The Gate is that rarity, a pure vegetarian restaurant. Tucked away in an old church hall near the Hammersmith flyover, the dining room is up a flight of stairs. It has a vaulting ceiling, a large window and an austere feel, with wooden floors and bare wooden floors lined up rather like a canteen. The diners manage to avoid the stereotypes with no dungarees in sight, and the dining room was busy this evening.
The menu tries hard to spurn vegetarian clichés, with things like aubergine schnitzel and truffled risotto cake. Starters are £5.50 - £6.75, mains £12.75 - £14.75, side orders £2.95 - £4.50 and desserts mostly £5 - £6. The two page wine list starts at £14 and has selections such as Mansion House Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 at £24.15 for a wine that costs around £8 retail, Coyam Emiliana Cabernet at £32.75 for a wine that costs about £10 in the shops, and Yering Station Shiraz 2006 at £31.15 for wine that you can buy for around £9 or so retail. Bread is a choice of white or brown hunks of crusty bread from the capable Exeter Street bakery (4/10), and is offered with a pleasant, light and not too fragrant olive oil.
A starter of wasabi potato cake sounded better than it turned out, essentially more mash than cake, stuffed with roasted shitake mushrooms, ginger and chilli (which was imperceptible) and served with pickled cucumber, cauliflower and mouli. The pickled vegetables were quite good, but the potato was just bland, badly needing the wasabi and ginger the menu promised (1/10). Better was wild mushroom Eccles cake, the mushrooms pan-fried with leeks, white wine and garlic, then wrapped in pastry flavoured with thyme and served with a good basil pesto and a little garlic aioli. Here the pastry was well made and the mushroom taste came through well (3/10).
For main course, fresh ravioli of saffron was filled with goat’s cheese, leeks, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes, then pan-fried in sage-scented lemon butter, garnished with cavolo nero and roasted cherry tomato salsa. The pasta was pleasant, though again the description reads better than the reality, which was under-seasoned and had a “salsa” which entirely lacked any spicy bite (2/10). Cashew nut roast was filled with wild mushroom duxelle and topped with a layer of roasted Brussels sprouts, serve with a baby onion and chestnut gravy and cranberry compote. The roast suffered from being very dry, which the cranberry compote helped disguise but could not entirely rescue (1/10). Side orders or a rocket salad was fine (2/10), as were roast new potatoes (2/10).
For dessert a prune and Armagnac chocolate fondant had a slightly liquid centre was sadly lacked in chocolate taste, presumably being made with less than stellar chocolate; a few token and tasteless strawberries (in December!) did not add anything (1/10). Traditional mince pie was disappointing, with hard pastry and a bland filling, offered with orange and star anise syrup that, for me, did not work well as a concept (0/10). The supermarket mince pie I had eaten this morning was much better.
Service was friendly and quite capable. Overall I found that the imaginative menu read much better than the kitchen delivered. There were few real errors other than the poor mince pie pastry, but the dishes lacked seasoning and depth of flavour. For vegetarian food to really shine you either need superb quality vegetables of the kind rarely seen in England or, in the absence of these, punchy seasoning and interesting taste combinations. I found that the kitchen mostly failed on this count, despite the attractive sounding dishes. With a £37.50 wine, no pre-dinner drinks and no coffee we still managed to run up a bill of £58 each, and for me this is simply too high given the low food costs (no turbot or fillet steak to worry about here) and ordinary delivery. For vegetarian food in West London the altogether simpler café Blah Blah Blah seemed to me a more successful affair at barely half the price.