I have a Master List.
Every vegan or vegan-friendly cafe, restaurant and bar I hear about is added to an increasingly long wish list of places I want to stuff my face at. I’ve diligently marked them off, one by one, sometimes two or three in a day. The past couple years I’ve been to London more than ever, so I went looking for the best places to eat plant-based in the city, from incredible tempura udon at Itadaki Zen to mock meats at Loving Hut, and that time I went on a week-long feeding frenzy at Yorica, Tibits, HOME Pho, Ethos, Kin Cafe, Mildreds AND Vegan Hippo.
To-do lists? Nobody does to-do lists like I do. I take this very seriously.
The Gate in Islington has been on my radar since the beginning, but I never quite made it there until my last trip. Maybe it’s because I usually stay in Soho, and Islington seems so far away. Maybe it’s because I rarely make it past Shoreditch, and the delights of Boxpark. Maybe it’s because I really had no idea where exactly Islington was until two weeks ago, and my knowledge of London geography is laughable,
A few weeks ago, I was in London for Clerkenwell Design Week, and my boss pointed out that most of our events were just around the corner from Islington. Walking distance, even. We’re both vegan, and we both try to avoid taking the Tube (hello claustrophobia and sweaty commuters), so as far as dinner suggestions went, The Gate was pretty perfect. The look is very laid back with a brasserie-style aesthetic, all dark wood flooring, neutral colours and huge picture windows, with the slightest nod to industrial design in the lighting.
Vegan cafes are easy to find. Juice bars, coffee shops, cake and “health food” places are everywhere, which is great, but most of them close by the time the sun goes down, and sometimes you just want something fancier. Something more involved than a falafel burger.
For my starter I went for Asian-inspired miso glazed aubergine with toasted cashew nuts and a micro-coriander ponzu sauce. Nasa dengaku is one of my favourite Japanese dishes, simple in theory, but if not done well can be atrocious. Aubergine is so hard to get right – even slightly undercooked and it’s bitter and stringy, but overcooked it turns to mush. This was perfect. Rich, sweet, sticky glaze with every mouthful, and just the right amount of savoury. The cashews gave a lovely texture and crunch. It even looked pretty.
I was torn between the wild mushroom risotto cake and the asparagus tart (the creamed caramelised onions were calling my name), but I’ve got a weakness for foraged fungi. Sautéed girolle, pleurote, pied de mouton & trompette mushrooms, served on a pan-fried risotto cake finished with a creamy cep sauce, rocket and lemon truffle dressing. This was mushroom heaven.
For some reason I thought the risotto cake would be crispy. Like arancini. This was more like bubble and squeak, creamy on the inside and lightly toasted golden on the outside, Mushroom risotto has always been the the lone vegetarian option in any meaty menu, but this was an imaginative take on the old classic. If you love mushrooms, it’s just incredible. If you don’t – well why the hell would you order a mushroom risotto?
Vegans don’t often have many dessert options, so I went for it with a strawberry Eton mess. Vegan meringue? Chantilly cream? Oh my god. Eton Mess was never a pudding I’d ever developed a weakness for, even when I still ate dairy. The thought of that amount of heavy whipped cream gave my lactose-intolerant self nightmares. This version was unbelievable – fluffy clouds of cream, fresh strawberries, and the crunch of perfect aquafaba meringues.