words Tom Smalley
Nestled within prancing distance of Sadler’s Wells is The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant. Serving a menu that somehow manages to cater to every possible dietary regimen (vegan, gluten-free and nut-free options abound) whilst simultaneously promising a lavish dinning experience (sauté girolles, king oysters and paris brown served on a pan fried risotto cake finished with creamy cep sauce, rocket and cheese shavings in lemon and truffle dressing – take a bow), it’s a vegetarian restaurant with a big reputation.
Inside, the décor strikes a note of understated elegance. The clean lines and muted tones are complimented by the many original features of the building (a single wall, tiled in the manner of a turn-of-the-century pub, or the domed ceiling tucked away at the back of the restaurant) that remain as charming inheritances from its past. Everything feels tuned to perfection in a seemingly effortless way that balances character with a kind of sparseness intended to refocus attention on what’s really important here: the food.
Our waitress, Ioana, who exudes the kind of passion and enthusiasm for good food that you might expect from only the chef, is keen to recommend some of her favourite dishes. However, so as not to limit ourselves to just one tantalising starter each (and, frankly, struggling to choose between them), we settle on the Mezze Platter: a generous spread of five delicious entrées to share.
Although the Grilled Halloumi in Chermula; Arancini of Wild Mushroom, Sesame Coated Smoked Tofu and Mustard Seed Potato Cake undoubtedly were, it was the Leek, Trompete and Stilton Tart that stole the show. A perfectly firm, but buttery pastry housing a rich and creamy filling that together have set a new bar against which all future tarts will forever be measured. You need this in your life, trust me.
As to the mains, it’s Butternut Rotolo for myself and Asian Dumplings of Water Chestnut and Shiitake for my dinning partner. The baked thyme-infused rolled potato-topped rotolo with crispy shavings of salty butternut squash, from which erupted a delicious centre of goat’s cheese and more butternut, provided a rich and hearty follow-up to the delicate selection of starters. Unfortunately, my partner’s main didn’t match up; the ambitious pairing of Shiitake mushroom and artichoke puree saw that the bitterness of each ingredient was amplified, quashing the more delicate flavours.
All was forgotten, however, when the desserts arrived. The apple sorbet, light and incredibly fresh, which accompanied the mille-feuille was amazing and probably the finest sorbet I’ve ever tasted. Also, perhaps most impressively, there was a vegan dessert on the menu that wasn’t just ‘fruit salad’: a surprisingly creamy cheesecake, made from an inventive roster of ingredients that will have you guessing for hours (and which I won’t spoil here).
As someone who is particularly carnivorous, I often find it difficult to imagine a meat-free life, despite the now widely accepted claim that this shift in our diets is, basically, a really good idea. However, after experiencing the rich and inventive cuisine of The Gate, the prospect of vegetarianism now seems not only possible for me, but really quite tempting.
We visited The Gate vegetarian restaurant at 370 St John Street, London EC1V 4NN. The Gate is also at 51 Queen Caroline Street, London W6 9Q. For more information visit thegaterestaurants.com.
words Tom Smalley