There's something rather portentous about calling a vegetarian restaurant Ethos. Or is it pretentious? Not that there's anything lofty about eschewing meat – it's a good idea (in moderation, imho).
As per Bill Granger's recipes (see link below), tomorrow sees the start of Meat Free Week, created to raise awareness of our over-reliance on animals for food. And to mark the occasion, I'm off to this newish West End fixture of the veggie scene.
Not that there's a shortage of places that put plants front and centre these days. Bruno Loubet's Grain Store in London's King's Cross is such a hit that he's spinning off his classic French brasserie. Then there's Yotam Ottolenghi, whose delis and Nopi restaurant are hymns to vegetables. And many, many more.
But Ethos is strictly meat-free. And often gluten/dairy/egg/nut-free, too – every dish at the all-buffet restaurant has its allergens clearly listed on a card next to it.
But first, what's the, er, ethos of Ethos? "Deliciously different meat-free cuisine that looks as good as it is for you" is how they put it. And certainly when you enter the airy room, you can feel the healthiness start to take over. But my goodness, they don't make it easy.
It looks easy. To the right, three podiums crammed with dishes, overflowing with all manner of good things from around the world. To the left, in between artlessly placed faux silver-birch trunks, a mix of tables for two, large seating in the round for groups and a couple of low coffee tables. You take a table, go and load up a plate, take it to the counter, order drinks, have your food weighed, pay, return to your table and have a nice time. But does one of you stay at the table to keep an eye on belongings? Do you both go and risk someone else taking the table? If you pay separately and have three courses, that means six separate transactions.
My teenage daughter (who's vegetarian… at least, this week) and I decide to order drinks first and leave them at the table with our coats while we (and my purse) choose what to eat. From an almost exclusively vegan wine list I choose a Grenache Rosé – which seems about right with the light food on offer. T has a San Pellegrino fizzy blood orange.
As we get our starters, one of the waiting staff clears our almost-full glasses away, which is unhelpful to say the least. The single, harried man on the tills considers retrieving them from the kitchen but then gives us fresh glasses. And one of the plates of food we've just loaded at no charge. It's the right gesture but I am not overly confident the place will stay in business if they keep going like this… Luckily, some of the food is good enough to negate the chaotic system.
From the cold section, a wonderful chilli-spiked guacamole, crunchy Asian slaw, modish grilled cauliflower smothered with tahini and scattered with cranberries, and well-seasoned wild rice and lentils. There's no bread around to scoop and mop, but it muddles along nicely on the plate. Not so good is an "antioxidant dream salad with mango vinaigrette" – an unholy alliance of strawberries, blueberries and spinach, and a watery baba ganoush. But there are 14 dishes to choose from and, at £2.50 for 100g, it's good value.
It all goes a bit 1970s at the hot podium, sadly. There's we find claggy aubergine "meatballs" in a ho-hum tomato sauce, a cloying apricot tagine and flabby potato-and-feta cakes. Most upsetting of all are arancini that look lovely but contain flavourless rice with no discernible rich cheesiness and far too much diced carrot.
I make a return visit to get the "signature dish", which had been missing earlier. It's an aloo Scotch egg, which looks like a clever twist on the ubiquitous snack: crisp exterior, tightly packed medley of veg and a perfectly unctuous egg at its centre. But the flavour is a foolishly polite curry tinge – and again with the diced carrot?
A pecan pie (£3.80) and baked American raspberry cheesecake (£2.80) are, well, solid. The teenager leaves most of hers.
No one questions our almost-untouched plates and people are hovering for our table as we leave – are they all first-timers? Because much as I love the – yes – ethos, I can't come back till they get their act together.
To learn more about livestock welfare, meat production and to raise money for charity, visit uk.meatfreeweek.org
Ethos, 48 Eastcastle Street, London W1. Tel: 020 3581 1538. £45 for two, with drinks
Four more foodie notes from the past week
Marks & Spencer buttered baked potato flavour crinkle crisps
Yes, they're reduced fat (which I hate) but they taste like the real thing. Addictive.
A real wonder of an amuse-bouche in this Soho wine bar was a dish of velvety Jersey royals diced, puréed and crisped.
Had heard great things about the bacon naan served in the morning. It did not disappoint; it has ruined me for all other breakfasts.
At the Society of Editors Press Awards, meat that took all my powers to identify. I'm pretty sure it was lamb.Reuse content