I have only been to a (non-Indian) vegetarian restaurant once before (David Bann in Edinburgh) and the food was a stodgy affair, with lots carbs and fried things. Thankfully, the food at the Gate wasn’t as stodgy as I expected and it was beautifully presented. There are two restaurants – the original branch in Hammersmith (which is currently being refurbished) and the other in Islington; the Gate brand has been around for over 20 years and has won various awards and spawned a brace of cookbooks. The menu is pretty reasonably priced with starters at £5 to £7, mains £12 to £18, they also offer a £15 pre-theatre deal. The Islington branch is a few minutes’ walk from Angel tube and is decked out in an unassuming way with nothing much on the walls and a large bar propping up stick thin anemic looking staff - an advert for the vitality of veggies these guys ain’t.
I started with a fairly decent aubergine and cauliflower pakora (£5.75) – the cauliflower still had a nice crunch and was not dominated by the coriander and chilli spicing. My main course was fried aubergine (the Scotsman in me couldn’t resist a double-header of fried dishes) served with okra, sweet potato, guacamole and mixed beans, all set off with a kick of cayenne pepper. The presentation was impressive although a tad twee – the aubergine had been hollowed then breadcrumbed and was set on the plate on its side with the okra popping out. I really enjoyed the dish and didn’t feel overly full immediately afterwards, but about an hour later I felt like I had a cannonball in my tummy.
Dessert was a very disappointing pear tarte tatin which was served cold and it seemed like the pastry chef had prepared it first thing in the morning and it had been sitting in the fridge since then. The pears were rather tasteless – possibly as a result of being cooked much earlier in the day. And a final note on the staff – they were friendly and efficient, but they looked very tired and about as pale as Ed Miliband at a public speaking course.
Verdict: in general well executed vegetarian food, but the staff need a good roast to perk them up.