Emily Kent Smith presents the veggie view
To commemorate Animal Aid’s Veggie Month, carnivorous Adam Withnall and I sample The Gate, St John Street vegetarian shrine.
Having been a committed vegetarian since the grand old age of four, this outing is no hardship. Convincing my meat-guzzling counterpart is.
“I’m ordering beer,” he announces.
“Any vegetarian lagers?” I ask the waiter.
And so the “Freedom” beer arrives, branded vegetarian and organic.
Tofu, pulses, and cheese send shivers down Adam’s spine and all of the main courses contain the above.
Instead, we order two mezes – three dishes for £10 – which include fried goods.
“I love Chinese,” he says chomping on the chestnut and aubergine wonton which is batter heavy and filling stingy. The sweet chilli tastes distinctly like Blue Dragon.
The samosas are fresh and the tzatziki delicious.
“I hate yoghurt,” Adam grumbles childishly.
The caramelised red onion and goat’s cheese galette should be up the meat-and-two-veg man’s street but he doesn’t like cheese.
Although simple, I find the goat’s cheese well seasoned and the caramelised onion sweet yet still with an identifiable hint of balsamic.
Neither herbivore nor carnivore approve of the mushrooms with butternut squash; they are rubbery and unadventurous.
With my favourite flavour the aioli for the polenta chips I leave disappointed, and Adam won’t be opting for tofu stuffed with cheese anytime soon.
Adam Withnall gets his teeth into the lack of meat
I try hard not to look too miserable sitting on my own in an apparently famous vegetarian restaurant.
My co-critic Emily is late, leaving me to gaze longingly at the PFC chicken shop (‘P’ for perfect, and it is) across the road. They are the polar opposites of Islington eateries, and I know which I’d rather be in.
When my colleague does arrive I determine to make a good go of enjoying the experience, but quickly it becomes apparent I can’t even have a beer that isn’t made by hippies.
The “Freedom” lager is bland and citrusy – not a good start. We order meze dishes, six to share, and when they arrive I go straight for the things that look like chips. It’s actually polenta, fried, and served with an aioli dip, and together taste excellent.
Anything tastes good fried, of course.
I try an aubergine wonton next, which is made almost meaty with the addition of chestnut, and goes well with lashings of sweet chilli sauce.
My apprehension receding, I bite into a curried samosa. It is just about passable without too much of the nasty, sharp mint yoghurt it comes with, but would be immeasurably improved by a bit of beef or lamb.
This is where it all starts to go wrong. The butternut and thyme stuffed mushroom is, as far as I’m concerned, no more than a glorified garnish, and is cold, squishy, tart and generally unappealing.
The penultimate dish is a few toasted ciabatta slivers next to some brown mush claiming to be aubergine caviar. It isn’t salty enough, or indeed flavourful enough, to live up to such a billing.
In a final coup de grâce, Emily suggests that for an authentic experience I need to have a goat’s cheese and onion galette. I hate cheese, almost as much as I hate pulses, and exactly as much as I love all meats.
I take one bite, and it is enough to make me feel sick. I try to wash it away with the last of my beer, but it doesn’t do the trick since “Freedom” tastes of so little.
In the end I feel a little robbed to be paying £10 for a collection of oddly flavoured side orders. Emily seems to have enjoyed it, but I remain thoroughly unconverted.