ceiling and exposed airvents, alongside dark wooden floorboards and a wall covered in original Victorian tiling.
But even if The Gate looked like your typical cheap and cheerful hippyish veggie affair, the food would quickly set it apart. The starters set the bar high, especially the kebab, with soft and succulent char-grilled halloumi combined with peppers and courgettes, subtly inflected with Indian flavours with a tikka marinade, the skewer resting on a bed of tangy chickpea salsa.
Most of the dishes are creative, busy concoctions. The familiar vegetarian cliches are nowhere in sight – no soya, no meat dishes without the meat, no goats cheese tart. OK, that mainstay, risotto, is represented, but only in the rare form of a risotto cake.
My main was a triumph – I’m a bit of an asparagus sceptic but was converted to the cause by a “rotolo” that had the vegetable wrapped in potato, a hearty delight that would surely satisfy any cravings for flesh. It’s not something I’ve ever found in a veggie restaurant before and nor was the other, a cous cous-crusted aubergine that was crammed with flavour.
The pick of the desserts was the lavender creme brulee; I usually steer clear of food involving flowers because it tastes of soap, but here the subtle hint of lavender was restrained enough to simply add a little interest, while the creme was just about the cremiest I’ve ever experienced.
The restaurant’s PR blurb tries to ram home the message that this is food to satisfy meat shirkers and meat eaters alike and no doubt they’re right – it will be the gateway to veggie food appreciation for many a carnivore, I’m sure.