Confused fast food for the vegetarian in your life at Ethos…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Biting off a slice of something delicious at Loaf…

There’s only one thing I’m as much of a geek about as food and that my friends, is film.

Movies. Cinema. Silver screen. The talkies.

Okay, admittedly we’ve come on a bit since they were last called that but you get my drift. As such unashamed film geeks, J and I run a bet each year to see who can predict the most winners at the Golden Globes, the Baftas and the Oscars which means that we do some serious awards season movie viewing during the run up to these shows. Yes it may be all E! Red Carpet and ‘ooh, who are you wearing?’ and sure, there’s a certain amount of wondering how many celebrities Ricky or Stephen or Tina & Amy can delightfully and ironically insult but let’s be honest, there’s a paid-for-by-the-loser dinner at stake here so you better be damn sure I take it as amicably and nonchalantly as Monica Geller plays Pictionary.

Double bills are a luxurious way for movie nerds to pack in the films but they generally leave you with a pretty short window of time in which to recharge your batteries and ensure that your lunch that day doesn’t consist of day old cinema chain hot dogs and nachos. Next time you happen to be ticking off your Best Picture nominees in central London, swing by Loaf and exile forever images of dry, playdoughy wieners and stale, dusty tortilla chips.

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Cuter than the proverbial button with milk bottle lights, vintage wood benches, glossy subway-esque tiles and a welcome considerably warmer than the temperatures outside – those outside London should know that a blue sky in December is always deceptive – Loaf modestly boasts a small but perfectly formed menu and a welcome spot off the beaten track in which to enjoy quirky tin plates of beautifully homemade fare.

Avoiding every formulaic convention of the chains that close in on you wherever in the world you are nowadays, Loaf takes its inspiration from across the pond, specifically from some of New York’s favourite grilled cheese, comfort food trucks and shops. Fusing the stateside love for dishes like mac’n’cheese and pulled pork with the uncomplicated charm of a British cafe, Loaf offers simple sandwiches on fresh bloomer bread that run the gamut from greasy spoon sausage to upper end truffle egg & mushroom, packed protein boxes and platefuls of full English alongside 7 grilled cheese options and globally influenced salads and wraps.

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Given that it was about as warm & inviting outside as a dinner between Kim Kardashian and the majority readership of Vogue, hot dishes were the only appealing option to us for refueling between dates with Michael Keaton & Angelina Jolie on this wintry day which is how we ended up with these two gorgeous plates.

BBQ pulled pork & beans with brown rice – FYI mashed potatoes and macaroni cheese are also offered as bases for this – and red cabbage slaw was warming and delicious with a thick and sweetly smoky sauce smothering juicy shreds of pork and crisp, amethyst vegetable.

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Jerk chicken with generous chunks of sweet potato in a reggae reggae sauce was the second choice, again served with ample helpings of nutty rice and crunchy cabbage. Herbs & spices blended beautifully in the glossy sauce which was hot enough to blow through any vestiges of a winter cold without scorching your tongue and killing any hopes you had for enjoying any other flavour that day. Both plates were great value at £4.95 for the small sizes as seen above and shared as these were, they made for a well-sized and filling lunch.

The adorably-picky-about-coffee J was won over with an above average latte while the hot chocolate was rich, smooth and a surprisingly enjoyable accompaniment to the hearty platefuls of hot food. Service was genuine and friendly from the warm welcome and sincere goodbye to the quick delivery of food, and seats in the window offered the perfect vantage point from which to watch passing tourists juggle with bags of sale bargains bigger than them and steaming cups of takeaway tea & java.

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You’ll find this delightful, trans-Atlantically styled joint on Tottenham Court Road, smack bang between Warren and Goodge St stations, and you’ll discover that it’s the perfect place to enjoy a Manhattan-style-meets-British-foibles bite to eat. Central London can be a hotbed of cheap, tasteless clones when it comes to lunch on both a monetary & time budget but Loaf proves it doesn’t have to be this way; it’s the ideal spot to enjoy something that tastes good and allows you to support an independant business rather than an international behemoth of coffee beans and conventionality.

http://loaf.uk.com/about