It’s unusual to recommend a restaurant on the strength of its condiment – but the schoog at the Gate Islington is something else. It’s a Yemenite sauce that, according to the recipe in the restaurant’s own cookbook, is made from red chillies, red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, mint, coriander, fenugreek and pickled lemon brine. Its green Iraqi cousin hil’ba is a blend of green peppers, green chillies and mint. Both are utterly delicious and accompany some of the dishes at this new restaurant.
Long before Yotam Ottolenghi became a household name with his Guardian column, Adrian and Michael Daniel were dazzling vegetarian diners with aromatic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients. They set up the original Gate in Hammersmith nearly 25 years ago, cooking dishes based on childhood memories of their Indo-Iraqi Jewish heritage, underscored with contemporary French and Italian influences.
The Gate went on to become one of the capital’s best and best-loved restaurants. Regulars will mourn the fact that it’s currently temporarily closed for refurbishment (scheduled to re-open in October) – but worry not, a new, permanent Islington branch has opened near Sadler’s Wells.
Unlike the original, it’s a bright airy split-level room that curves around a bar. The brasserie-like space boasts large picture windows and a lounge area at the back with domed skylight. There’s an a la carte menu, an all-day mezze selection of small dishes and a weekend brunch menu. There’s even an enticing list of savoury cocktails, such as the refreshing vodka-laced horseradish and watercress crush, its flavours unexpectedly subtle rather than overpowering.
Carciofini (£7.50), a starter of baby artichokes stuffed with a tasty mix of goat’s cheese, leeks, sundried tomatoes, basil and pine nuts comes with wonderfully piquant and moreish puy lentil and tomato salsa.
Among the imaginative mains, cous cous-crusted aubergine (£13.75) is a skilfully executed dish of chargrilled slices coated with chermoula-speckled grains. Stuffed with mellow cream cheese, the sharp tang of pickled lemon, and sweet and nutty toasted flaked almonds, each component imparts complex layers of flavours. Puddings include dessert mezze (£15), comprising a selection from the menu in smaller portions to share.
Service is informed, welcoming and sweet-natured; and the Daniel brothers’ two excellent cookery books (currently out-of-print) are available to buy until stocks run out. So how does the new branch compare with the original? It’s better looking and more confident, with more assured cooking. And a lot more schoog.
The Gate Islington is located at 370 St John Street, EC1V 4NN.
By Sejal Sukhadwala