Ethos is a funny little place.
Set a few minutes back from the overwhelming, cacophonous and painfully-slow-tourist-packed battleground that is Oxford Circus, it beckons you towards warmly glowing windows with a sense of invitation and escape; both of these will be a welcome relief given that on your journey there you’ve most likely been kneecapped by the oversized Primark shoppers that every gaggle of European teenagers seems to come equipped with or had to fight your way through cackling hen parties recognisable by the vast amounts of Claire’s Accessories pink paraphernalia.
Open seven days a week, Ethos bills itself as being ‘deliciously different’ and with that concise description, I can’t argue. They don’t say completely delicious or totally different which is where, I’m afraid, my earnest debate would have to begin and specializing in both vegan and vegetarian dishes, their trademarks include a ‘pay by weight system’ and a self service environment.
Now if the words ‘self service’ dredge up images of scarred-by-the-hands-of-too-many-Bank-Holiday-travellers plastic trays at any M1 service station or the neon signs of Shaftesbury Avenue’s all-you-can-eat, drippy windowed Chinese buffets, relax. This is actually a point in Ethos’ favour; you don’t have to carry a tray like you’re back at school and waiting for Tuesday’s smiley potato faces to be bestowed upon it. Just grab your plate and pile it high from the vast array of dishes on offer. Some of these you will undoubtedly recognise and dive for, all pointed elbows and focused vision – well helloooo plantains – and some may be as foreign to you as the concept of humility is to Kanye West.
My suggestion is to be brave and try something new – the flavourful and well textured cheddar & zucchini fritter was my reward for doing just that – but understand that you may not always find the manna from heaven you’re hoping for – yes butternut squash, who really should be as reliable in a vegetarian restaurant as Mel & Sue’s gentle ‘Bake Off’/’Carry On’ humour is each summer, I’m talking to you. A little bit under-cooked and a whole lot under seasoned, chewing it was not a pleasant experience however on the plus side, it was the perfect ying to the yang that apparently was sweet potato fries. Sweet potato crisps would be a more accurate description except then you’ll think I mean something light and crunchy and this review isn’t supposed to be a work of fiction.
Now to be fair, I can’t tell you everything was bad because it wasn’t. I could have eaten the afore mentioned sweet, sticky and softly delicious plantains out of a nosebag like a greedy, snorty little pony while halloumi bites were every bit as as deliciously salty & appealingly squeaky as you could hope for. Guacamole, hummus and a smoked butter bean dip made me want to stack a separate plate with enough flat-breads to scoop up every last smidgen and the avocado halves stuffed with green salsa were creamy, fresh and luscious.
Generous slices of banana bread looked fresh & inviting but I never met a brownie I didn’t like the look of so the opportunity to try a gluten free, refined sugar free, vegan version was intriguing. At £3 a pop, it was fairly priced being the size of an average house brick but I’m sad to say it wasn’t something I’d rush back to get my face into again.
I’m all for making baked goods slightly healthier but I’d still like the taste to be of chocolate or something vaguely, faintly & deliciously wicked. Avocado brownies are a perfect example of how this can be achieved, having been dangerously seductive to me in the past but this, whilst possessing a nice, damp, crumbly texture, unfortunately didn’t taste of anything other than black beans; less of a naughty Tuesday night treat if you will and more of a slap round the face with the leftovers of last week’s Mexican blow-out.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that the problem with Ethos is not that it’s completely bad, nor totally without merit; it’s just that the inconsistencies have stayed with me more than anything else. While it’s certainly not the most expensive place to dine, I do think verging on £20 for a single plate of food & an elderflower presse kicks it straight out of the ‘cheap eats’ bracket it often seems to take residence in. Staff are generally friendly but a couple patrolled the floor with the pace of over-zealous mall cops which when coupled with a lot of the seats being super cosy with their neighbours, didn’t make for the most relaxing environment I’ve ever experienced.
I applaud them for coming up with something that offers the hungry folk of central London an alternative to the quintessentially sad Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse, one of several boxed poultry palaces *shudders to herself* or, may God have mercy on your teeth, M&M’s World and I commend them for vegan & vegetarian options, some of which inspired me to see what I could do at home myself. Regrettably though, when there are so many other places that offer sincerely good value for money with food that isn’t described as both ‘excellent’ and ‘tasteless’ in the same sitting, it’s hard to imagine a time when I’d go back because let’s be honest, woman cannot live on plantain alone.