about a hundred years ago i believed you couldn't be full unless you ate meat as part of your meal. like, not totally satisfied unless your dinner included meat and three veg. call it ignorance, call it routine, call it what you will, but that's how i grew up and so that's how it was. when i was about twenty i met this girl. totally bohemian character, wild-child personality, and was always typically against everything everyone else considered 'normal'. she was a rebel, a protester, an activist, a student, a free spirit, and she was - in a lot of ways, the gateway friend who helped shaped my young adult mind into the actual-adult one that it is today.
when she introduced me to something new, i didn't question it, because it had already no doubt come with an introduction on the features and benefits of whatever it was, and there was absolutely no need for a discussion on the matter - she'd covered all the basis. she introduced me to the vegetarian diet, and not only blew my mind with dishes so full of flavour that i wondered how i'd never known brussel sprouts could taste like that, but also busted all previously-held myths about meat-free dishes being un-filling. seriously, the things that girl could do in the kitchen totally opened my eyes to alternative ways of cooking, that i still try for the life of me to replicate as often as i can. i fail every time.
i now often choose from the vegetarian menu when i am eating out, only cook with seafood and fresh vegetables when i'm at home, and have all but cut red meat of my diet entirely, but putting a label on my diet has always been really hard because i like the option of variety. that, and i love bacon. but, i am always trying to find a more wholesome way to eat, without restricting myself ~too much. so when renowned vegetarian restaurant the gate restaurant got in touch asking if i'd like to try a completely vegetarian (or even vegan) meal in their angel restaurant, i couldn't think of a reason not to.
we started with a couple of fresh pineapple and grapefruit juices while we pored over the extensive menu, and a couple of bottles of 'fancy water' (sparkling) to keep us hydrated (and fancy). eventually i decided on the mustard seed potato cakes, while bex went for the three onion tart. jeal, because the tart sounded freaken delicious, but whatever. it would probably have killed me, ha.
when the dishes came out, the first thing we noted was how incredibly colourful and well presented they both were, especially considering that neither of them cost more than £6. the potato cake was filled with baby corn, courgette, carrot and green peas and then pan fried to crispy perfection. the tamarind sauce and mint and corriander chutney were dashed around the plate rather than slopped into side dishes, which definitely added the the overall look of the dish. the taste was nothing short of delicious. potato is like my number one, and sweet corn a close second. mash those babies together and fry them up and we're on to a winner, kids.
rebekah's tart was tarty, by all accounts. it was essentially leeks and shallots baked with creme fraiche inside a cheese pastry (yum), topped with caramelised red onions (stop) and finished with a herb oil glaze. she didn't offer me any because "she's such a good friend" and was looking out for my well being, but i could smell the red onions from across the table, and they smelled like heaven.
between courses we supped on fizzy elderflower cocktails and mused about how the mains could possibly be any more delicious than the starters, and then, there they were. this time around i'd opted for the one dish i'd never heard of before - the butternut rotolo (£13), while bex was advised to go for the aubergine schintzel (£14) when deciding between it and the tortillas by the waiter, whose justification was "you can get tortillas anywhere, but you can only get our schnitzel here". good sell, guy. both dishes, again, were impeccably presented. mine was overflowing with crispy carrot (or.. butternut maybe) gratings, while bex's came out in a sea of cream sauce.
the rotolo - roasted butternut, goats cheese, and basil in a baked thyme-infused rolled potato and served with a tomato and caper salsa, and lemon butter sauce was ~sensational. as if the combination of flavours and textures wasn't enough, the best part was digging in to the strange potato dish, trying to work out exactly how and what it was. and with potato for both starter and mains, there was no way i was walking out of that restaurant anything other than full. so more fool me for ordering a side of polenta chips for the table ~just in case~ because, no. those poor, discarded chips.
you want to know about rebekah's schnitzel? well, i didn't ask. but if it helps you to work it out for yourself at all, her applewood smoked cheddar, pesto and plum tomato-layered main that came swimming in a creamy pool of dauphinoise, fried kale and a horseradish cream sauce was devoured in half the time it took me to examine the contents of my rotolo and try to decipher each of the ingredients. i think it's safe to say that means it was yum.
as the waiter took those poor, cold chips away from us with what was left of my dish, and rebekah's completely devoured with not-a-single-drop-of-cream-left-on-the-plate plate, he asked "so i guess there won't be any desserts?" and we cackled high and mighty in his face until he brought them to us. interested to find out what and how exactly a vegan cheesecake (£6) can be a vegan cheesecake, i ordered that, while bex went for the plum jam creme brulee (£5) because: creme brulee.
when the cheesecake came out, it ~looked like a cheesecake, but that's about where the similarities ended. the texture was all wrong, and the taste was... curious at best, and i was slightly disappointed i had ordered it. up until that point, my vegetarian adventure was nothing but a taste sensation, but this dessert left me with nothing but a nutty, dusty flavour in my mouth. rebekah had a try and agreed with my "nutty and dry" comments, and we spent ages trying to figure out what would be in a vegan cheesecake. certainly not cheese, this we knew. from the walnut decoration we concluded that it was mostly nut based, and she was sure she could taste coconut. i couldn't taste a lot - thanks to sickness of the face, and all i was getting was nuts. we asked the waiter when he came by, who confirmed our nutty suspicions, citing cashews as the culprit for the texture and taste, as well as prunes and coconut oil to flavour it. he asked if i liked it. my reply? "it's not a cheesecake". truth.
the creme brulee on the other hand, was delicious. it was perfectly creamy and vanilla scented, and the plum jam - although it looked suspiciously like ketchup, was sweet and fruity. hers was a winner, there's no doubting that. all in all though, both meals were incredibly filling, full of flavour (even the dustiest of ones), and texturally interesting. the presentation of ~everything was not what i would expect from such an affordable restaurant, and the restaurant itself? although heaving with diners as clearly a much sought-after place for both vegetarians, vegans and those-who-do-not-identify-with-a-particular-diet alike, and potentially a tad understaffed for a thursday night, once a waiter was found, you certainly had their full attention.
with each three-course meal coming in at around £25, i'd say that's pretty excellent value, considering we rolled out of that place two and a half hours after we sat down, full to the brim with nothing but ~vegetables...wouldn't you? if you're ever stuck for affordable vegetarian food in either islington or hammersmith, i can totally vouch for the gate. find out more about them here.
*our meals were complimentary, but all thoughts are my own*