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Social vegetarianism

One of the fastest growing sectors in the UK food scene is vegetarian dining. But we know that meeting the demand alone is not enough – it’s about the knowledge and passion of those creating the experience. So this presents one question, is there an eatery here in the big smoke that gives us both?

The answer, as far as Rob Kirby, Chef Director at Lexington Catering is concerned, is YES! He visited London’s most successful vegetarian restaurant, The Gate, and met with Michael Daniel, co-owner of The Gate. Here we talk to Rob to find out more.

Michael Daniel and his brother, Adrian, opened The Gate in 1989. They had no plan when they set out other than to do something they enjoy and make ends meet. Their first restaurant opened in Hammersmith, in what was formerly the gallery for Sir Frank Brangwyn’s studio and their second restaurant, The Gate in Islington, which opened four years ago.

The Gate was one of the first vegetarian restaurants in London. There were very few veggie only restaurants back then and the demand for vegetarian food just wasn’t what it is today.

Michael said, “Things are so different now, back when we started there was little demand for variety of food from those eating out and fewer people opted to eat vegetarian food. With ease of travel people are far more aware of what the world has to offer our taste buds, but on top of that there’s also this new wave culture of healthy eating – this creates opportunities in terms of there being a bigger customer base but also new challenges in terms of offering variety.”

One of their first outings as chef brothers was to Glastonbury.

Michael said, “We did Glastonbury trading under the name of Woodys. We were just a couple of guys with two large pots of food surrounded by trailers. We weren’t getting anywhere because no one could see us so we started shouting about the food we’d made up. Within a couple of hours we sold out – the veggie dishes were going down a storm. For us it was just about earning enough money to live and a passion for good, healthy food. People loved the food and the simplicity of what they were doing and so The Gate, Hammersmith, was born.” 

Thirty years on and there’s this insatiable thirst for healthy variety coupled with a great location and atmosphere. Eating is now a social event. Monday to Friday people head out to eat healthily and at weekends they let go. Eating out is now a social event. In order to survive in the modern market amongst all the foodies you need to innovate, get creative with ingredients and experiment with what tastes good.

Michael said, “Possibly the biggest shift is that our guests are not all vegetarians, there’s no longer this separation between meat eaters and vegetarians so we cater for a wide range of tastes whilst remaining true to vegetarianism.”

Eating out has become the norm now – it’s become part of our culture in work and at home. So whether people are dieting, detoxing, in training or just generally trying to look after themselves, there’s no reason to stop eating out.

Rob took the opportunity to try out the mezzo and veggie burger on his visit – and in his words it was fab! The Gate stands as a true testament to the simple fact that food, people and venue are essential to create an iconic destination that stands the test of time.