Birthday Greens - A visit to The Gate, Hammersmith

Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Value for money: 2.5/5, Quality of cooking : 3.5/5; Ambience : 4/5; Service: 2/5 (except for booking in which was definitely a 5/5); Atmosphere: 3/5

Oct 20th - my 32nd birthday. 

And how better to celebrate, than at a veggie restaurant with friends and family !!

I trawl through the internet, hungry for some grown-up veggie restaurants that don't feel like a cross between a cafe and coffee bar. I don't really fancy a hippie joint or somewhere that will try and sell me gungy green stuff. I want good ole comfort food and I want my carnivore guests to enjoy the experience too.

Hours of trawling and I almost resign myself to eating somewhere where either the seating isnt too comfy for my backside or  somewhere where the food seems like the ghastly machination of some over-ambitious chef who thinks that vegetarian food has to be poncy or include weird concoctions that no other normal person would like to see thrown together. 

Until, finally , I stumble upon The Gate !!!

I have heard about it before and my elderly foodie neighbour reckons its a good choice. I look over the website. The menu seems seasonal if a bit confused, and there doesn't really seem to be a theme around the food except that it's veggie. But it looks nice, so I decide to set my suspicions aside and rope in the sister, boyfriend and best friend into buying me my birthday dinner. 

I call the restaurant to make my booking and arrange parking and the antipodean voice at the other end (Aldo, I think!!) is cheerful and helpful. It makes me happy when a restaurant sounds like it wants my custom. 

Its a motley bunch that arrives at the restaurant. The boyfriend is a meat-reducing carnivore who's happiest when he's served a toasted cheese sandwich or a plate of chips. (Yes, I put up with him despite his being the one who thought a coq-au-vin was a shag in the back of a lorry.) The best friend is a carnivore too and he is nervous at the thought of being fed only greens and the sister is a fussy eater who doesn't quite like vegetarian restaurants despite being a veggie herself, and only wants familiar food.  " Oh - What a wonderful bunch, aren't you going to have a nice birthday dinner !!" - I hear you mutter. Yet, they all love me and so they decide to trudge down to Hammersmith with me to eat at a vegetarian restaurant that none of them quite fancies rather than sitting in front of the telly while I slave over the stove... I am pleased - the birthday girl has had her way .

It's pouring as we head out. But I'm all dressed up in my poshest frock, the boyfriend looks cute and we are all  looking forward to some interesting dinner table conversation....

We find our way through the maze under Hammersmith flyover (who asked the boyfriend to get me to navigate???) and pull into the parking space on Queen Caroline Street. Its about 7 p.m. and we are all hungry. There's a small sign indicating the restaurant and when I walk in, there are signs for what sounds like an evangelical Christian gathering on the Ground Floor. As someone who's not too evangelical about anything other than vegetarianism, the religious theme is a bit daunting and I wonder if the restaurant is going to be themed around some religious stuff... We head upstairs to the restaurant and I find myself relaxing when I find myself in a room that has the strange and rather bizarre feel of an unexpectedly large conservatory in a converted church. I like the little tree in the corner and the eco-friendly laid back yet sophisticated feel of the place. The ceilings are high and a fair few of the tables are occupied by people who look like serious, middle- aged Guardian and Telegraph readers (so, definitely not your average hippie joint). 

On the left is a long pine-ish bar with a couple of waiters and the bartender surveying the diners !!

They find our reservation quickly and we are led to our table by a young Eastern European-ish girl, who doesn't seem particularly impressed when the boyfriend tries to discreetly hand over the birthday cake to her. 

The menu arrives promptly. Ours is a happy table. We are busy teasing each other and laughing. Even my normally reticent sister is animated... I am a happy bunny. But our waitress certainly isn't. We order  2 cokes, a diet coke and a glass of tap water. ... The drinks arrive and I find the best friend and sister grimacing... They've gotten 2 diet cokes as well...We try to catch our depressed waitress' eye and finally she shows up and is even more unhappy. The drinks are swapped without a fuss, though. So we continue on our merry way... My heart is sinking now... I was really hoping the others would enjoy this meal too and the standard of the table service is a bit of a downer. I wonder what the food is like. 

For starters we order a mezze platter for 3 and a carcioffini. I decide on chipotle mushrooms for the main course. I ask if we can swap the polenta that goes with it for some plain rice.  I am informed rather abruptly that the kitchen doesn't do rice. I feel like a chastened schoolkid who's asked for an extra helping and here I was,  hoping that they might offer me an alternative to the polenta...A muscly young manager-types walks over a few minutes later. Mistakenly, i think he's come to offer us an option. Oh no, we are told rather brusquely again that they don't do rice.  They dont waste their smiles on customers, these folk... I wonder what we've done wrong...but then get distracted by the chatter at the table .....

The mezze platter arrives. It looks quite nice but lacks cohesion. It feels like the culinary equivalent of finger painting - just a random hotch-potch of things that don't really seem to go together. In fact, the plate seems to have been put together with slivers of whatever was in the kitchen..with little feel for the balance of flavours .The individual flavours are in most cases delicious, but together they seem like a very strange melange !!! 

I begin to wonder if we've been robbed when I remember the hefty £23.50 price tag for what seem like loads of salad leaves and single mini-portions  of everything that's remotely  more substantial than the greens. We try the pomegranate drizzled salad (which is exquisite), an indo-iraqi potato cake (okay-ish but boring),  a piece of a quiche-like dish (yummmyyyyy),  another smattering of salad (okay-ish)and some other tiny morsels (which were not particularly memorable). The dressing on the salad leaves on the plate is unbelievably good (the best I've tasted in many years, and I begin to forgive the £23 pound price tag, but not quite ). The others are picking at the leaves on the plate too.. and no one seems to be eating very much else at all...

 I bite into the artichoke carcioffini. It tastes pretty much like tempura-ed artichoke. The batter is light and wonderful. Completely at odds with what's inside.. The artichoke tastes weird and its smell reminds me of the gluesticks I used as a child. I want to walk up to the chef and ask him to stop ponce-ing around. How can someone who is clearly a very talented chef , just put together such random flavours? I love artichokes but my first experience of deep fried artichokes leaves me reeling . I can't help thinking ''if only he'd used that batter on a humble cauliflower or even a slice of onion!!! "

The chipotle mushrooms arrives with the dreaded polenta...It costs a hefty £14.25 and I'm hoping the mushrooms are good. The others at the table gracefully decline the dish and I (wo)manfully attack it while they try and quell their hunger with the side dishes they have nervously ordered.... The chipotle mushrooms are another mistake..I'm not too impressed with the gravy or the mushrooms or the combination of the smokey and mushroomy flavours.. it does neither mushroom nor sauce any good to be combined with the other....(I try to get the others to try it and none of them likes it either. ) I soon give up and head back to the salads on the mixed starter plate. We are  really hungry now and just want a portion of something more substantial than just salad leaves. At some stage, we are offered home-made bread... the waitress seems rather annoyed when I take more than 1 roll and thanks to the dismissive look I sense the waitress is giving me, I'm back at school again..back to being a naughty school kid who's been told off for asking for more pudding. 

The boyfriend requests the waitress to bring out the cake (M&S) at some point ..Finally she perks up - I cant help wondering if its because she's glad we're near the end of our meal. The cake is yummy - Its the second best thing we've eaten that evening other than the pomegranate salad / salad dressing. 

We reach the end of the meal. The bill arrives and its just a fraction under £65 . Not too much at £15 a head for 3 courses. But then I remember - the starter wasn't particularly large, the main remained uneaten and we brought our own dessert... Hmmmm... not such a good deal after all...i guess... 

When I go to a veggie restaurant  I'm always secretly willing them to do really well. At The Gate, they have some of the ingredients but they've managed to let themselves down... The decor is nice but its spoiled by the distinctly soul-less service..The food exhibits technical brilliance coupled with what I feel is a complete lack of appreciation for the combination of flavours or menu items and yet, all it needs is someone to pull it together a bit !!! 

We pay up and head outside... its still raining...and our waitress seems glad to see the back of us... As we hop into the car, the others suggest stopping somewhere on the way to get a bit of food because they're all still hungry... 

Its been a very nice evening company-wise but this veggie restaurant certainly hasn't won over the carnivores at my table.

Its been a month now and I call back before writing this blog to ask for a copy of the October menu. Luckily, I get the helpful Aldo on the phone again. He fishes out the details and is pleasant and extremely  helpful. I wonder if I was harsh on the food and service.. Aldo's pleasant manner makes me want to head back to the Gate to give it another try.. I'm hoping that the seasonally changing menu will offer me a better selection this month..l'd love to go back, but I certainly hope they've improved the food and service to justify the price tags. And this time, I'll have to find someone else to go there with.. !!!

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