The Gate Islington – a vegetarian restaurant with lots of great looking options for FriFran people like me but with limp food and weird service it is not a place to spoil yourself.
In between Christmas and New Year you want to treat yourself a little bit and do something a little bit special and as there are relatively few places I can eat/ indulge we went with a friend to The Gate Islington (http://thegaterestaurants.com). I have been a few times before to the Islington branch (there are two others: Hammersmith the original branch and a brand new branch in Marylebone) and the service has always been hit and miss but I can ignore some of that if I get good (or great) food.
The acoustics in The Gate Islington can be challenging. It is an old pub with cavernous ceilings. So we asked for a quiet corner table (for three) as we had lots to catch up on. It was super busy when we arrived – sale shoppers were finishing an early dinner. We were shown to a lovely table by the fire until our adjacent table was ready (tiny, not in a corner, not quiet). We assumed that this lovely quiet table (for four) was booked so went with it. We moved to our table and ordered cocktails to start, food and wine to go with dinner.
About 20 minutes later the starters arrived – no cocktails, no drinks, nothing. I asked about the cocktails and two arrived. Mine arrived a few minutes later along with the wine which was opened and poured for our friend to taste. So we had cocktails and wine arrive after the starters. Like I said – weird.
I have a bit of an issue with wine tasting. Good service means the wait staff would ask who would like to taste the wine (if anyone) – or even ask the person who ordered it (me). Just pouring the wine to taste for the closest male at the table really ticked me off. I am a stubborn sod and tasted it anyway. We had ordered a ‘natural wine’: an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. ‘Natural wine’ can mean lots of different things primarily low in additives, processes and unfiltered. It was pretty good, very drinkable if unremarkable.
Back to food. I didn’t order a starter but my companions (who eat everything!) both ordered the same thing: grilled halloumi in Indian spices. They both said it was okay but again pretty unremarkable. Both companions commented that the spice and flavour they expected from the harissa dressing was not there – it was a bit bland.
Our mains arrived whilst we were still drinking cocktails. Again we all ordered the same thing – this doesn’t usually happen but I guess we all went for the most festive thing on the menu: Christmas rotolo. Described 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. It looked fabulous, it was tepid. Perhaps it is my northern roots but I like my food hot. Not tepid or luke warm – hot. This was barely tepid. Not a good start. The rotolo didn’t seem particularly Christamssy. The sage was not present enough, the stuffing ball was dry and the puree was way too sweet and overall the dish was very dry. My guess is that it had been sat waiting to be served for quite some time. Pretty disappointing.
By now the restaurant was pretty empty – it wasn’t that late. I was surprised how empty it was. The table we had been moved from was still empty as was the whole area. We were a bit confused why we had been squeezed on to a small table when we could have been left where we were – or even been given a better, quieter, table.
We planned to order dessert. I was quite excited by the dessert menu but were told there were only two desserts available (out of seven!). So I ordered the only thing I could eat: vegan cheesecake with cranberry jam as did my partner. It was heavy and sour with an unpleasant soggy texture. If I didn’t know any better I would assume it was a few days old. I didn’t eat it. My partner was unimpressed too but he eats everything and polished off mine. Our companion had the only other option: sticky toffee pudding. It was described as okay. The desserts were a disappointment.
It took an age to get the bill – very frustrating. We had to get up and ask another waiter for our bill long after we had finished our food and drinks. Our bill for two starters, three mains, three desserts, three cocktails and one bottle of wine was over £150 including service. I should have commented in the restaurant on the service (and not paid it) and the food but it was Christmas and sometimes you just want to meet friends, catch up, have a nice time, keep thinking that surely it can’t get any worse and get out.
The Gate Islington is not cheap (it is not expensive either, particularly by London standards) but whatever the price I expect better service and better food. The menu looks great but the food was limp and lacklustre. The service is weird – if not plain awful. The Gate does not seem to have the service or the kitchen working well or working well together. Whatever the issues The Gate Islington has a niche clientele that would come back again and again for good food and good service. There is more and more competition in the area and The Gate Islington should be responding to this but instead seems to be resting on its laurels. I want The Gate Islington to be better than it is and was disappointed – again.