It’s 2016, and GQ has just announced that the ‘Best Burger in the World’ is one that doesn’t have any meat in it. So perhaps it’s time to put the steak knife down and realise that you can satisfy that New Year’s resolution of eating lean ‘n’ green, or even try out Veganuary without compromising on flavour.
The Gate’s flagship restaurant in Hammersmith was opened in 1989 by two brothers, and has since been graced by the likes of Madge and Gwynnie (fun fact: Apple Paltrow-Martin’s first “public appearance” was there.) We visit the newer Islington branch, which doesn’t have the feel of an A-list spot: the decor is unassuming though smart, with a glowing fire in the centre. Exactly what you need in zero-degree weather. Our welcome is warm, too, with extremely attentive and friendly service.
The drinks menu boasts classic cocktails with botanical twists and unusual ingredients, such as quince jelly and raisin-infused gin. I go for the Lychee Elixir (£9.50) while my company chooses a Rum Old Fashioned (£9). Despite the waitress bringing over the wrong drink (which becomes apparent after a sip) the mix-up is a blessing – my Hibiscus Blossom (£9) is a sharp blend of prosecco and St Germain elderflower liqueur, with a real flowering hibiscus skewered into the garnish stick.
Middle Eastern flavours inform The Gate’s menu, reflecting the heritage of its Indo-Iraqi Jewish founders, and my starter of grilled halloumi (£6) with chermula is a delight, resting on a bed of freekeh (a lightly-toasted wheat grain) for crunch, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, mint and harissa. While my plus-one gets the baby artichoke (£8) filled with wild mushroom duxelles and dolcelatte, puy lentil salsa and smears of garlic aioli (very moreish, despite its alarming lime green colour).
Not just inspired by the East, the restaurant also incorporates French and Italian ideas into the menu. Butternut rotolo (£13) is my theatrical main, an indulgent stack of thyme-infused potato, butternut squash and creamy goats’ cheese surrounded by a caper and lemon butter moat. It’s somehow even better than it sounds. While the aubergine schnitzel (£14) adds a Tirolean vibe into the multi-cultural mix, with heavenly layers of applewood smoked cheddar, dauphinoise potatoes and horseradish sauce. It arrives on the plate looking like a Sunday roast, and could definitely replace a traditional one.
Choosing wine takes time, as the list is extensive – with imported selections from Italy and France. Feeling like we should probably drink organic here, we go one step further with ‘biodynamic’ (we’re not sure what it means either) in the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi – which turns out to be a smooth and very drinkable white. Each item on the menu has a letter code meaning that you can go gluten-free, vegan or nut-free without fuss.
Persuaded by our waitress about the whole second-stomach-for-dessert thing (it’s science!), we smash through the layers of the apple mille-feuille (£6) with apple crisps and calvados sorbet for an added kick. While the steamed treacle orange and poppy seed pudding (£6) is light and fluffy – not the stodge that you’d fear at the end of a three-course meal.
Having a part-vegetarian family means I’ve had to chow down on a faux sausage or two, with the cardboard disappointment fresh in my mind whenever we go to a meat-less joint. But there’s not a disappointing quiche in sight here. So for your next #MeatFreeMonday, The Gate should be your first port of call.