Things were pretty hectic at Ethos when doors opened last year. It was an encouraging idea – strictly vegetarian, affordable dining just minutes from Oxford Street – but a lack of organisation and food that all-too quickly ran out left us wanting.
But time is a great healer, and a recent visit impressed. The self-service, pay-by-weight concept is still there, but now starters, drinks and desserts are delivered to the table if you so wish. A good thing in our opinion: it gives diners a chance to relax into their surroundings before negotiating the buffet. It helps that the starters (there are always three on the menu) are decent – squeaky halloumi had the right level of char and was served prettily with cubed pineapple; and caramelised mushroom tostadas was satisfyingly sloppy, with a warm chilli hit.
It’s an attractive buffet – hot and cold food is on separate podiums, and it’s far more colourful than your average vegetarian spread. In fact, aside from coconut-y sweetcorn fritters and sweet potato fries (both of which would have been better if piping hot), nothing was beige. All the cold salads were well-seasoned and interesting – cauliflower triumphs in a creamy tahini dressing; green apple and paper-thin fennel is wonderfully fresh; butternut squash has those gloriously crisp, caramelised edges in a feta and spinach salad; and baba ganoush (watery when we visited last year) is now earthy, rich and smooth.
Hot dishes are more mixed. We could have eaten the whole platter of sweet, squidgy Japanese miso aubergine, but we still don’t see the wonder of their signature dish (aloo scotch egg with spicy ketchup), and spinach and ricotta dumplings were bland – although we did love the tangy tomato sauce they came in. Falafels are as good as any we’ve tried in London, and the excellent tofu in an Asian stir-fry was obviously cooked by someone very familiar with the ingredient. Despite the Ethos mantra – ‘meat-free cuisine that tastes as good as it is for you’ – it is easy to eat unhealthily here: mini pizzas, lasagne, fritters, fries and macaroni cheese all taste good, but they bully the greener options into one corner of the podium.
Our advice is to pile your plate high with cold salads, and top it up with something hot. Strangely, although Ethos serves everything from Korean to Italian, Thai and Japanese food, we didn’t experience any flavour clashes. And don’t worry about how much you take – prices are reasonable (we were greedy, and our plates came in at just over £10 each).
Desserts are almost exclusively cake-based, and, unusually, the best are those that completely omit dairy. We’ve always loved the vegan, gluten-free peanut butter chocolate bombs – rich, decadent truffles dusted in coconut – and on this visit we discovered the black bean brownie: vegan and free from both gluten and refined sugars, it has an earthy, treacle-like flavour and the same fudgy texture as a regular brownie. Probably not sweet enough for most people, but we thought it was a well-executed experiment – just the kind of thing we’d like to see Ethos do more of.
Another difference between Ethos 2014 and Ethos 2015: there’s more service, given the change in set-up. It’s a positive here, when you’ve got a jovial host to keep things running smoothly and a team of charming waiters dishing out the drinks. In fact, almost everything we disliked about our first visit to Ethos has changed, while at the same time the positives – including Nordic décor, a cosy fireplace in one corner, and half a dozen silver birch trees surrounding the seating area – have remained. And if Ethos keeps listening to feedback, we can only imagine it getting better.
Ethos, 48 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DX
Written November 2015, by Charlotte Morgan
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