In the nearly prehistoric early days of my blog, there were no freebies, no invites to review, no Twitter or Snapchat or Instagram. There were no readers either, but I still enjoyed putting my words out there for no one else but me to enjoy. Maybe occasionally my investment banker friends (and frequent dining companions) liked to read my words,. (And my mother, to reassure herself that I was still alive.) My banker friends were perhaps smarter than me all these years ago and would often tell waitstaff at restaurants that I was a “famous” food critic. I would shrink in my seat, mortified to my soul, as they said so. I just liked to write for myself, really. So I wrote for myself and kept myself anonymous and no one really knew who was I was for a while, but then a certain UK journalist told all of England that I wanted to quit my job to become a professional food critic — I’m 5 trillion percent confident I never said that and please can you imagine the conversation when I went into the office on Monday — and then the invites to review starting coming, and I said no and no and no again. (There is no free lunch really.) Then this one time in 2009 I said yes and it was all very nice but I wrote about my conflicting feels and well…
I returned to London in 2014 with a new “Just say yes” attitude. There were a lot of reasons for this new mindset, best discussed over cocktails and copious carbohydrates and having nothing to do with my blog really but more to do with being a slave to The Man for so long and not having much fun while I was back in Chicago, really. I was determined to have more fun in London now that I was back. So I started saying yes. I thought saying yes would mean fun!
When The Gate emailed me earlier this spring, this “Just say yes” mindset led me to say yes but it was hard to find a date for anyone to come along because, well, I am still a slave to The Man and The Man pays my bills and I like money, you know. (Even though I try to like money less than I once did, I still like it.) The PR was dogged. She did not give up, although I was ready to and in fact had so in my mind because after so many emails with so many people about so many dates and times and vegetarian food and yes, Angel was still on the Northern Line, I decided that maybe we should all just Netflix and Chill instead.
But! Miracle of miracles! I finally found a night without conference calls with the west coast or other incidents that prevent work/life balance. And I owed A Girl Has to Eat an invite after the many kind invites she had extended to me. We were also long overdue a catch-up about work and life and balance. (And yoga.)
I like the location of The Gate, just down the hill from Angel and up the hill from Roseberry Avenue. The restaurant was buzzing with the pre-Sadler’s Wells Theatre crowd when I entered but as soon as I sat down, they all stood up and headed off to their show. Now that’s great timing! A Girl Has to Eat arrived shortly later and we went to town on the menu.
We started with some excellent focaccia and olives. I really wanted more of the focaccia but also didn’t want to ruin my dinner.
We then split starters of miso aubergine and slow roasted leek tart. The miso aubergine topped with toasted cashew nuts, micro coriander and ponzu sauce was fresh and summery, but it was the leek tart — with swiss cheese, sweet balsamic dressing, sprouting lentils and raw beetroot salad — that I really loved. I could easily eat this leek tart every day of the week. The pastry was particularly excellent.
For mains, I opted for the wild mushroom chipotle, a mix of foraged wild mushrooms, sauteed in a rich chipotle and sour cream sauce on a bed of braised wild rice and rocket. I am not a huge mushroom eater but the magic word “chipotle” pulled me in and I was glad that it did. What’s so strange about The Gate is that you are eating vegetarian food but you totally forget that you are! It’s like they weave a magic spell over you when you enter: Forget meat! Forget meat! Mushrooms are meat!
A Girl Has to Eat opted for the Sweetcorn Cilantro Cake, served with a black bean, roast pepper and grilled corn on the cob salsa, topped with char-grilled Mediterranean vegetables and chunky guacamole. I had a bite and had food envy, even though I was perfect satisfied with my main!
Service was prompt and friendly during our visit, although our dessert took a very, very long time to arrive. Also, one of the women at the table next to us would not stop talking and SINGING during our meal and it was so distracting and annoying that I really couldn’t even enjoy the much delayed dessert and finally just said to A Girl Has to Eat, “I gotta get outta here” and fled out into the street, which was blissfully quiet and calm in comparison. Ah, also while we were at The Gate, one of the toilets overflowed. Good times. (Signs in the ladies’ loo warn you about the sensitive toilets.)
The Verdict: I really, really like The Gate. Great food, and you leave feeling virtuous and like your cholesterol is lower! It’s amazing. That being said, I think I am done saying yes to invites for review for a while. This blog has always been a hobby and a way to pass the time, and the economist in me understands that there really is no free lunch. My job keeps me busy — too busy at this time of year, and I enjoy my site more when I write what I want to write when I have the (admittedly limited) time to write it. If you can tell by the lack of posts as of late, now is not the time when I have time. So things will go back to the way they sort of were at some point before I lost my penchant for my own discoveries, and I’ll say no to invites to review more often. (But yes to events because I like events. I really really like events.) It was a worthy experiment, but it’s time is over. After, uh, I get a few more of these invites to review posts out of the way first. 🙁 Sigh.
Note: I was invited to dine at The Gate with a guest. We did not have to pay for anything. I tipped on the full amount, if not a little more, and handed the cash directly to our server.