The Gate in St John’s Wood: Vegetarian (and vegan) food that justifies braving the British weather
The sky is a brilliant blue as we arrive at The Gate in St John’s Wood, so the heaters and blankets seem at first sight a mere pessimistic precaution. But if there is one catch-all term that makes watching weather forecasts in Britain about as helpful as looking out of the window at any given moment, it’s “changeable”. In other words, no one has any idea and it never hurts to be prepared – but it might hurt not to be. In this case, we haven’t finished our cocktails before the grey clouds suddenly suck the light from the terrace and fire hailstones down on the canopy from a great height. It’s lucky, then, that the meatless menu is good enough to make it worth braving an onslaught of ice.
One of four sites in the capital (the other three situated in Islington, Hammersmith and Marylebone), this North London spot is like the quietly confident sibling, offering up an organic palette of greens and browns, quaint flowerpots and a natural, unaffected charm. It’s hidden just off the high street, but lures customers in with its unique appeal: vegetarian and vegan dishes that are not presented as a secondary option, but rather celebrated as the main event. Fresh combinations abound in their wide variety of plant-based creations, which are made with local produce but inspired by global culinary cultures, from Italy and Greece to Japan and Korea.
We opt for a hot and cold starter (after all, only one plate will retain any heat at this temperature). First, we dissect the Courgette Flower, a delightful deep-fried parcel stuffed with a mix of sweet potato, goat cheese, pine nuts and basil. This earthy filling is elevated further when scooped up along with the accompanying green lentil salad and tarragon aioli. Then it’s onto the Mango, Avocado and Shimeji Mushroom Ceviche. While today’s weather keeps the course particularly cool, this plate would be perfect for a summer sitting: it’s creamy yet fresh, buzzing with citrus and pickled red onion, like a promotion on a fruity pico de gallo.
Moving on to mains, the Wild Mushroom Risotto Cake proves the real highlight. Completely vegan, this dish causes the equivalent of a double take for the mouth, so hard is it to believe that there is no dairy swimming about in the indulgent cep sauce. Seasonal mushrooms and a crisp rocket salad with lemon and truffle dressing nicely complement the rich rice below. For a more laid-back American-style affair, we recommend the Gate Beetroot Cheeseburger. While the root-vegetable-based patty is a sweet success in its own right, the burger also shows due attention to detail in the additional fillings, from the smoked tomato relish to the cornichons and matured cheddar (a vegan option is available). We add a solid side of Chunky Herb Polenta Chips.
Finally, we slide happily into dessert. The beautifully presented Mango and Passion Fruit Cheesecake does an admirable job, tart coulis sitting atop a cashew and soy milk resembling a set vanilla custard, but it’s the tiramisu that really makes up for the wet pavements. Strangely, it’s the lack of novelty that is so outstanding: the traditional-tasting plate is definitive proof that one day the plant-based version might not be the alternative one.
To those who deny that classic recipes can be replicated or new culinary paths pioneered without such staple ingredients, I say this: come to The Gate and let your mouth be the judge.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
To book a table at The Gate, 87 Allitsen Road London NW8 7AS, call 020 7833 0401 or visit their website here.