When I was ten years old, my sister announced that she was a vegetarian. She started eating Quorn sausages instead of pork sausages. Melted cheese began appearing on everything. Linda McCartney became a fixture in our freezer. I never felt an inclination to join her – from lukewarm Cup-a-Soups to plain bowls of boiled black-eyed peas, she didn’t make it look like fun.
Ethos, on the other hand, makes vegetarianism look like an enormous, non-stop party. And they do it without relying on meat substitutes or an over-abundance of cheese. Laid out as a buffet, the food is colourful and vivid, as though it were selected on looks as well as taste. Heaps of yellow and orange blaze out of enormous, crater-esque bowls. Granted, walking through the glass doors into Ethos’s businesslike buffet does feel like entering a hotel lobby at breakfast, but a hotel you’d actually like to stay in. The whole ensemble could’ve been laid out by Andy Warhol.
Design is clearly held in high regard. Circular tables topped with black marble surround clusters of silver birch trees which stretch above the ceiling. Low and tasteful lighting lends the room a calm atmosphere. It’s not cluttered, but neither have Ethos settled for bare minimalism. There’s enough to feast your eyes on while you’re feasting.
Food is paid for by weight, per hundred grams. I ask Charles, the director of Ethos, how customers react to this, and apparently people are suspicious as to whether they’re paying for the weight of the box within their 100g. Classic Londoner query. Of course the answer is no. Otherwise the weekend brunch buffet gives you an all-inclusive plate for £17.
But it’ll take more than an unorthodox payment system to put me off the food here. Making one of those childish mental promises to myself that I would try everything, I’m faced with a very diverse plate of fusion food from around the world. There’s a mango and cucumber salad, apparently Eritrean. There are roasted Roscoff onions. There’s Indonesian fried rice, Japanese miso-roasted aubergine, and, best of all, an Aloo scotch egg. Reminiscent of Gustav Fabergé’s creations, it’s a soft-boiled egg wrapped in spiced potato with flecks of parsley: nothing could be further from the petrol station monstrosity with which it shares a name.
Every week, Ethos staff have a meeting where they decide which dishes will be kept for the next week, and which won’t. They have over 70 dishes perfected and ready to serve. I count around 20 different kinds of food on my over-filled plate, and almost all of them are delicious: fresh, bold and rejuvenating.
Notably, the only time Ethos gets it wrong is when it tries to imitate carnivorous food. The seitan ‘ribs’, while marinated and smoked on the barbeque, are rubbery and unpleasant, tasting like a meat-eater’s clumsy attempt to recreate his longed-for fleshy feast. The lone rib lying in surrender on my plate only serves to remind me of my sister’s short-lived vegetarian phase.
Aside from the seitan ribs, there’s nothing to tell you that you’re missing meat. There’s simply no need for it. Interesting textures, big flavours and satisfying proteins are all here in abundance. Vegetarian food doesn’t have to consist of apologetic reproductions of chicken, pork and beef. Towards the end of our meal, Charles looks around our circular table, and asks, ‘Would meat bring anything to this meal?’ He’s right. There’s nothing missing. It’s vegetarian food for people who aren’t vegetarians.
As a leaving gift, Ethos gives us a goodie bag with a pouch of organic nut granola and some plum jam. Upon giving it to my mum at the weekend, she replied ‘Oh, your sister will love these’. But don’t take her word for it: she still likes Quorn sausages. Go to Ethos and see for yourself.
48 Eastcastle Street