We'd heard rave reviews about The Gate in Hammersmith, but never managed to go. Now they have spread their vegetarian wings to Islington, right by the Sadlers Wells dance venue, and just a few minutes from Angel Tube. The Hammersmith branch is being renovated and will reopen in Autuum 2012.
Excited about this new vegetarian offering, we popped in for pre-dance bite to eat, but we left hungry and with a hole in our pockets. The Gate did not live up to its reputation. It was an unpleasant shock and a worse-than-average London restaurant rip-off.
The new decor is OK. A bit dingy. Too many poky corners. They have gone for a ‘street lamp’ feel but this didn't cast much light. The sofas were not as comfy as they looked.
The menu was quite varied – all vegetarian, and clearly marked as vegan or gluten free or nut free. The menu suffers from being quite pretentious, using obscure terms beyond the knowledge of the ordinary punter. However, on probing the waitress clearly didn't know ingredients in detail and wasn't able to explain what was in a vegan ceviche either. Despite saying they are an ‘organic’ restaurant – and charging for it – most things on the menu were not certified organic ingredients. This is cheeky, and tries to pull the wool over the eyes of today's informed consumer. The Islington set won't be fooled, that's for sure.
When they arrived, the portions were shockingly small – we were in for a disappointment as soon as the waitress walked over carrying what looked like three ashtrays half full of food for shared mezze starters. In contrast, the cutlery was huge – too large to use in an ashtray, in fact. So this was not a feast for the eyes or hands… but was it a feast for the belly?
Alas, no. We thought we had ordered enough for two, but barely got enough for a child. No complimentary bread or olives or anything – not a crumb. The flavours were OK – but lets be honest, if you're serving vegetarian you need to provide some good textures, and some calories in there too. The tandoori halloumi kebabs were tasty but comprised in fact three small cocktail sticks sharing one cube of halloumi between them. We felt we had been duped.
Service was lacklustre – the staff clearly didn't know the menu or have a passion for the food. We were in a slight hurry to get to the nearby theatre and said so, but she still brought us the mains with 13 minutes until the curtain went up, and I had to demand the bill at the bar because the waitress was so slow. We wolfed down the small portions (good thing there wasn't much to eat, eh!). The cost burned a hole in my wallet, and the 15% service charge added insult to injury.
As two enthusiastic vegetarians in London, our verdict was: The Gate serves small portions of average vegetarian food, but at eye-wateringly high prices – it's like caviar you pay so much for so little. And it lied about being organic. Sadlers Wells theatre is still left without a decent restaurant nearby.
If you want good vegetarian food, try Planet Organic 15 minutes up the road, or the highly-recommended Carnevale in Barbican (booking advised).