Jesus Sandals Not Required
Don’t be fooled by the many fancy restaurant review blogs you read here. We’re actually on the verge of being good lifers. We recycle, use almost exclusively environmentally friendly cleaning products and we have an allotment. Now when I say ‘we’, I mean that only in the loosest terms. I never go there, I don’t own Wellies or walking boots, so my heels would get stuck in the mud. Besides, worms, snails and other slimy unmentionables send me into paroxysms of hysteria. I can confidently say that I’m not really a natural. But the Lovely Husband enjoys it. So much so, that lately, he’s even taking up beekeeping to add our own honey to his fabulous harvest of aubergines and artichokes, blackberries and blueberries and a great many more juicy, fresh goodies. He’s quite the Richard Briers of Barnes, albeit, in my opinion, a lot better looking, very much more fun and, blessedly, he doesn’t wear baggy cardigans.
I do less well on the Felicity Kendall stakes. Too much wholesomeness doesn’t sit well with me. My inner Keith Richards rebels, not to mention my sweet tooth which drives me to the biscuit tin on a daily basis and my complete lack of self-discipline when it comes to food. Still, believe it or not, my daily diet has for many decades been predominantly vegan/vegetarian. It suits me well; I feel lighter and brighter, my skin is clear and I’ve managed, without any effort whatsoever, to maintain the same weight I’ve had since my twenties.
Like all converts, I was initially quite fanatical about it all, at one point even being a committed raw foodist, avoiding anything cooked or processed in any way at all. I juiced, dehydrated, made seed cheese and almond milk, did my own sprouting and grew my own wheatgrass, until the day I found a slug in my crop. Wheatgrass hasn’t passed my lips since. Disgusting stuff! Over the years I’ve mellowed. It just got too tedious explaining to friends that I didn’t eat wheat, meat, dairy or sugar, and subsequently being served with slices of cucumber and carrot accompanied by a pitying sneer. The struggle to forsake caffeine and cheese was also beyond endurance, which even the lure of ginger tea or piri piri hummus couldn’t subdue. While I continue to draw the line at offal, veal and pork and only eat beef tartare once in a very long blue moon, nowadays I go with the flow, especially when we eat out. Moderation in all things, as our mothers always used to say, and after all, my soul needs nurturing too.
A plate of courgetti spaghetti can still send my pulse racing though, so with this in mind and for a change, the Lovely Husband and I went on a mission to check out The Gate, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Hammersmith.
It’s a place full of strange juxtapositions. For a start, it’s hidden away in the no mans land behind the Apollo Theatre, a residential area dominated by the notorious, rough Queen Caroline housing estate, somewhat eerie and not at all easy to find. With no other shops, restaurants or cafes in sight, it’s the last place on earth where you might expect to find somewhere to eat. Our sat nav helps us to locate it behind a Church Community chapel and beside the St. Vincent care home for the elderly. Oh God (excuse the pun!), are we going to find ourselves among pasty, beatifically smiling, do gooder religious types in Jesus sandals with unkempt armpit hair, handing out ‘The Lord loves you’ leaflets along with the menu? I feel the urge to run. This is so not me!
Intrepidly, we find our way through a rather prettily designed, contemporary cast iron gate to the courtyard of the restaurant, face on to the Temple Lodge Club, a smart Georgian house, which was once the home to artist Frank Brangwyn and which is now, as I find out later, a small, very good value hotel, owned by the Christian Community and based on holistic principles. For £1 membership per year, you can book at double room for £77 a night, even if it has no TV and the shared bathroom is down the corridor. Not bad for a London location so close to a major transport hub! Prayer, I expect, is optional. (www.templelodgeclub.com)
The former artist’s studio on the first floor of a side wing, with its huge windows capturing the northern light, houses The Gate restaurant. I can’t tell whether this too is associated with the Church Community or whether it is an independent operation. Thankfully, there are no leaflets to be seen, nor is there any other religious paraphernalia. Like so many of its ilk, the decoration is rough hewn, simple and a little canteeny but, nonetheless, pleasant and inviting. The clientele surprises me. Aside from a dreadlocked waiter and a party of twenty something young women celebrating a birthday perhaps, everyone here is solidly middle aged, middle class West London. They don’t look like a typical bunch of vegetarians or, for that matter, do gooders. So much for stereotyping! And after all, we’re here as well. I have serious words with myself about my ridiculous automatic presumptions.
There’s a summer set menu and an à la carte menu. Both offer up some very tempting choices. In fact, I could quite easily go wild here, and it takes a lot of umming and ahing until we’re finally ready to order. To start with, the Lovely Husband goes for the Three Lentil Pâte Terrine of red lentil with smoked paprika and sun dried tomato, green lentil with fresh sweet basil and beluga lentil and olive, served with Piccalilli and crispy bread. My fancy is taken by the Mediterranean Tart of aubergine, courgette, peppers, red onion, tomato, radish and alfa alfa salad.
Both are well presented and look good. The tricolor Lentil Pâté is a bit dense and mealy and the bread more chewy than crispy, but the rather lovely homemade, zingy and crunchy Piccalilli give it some oomph. I like my creamy Mediterranean Tart better, because overall it has more flavour and really is most tasty, with an excellently crunchy base.
For mains, Lovely Husband chooses Tortillas filled with black bean, sweet potato, sweetcorn, soft onion and coriander in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, with guacamole, green tomato and sweet pepper salsa, non vegan (obviously!) sour cream is an optional extra. For me, it has got to be the Malaysian Curry of sweet potato, tofu, plantain, shitake mushrooms, green beans, courgette, baby corn in a Malaysian spiced coconut sauce served with sticky rice and grilled lime. Holy Moly, these are good! Scrumptiously light but filling, with a seductive combination of spice and textures, we gleefully polish off every last morsel.
The dessert options are unexpectedly and beautifully sinful and, once again, we have trouble making up our minds. Finally, we order a shared Sticky Toffee Pudding with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. It is simply gorgeous, moist and sticky but unusually, not too sweet. Fabulous! What a finale!
Our bill comes to £78.19, including a carafe of wine at £17.50, a rather good Americano and service charge. (The bill lists fritters instead of pâté but the price is the same.) I think that’s expensive for vegetables which are cheap and plentiful at this time of year but the Lovely Husband disagrees, pointing out that they take more time to chop and prepare well. He has a point.
I’ve enjoyed our meal very much, though I’m still in two minds about the area, the ambience and the environment. Call me superficial, but I do like a bit of glitz and glamour to go with my food. This is a great little find if you want to grab a quick, healthy and delicious bite, particularly if you happen to find yourself in the area or if you crave better vegetarian choices than are offered in conventional restaurants, but in its utilitarianism, it’s not necessarily a place which inclines me to linger all evening.
There are two further The Gate outlets, one in Islington and one in Seymour Place, W1.
What I wore
Champagne coloured cropped skinny jeans by Blumarine, pink cotton Jack Willis shirt, pink leather belt (not seen), navy Emporio Armani jacket, navy patent mock croc French Sole ballerinas, navy Miu Miu bag
Dear Readers, I’d be delighted to find out more about you, so please feel invited to leave a comment below or just say ‘hello’. If you enjoy reading my blog, please like, share and follow it. Thank you!