The Gate Islington, St John Street

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I have been pescatarian for exactly two weeks and one day, as of writing this. That’s the longest I’ve gone without eating meat, ever. If any of you ever read my blog (I won’t be offended) you’ll know I’ve been flirting with being a part-time vegetarian for months… actually, closer to a year now. Which meant I almost exclusively stopped cooking it (because raw meat is icky, let’s be honest) but would very hypocritically eat it if someone else cooked it, or if I was eating out. That includes takeaways. They don’t count, right?

This all started because I felt bad about my big ol’ carbon-footprint (thanks, Cowspiracy). And I also feel the least terrible about killing fish, because, I dunno, they’re not as cute, or something. I think if you asked me to kill a fish I could probably do it. If you asked me to kill a lamb, no way man, even if it does taste delicious with mint sauce, or minced on a skewer. Mmmm.

Anyway, the whole point of this preamble is that the boy and I have started going to a lot more veggie friendly restaurants, because he’s gone pescatarian for a month too (he’s counting down the days, but I’m hoping to stick to it. I’ve already turned down a beef roast in three weeks, so there we go, I’m planning ahead).

Which is how we ended up at The Gate on Upper Street this weekend. Well actually, that’s not strictly true. We ended up here because the boy booked it as a surprise for Valentine’s Day (we never do Valentine’s Day on Valentine’s Day. Can’t be arsed). We’ve walked past it a few times and always thought ‘oh, that looks fancy’. Big post-show Sadler’s Wells crowd. Then a few veggie friends recommended it, so it officially made it to the wish list.

Inside, there’s big tall ceilings, white walls and dark floors. An exposed kitchen, with young staff rushing about, and split level seating. It was half empty. The overall impression – big, draughty and a little dilapidated. We stood waiting at the door to be seated for close to five minutes as the waitress polished a wine glass. This was to be a recurring theme for the evening – waiting for wait staff to stop polishing things and serve us. We were told our table wasn’t ready and could we wait two minutes more (again, the restaurant was half full, so not sure why this was the case). The boy, uncharacteristically snippy, asked where we were meant to wait since we’d already stood at the door for five minutes. She made space at the bar, but then our table was quickly ready after all. Things were looking up.

And then we had to wait close to ten minutes for our drink order to be taken – after I finally asked a waiter who just seemed to be endlessly polishing cutlery, standing right next to us.  It was another wait to get our food order taken. Despite this, dishes were belching out of the kitchen at a furious pace, and the chefs seemed stressed, like there had been a backlog. All of the waiting staff looked like they were under 25 – as if the manager had taken a sick day and they were just having a chilled one (in their defence – when they did get round to serving us, they were very polite and friendly).

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For starters, I ordered the three lentil pate terrine. This was ‘red lentil with smoked paprika and sun dried tomato; green lentil with fresh sweet basil; beluga lentil and olive served with our homemade red onion marmalade and crispy bread’. It was horrendous. The pate had the texture of wet cement. It was so gloopy I could have stuck dentures in with it. Permanently. The crispy bread was so crisp I nearly chipped my tooth (there’s a lot of dental imagery going on here). The homemade onion marmalade tasted like Laphroaig Scotch  – i.e, an ashtray.

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The boy ordered three onion tart – ‘leeks & shallots baked with crème fraiche in a parmesan pastry, topped with caramelized red onions’. It wasn’t a tart, it was a quiche. I couldn’t taste any onions. The boy liked it. I thought it tasted like wobbly omelette. The crispy leeks – which I had previously thought were spring onions – were a nice touch though.

I didn’t eat the pate, so I ordered a portion of the homemade bread with ‘infused extra virgin olive oil & a homemade dip’. That was delicious. Thick, crusty wedges, piping hot, served with some kind of  olive tapenade / humous hybrid. Things were looking up, again.

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For the main, I got the wild mushroom risotto cake – ‘sautéed girolle, pleurote, pied de mouton and trompette mushrooms, served on pan fried risotto cake finished with a creamy cep sauce’. It was really very tasty, and a ridiculously huge portion. But I mean, you can’t really go wrong with a mushroom risotto. The cream sauce was cold, but the risotto cake was hot enough to balance it all out. I can make an equally good version at home though (cheers, Jamie Oliver).

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The boy got the butternut rotolo. I don’t really understand what this was – a jacket potato stuffed with butternut squash and a Granny Smith apple salad. They describe it as ‘sage infused potato lined with a wild mushroom duxelle, served with smoked butter bean and courgette blanket, chestnut and pistachio stuffing ball and cep sauce, maple parsnip puree’.

That doesn’t really sound like what appeared on the table. The butternut squash was undercooked – it was rock solid in the middle, and flew off the plate when he tried to cut it. Subsequently, it wasn’t sweet enough to contrast the humble potato, which was also under-seasoned. Neither of us liked it.

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The sides were hit and miss, too. Chunky herb polenta chips were really unusual – gloriously so – completely crisp, deep fried oblongs of polenta, herby and with a strange, green-tinged, creme fraiche dip. Steamed greens were just that – bog standard broccoli and mange tout. Like something from a Tesco microwave pack. I eat the same pack everyday for lunch, so I left these well alone.

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I didn’t want dessert but the boy got the sticky toffee pudding. Thank God, because it was the star of the show. Rich, glossy and oozing, with a custard ice cream and biscuit crumb. The only sticky toffee pudding I could eat a whole portion of (but we had to share, goddamit).

The cocktails were unreliable, too. The boy got the lychee martini, which was was bloody good I thought, strong as fuck though. It was served with some kind of rubbery alien that tasted like a maraschino cherry and looked a bit like a flower (not sure you went meant to eat it, tbh. I just had a nibble, to check). Then he ordered a gin and tonic that was meant to be served with grapefruit. It came with orange slices, and it was so strong he couldn’t drink it, even after pouring the whole tonic in. Even I couldn’t drink it, and I like strong booze.

I had the hibiscus blossom cocktail – and it was horrendous, but that was my bad for ordering a pink flower cocktail (I’ll be honest, I thought hibiscus was a herb). It tasted like sparkling rose. I didn’t drink it, but ordered a glass of the Carignan Rouleur red instead. That was perfectly fine.

All in all, it was just a bit of a disappointment. I wouldn’t have minded the wait, and the super young, super chilled staff – but for the £110 bill, paired with some real hit-and-miss cooking. Then it all became a bit jarring, like we’d been ripped off. Usually, I wouldn’t write a restaurant review if the experience was negative – but some of the dishes were good, and I had good company – which always helps.

I know people that love the food there, so I’m genuinely willing to believe they had an off day. The boy footed the bill (thanks, made up card company holiday) which almost made it worse, because I felt guilty he had to pay so much for so little. Thank fuck we (by that, I mean he) has a credit card. Now we’re storing this in the ‘deal with it later’ category. Which is where I put most things, nowadays.

The Gate Islington

370 St John Street

London

EC1V 4NN

Two out of five stars

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