Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Gate, Hammersmith

51 Queen Caroline St
London, W6 9QL

Tucked away behind the Hammersmith Apollo (or Odeon as it use to be called) is the Gate vegetarian restaurant. It's a fair sized place, with a handful of tables outside and the rest lining the walls of a large, wooden floored hall on the first floor of a converted church. At first glance this strikes you more like a canteen rather than a restaurant, but the soft lighting and decoration (mostly large pictures of mushrooms) make it feel smaller. However, the tables are fairly close, so it's probably not the best place for intimate conversation.

So, what of the food. The menu isn't huge, with a selection of about half a dozen or so dishes in each section of the menu. However, to a vegetarian used to scouring menus to find the single dish they can eat, this is heaven! The only problem is, with such delights on the starter menu as butternut squash tart, fig and goats cheese galette and stuffed baby artichokes, what does one choose?
Luckily the Gate have solved this for you and offer a Mezze platter of all the starters and it is wonderful. The enormous plate arrived and consisted of:

Butternut Squash tart - Small cubes of tender butternut squash baked in a mixture of crème fraiche and gubbeen cheese.
Sweetcorn Fritters with spring onions, coriander and lime leaves, served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.
Thai Salad - Green mango, paw paw, mouli, beansprouts, baby corn, mange-tout, coriander, mint with a thai dressing and peanuts.
Fig and Goats Cheese with caramelised onion on a puff pastry galette.
Sweet potato and pomegranite salad with tahini and saffron dressing.
Carciofini - baby artichokes stuffed with dolcelatte and wild mushroom fried in crispy beer batter.

It was all really nice, but special mention must go to the figs, artichokes and the Thai salad, all of which were outstanding.

So, onto the main courses. My Denis Cotter cookery book is based on recipes used for the Café Paradiso restaurant in Cork. One of my faves is cous-cous encrusted aubergine filled with a cream cheese and chilli mix. So imagine my surprise to find it on the menu of the Gate.

My wife decided that she would try it and compare it to the one I make. She said that it tasted different to mine, not better or worse which was very diplomatic and guaranteed me handing her train ticket back for the journey home. I tried it and she was right. And it was really nice too. The dish consisted of two slices of aubergine sandwiched around a spicy cream cheese and coriander filling which was then coated with spicy cous-cous and fried.

I chose a rotolo, which is roasted red pepper, grilled courgette and asparagus, smoked mozzarella rolled in thyme infused potato. It was like a very large sushi roll or roulade and tasted quite nice, but not as good as the aubergine.

There was a daily pasta dish on the menu which I tend to feel was a bit of a cop out, as it seemed to be a fairly standard dish of penne with sundried tomatoes. There was also a lasagne on the menu which, although it was presented really nicely, seems fairly unadventurous for what is generally mooted as London's top vegetarian restaurant.

And so to dessert. Despite the rhubarb, pear and ginger crumble, the pressed lavender and chocolate cake and the quince and polenta cake, the rules said that I must have the espresso crème brulee. Which I did.

It came with the others on the dessert mezze plate! So I got to try them all. The brulee was about a seven and a half as the custard could've been a bit firmer. The rest of the desserts were okay, but nothing special. The crumble was a bit disappointing, mainly due to the lack of any discernable crumble.

Would I go back? Maybe. I'd certainly go there for the starter mezze plate. The service was nothing more than you would expect down your local café, it was okay (the food arrived quickly) but could be a lot better.

The food at The Gate is definitely a cut above the veggie food available at most "normal" restaurants, however it could do with just a tiny bit more imagination and flair to show how good veggie food can really be.

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