Despite the abundance of restaurants in London, finding somewhere decent to eat as a vegetarian is still pretty difficult. Known strongholds of vegetarian cuisine, then, are worth savouring – after all, they’re few and far between. The Gate, one of the city’s longest-standing veggie restaurants, is also one of its best. The dishes here are imaginative, surprising and above all delicious. Meat isn’t imitated or mourned. With food this good, you really won’t miss it.
The sense of freshness is enhanced by The Gate’s decor. A predominantly outdoorsy, treehouse vibe elaborates the menu’s aspirations of naturally-sourced, healthy ingredients. Wood surrounds you. Big, spacious window panes bring the sky to the table. Peer upwards, and feel your stomach drop at the height of the ceiling. The atmosphere isn’t lacking either – on the Thursday evening of our visit, the place is packed.
Reading like a greatest hits album of vegetarian dishes, the menu presents us with tough choices. Traditional European fare feels at home here, from arancini to grilled halloumi. Leek, trompette and stilton tart (£6) is a harmonious, gentle starter. The nutty, woody flavour of the trompette mushrooms dovetail commendably with the creamy stilton. A buttery, fresh-tasting pastry base is perfectly supple. A crisp salad of rocket and baby spinach provides a sharp counterpoint.
Meanwhile, my partner’s courgette flower (£8) allows The Gate to show off some flair. Stuffed with pine nuts, goats cheese, sweet potato and basil, then deep fried until crisp with golden batter, it’s a lovely medley of autumnal flavours. Intelligently, it’s bolstered by a peppery batch of Puy lentils in a salad and some moreish garlic and lemon aioli.
Rather than feeling like an evolution of the starters, the mains we try are good without really demonstrating the full range of creativity promised by the opening salvo. My cous-cous crusted aubergine (£14) is piquant and lively, but surely not worth the hefty price-tag. Filled with a mixture of shallot, almonds and pickled lemon, all of which heighten the vegetable’s natural flavour, it’s nonetheless robust and warming. The cous-cous crust doesn’t make enough of a difference to shout about. A side of herb chunky polenta chips (£4) proves to be an excellent consolation – miraculously greaseless, they’re both light and satisfying, with a more complex flavour than potato chips.
Wild mushroom risotto cake (£15) is more impressive. Available either as a vegetarian option with seafood, or as a vegan option, it’s an excellent demonstration of fluffy, versatile risotto. Rich cep sauce adds some proper depth to the dish, with a lemon and truffle dressing cutting straight through the creaminess with a welcome zing. It’s the best dish of the evening, and has me eagerly anticipating my return before the meal is even over.
The Gate have given dessert a real go, but compared to the savoury dishes the flavours here feel muted and distant. Chocolate and griottine mousse (£7) is partnered by a chewy flapjack, whose bristly seed-topping meddles with the inherent smoothness of the mousse. The white chocolate and florentine sauce is too parsimoniously administered to say anything of note, with the advertised florentines nigh-on undetectable. My partner’s ‘raw vegan’ prune cheesecake (£6), built on a nice walnut base, is decent but never threatens actual cheesecake in the taste stakes.
To focus on these minor gripes would be to ignore the abundance of good at The Gate. It’s a credible testament to the restaurant’s quality that I find myself wanting to return, and sharpish. In The Gate’s most successful dishes you can sense a real and rare joy, a celebration of simple ingredients brought together with flair and passion. It’s the kind of menu you want to cover every inch of, pausing to reflect over every flavour combination – even if you’re not actually a vegetarian.
The Gate Restaurant
51 Queen Caroline St
Tel: 020 8748 6932