The Gate has won numerous awards and accolades since being established in 1989 by brothers Adrian ad Michael Daniel. These include the No. 1 position in the Top 10 Vegetarian Restaurants in The World as chosen by Epicurious and was named “the jewel in the crown” of vegetarian restaurants in London by Conde Nast Traveller. With a growing buzz about The Gate mounting in the lead up to the opening of their third restaurant, we were thrilled to get a catch up with one of the brothers, and head chef Michael Daniel, who have been innovating vegetarian dining in London for the last 27 years.
RD: Hi Michael, thanks for meeting with us. Your food is famed for having a lot of cultural influences from across the globe. Where did this fusion of flavours and passion for vegetarian and vegan cooking come from?
MD: In a word; family. When we set up our first site in Hammersmith we wanted to recreate the diverse flavours and culinary experiences we had enjoyed as children. A lot of the food we ate then was a melting pot of Arabic, Indian and Jewish influences which can be seen across the menus today.
RD: Do you think vegetarian cuisine changed a lot since you first opened your doors 27 years ago?
MD: We would say it has changed in a of lot in some ways and remained the same in others. At The Gate we have always focused on innovative cooking methods and putting the vegetable centre stage - those methods and vegetables change with every season but the ethos has not. One big difference these days is the level of interest by the public in vegetarian cuisine compared to 27 years ago; in terms of global benefits and health benefits. Which can only be a good thing for us all.
RD: Definitely a good thing. You must have tried and perfected a lot of things over the last 27 years. What would you say is your best food experiment to date?
MD: Any of our wild mushroom dishes which have been developed and perfected over the last 27 years. We are really proud of our Wild Mushroom Risotto and our new breakfast dish: scrambled tofu with smoky shiitake mushroom. Both of which will be appearing on the menu at our new restaurant at Seymour Place.
RD: Sounds delicious! Your new outpost Gate #3 is opening December 1st in Seymour Place, London W1. What can we expect from it, and how is it different from your Hammersmith and Islington restaurants?
MD: You can expect ingredients that have been sourced with care and combined in creative ways to produce intense flavours. Gate #3 in Seymour Place will be the first of our restaurants to open for breakfast. The interior has been designed by architect Alice Bajrach of Studio Alice. You can expect a pared-back style with plain walls, maximum use of natural light and simple furnishings to achieve a calm and refreshing space in keeping with the ambience of the other restaurants. The restaurant will seat 86 with space for pre-dinner drinks at the bar and seating for 16 on the terrace outside.
RD: Why did you decide to open a third restaurant?
MD: The launch of The Gate Seymour Place marks an important step in the life of our family business. We felt the timing was right to bring our take on vegetarian dining to even more people. We’re excited to be doing so in Central London particularly in Seymour Place among many fellow independents and in a venue which affords us a bigger stage for our inventive and carefully-honed cooking.
RD: You guys have a great philosophy and a sense of community in what you do. This seems even more evident in your work with Street Smart. Across November and December 2016 you are donating £1 from every table to help the homeless in partnership with Street Smart . How did this come about?
MD: We always try and give back where we can. The Gate Islington was first restaurant in the UK to be awarded Autism Friendly Status by the National Autistic Society. We have a 3* Sustainability rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association - the work with Street Smart is a progression of this. StreetSmart is a fabulous charity that remembers the homeless in our city at a time of year when we should be thinking about others.
RD: A great cause indeed. 2016 marked the year of pulses and a celebration of all things bean, pea and lentil related. We loved your three lentil pate terrine! What is going to be top of your food shopping list for 2017 ?
MD: Thanks! We are long term fans of the aubergine. We were using it long before it became immortalised in popular culture as an emoji. According to the latest reports by Waitrose sales of aubergine are growing...So you could say the aubergine is having a cultural moment right now. It's definitely up there for us in 2017.
RD: Foraging for produce is growing in popularity. How important is foraged and seasonal produce to the menus at The Gate Restaurants? Do you have any hot tips for good foraging spots?
MD: Foraging is integral to our whole food philosophy at The Gate, we’ve been foraging for ever. We can’t give away any of our hot spots, but we can tell you that an annual visit to the Scottish Highlands keeps our larder pretty much stocked.
RD: Let’s talk about Christmas. Is it a challenge to create a celebration menu for an event like Christmas - when the star of the show is traditionally a Turkey?
MD: Christmas can be a challenge for any vegan or vegetarian, but not one that we can’t meet. For the last three years we have been serving a special festive A La Carte menu at our restaurants. This year we have a Christmas Rotolo infused with sage, Aubergine Schnitzel, a delicious Spiced Apple and Almond Tart, plus a festive Quince and Vanilla Margarita to wash it all down.
RD: Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one vegetable/ legume/ pulse with you...what would it be?
MD: It would have to be lentils. They can be stored for long periods of time, a little goes a long way and they are so versatile. We are pretty sure we could forage something and whip up a delicious Dahl!
The Gate Seymour Place will open its doors on Thursday 1st December, bringing the creative and delicious vegetarian food enjoyed at the Hammersmith and Islington restaurants to this popular area of Central London.