Vegetarian Restaurants London: Ethos

When I first heard about Ethos Restaurant I was a little apprehensive. A self-serve restaurant offering healthy meat-free food on Oxford Street; nothing wrong with that – in fact, it sounds like my sort of lunchtime restaurant – but it was the food that concerned me.

Ethos serves vegetarian dishes from all around the world. On any given day here you can load up on classics from Italy, Korea, Japan, South East Asia, Korea, Lebanon or Mexico. While each of these countries produce some truly spectacular vegetarian dishes, I know, unfortunately from experience, that restaurants trying to accomplish too much with their food run the risk of serving nothing but sub par offerings. If a restaurant is going to feature an eclectic range of international cuisine, they had better make sure each dish is a winner.

Clearly the rest of London doesn’t share my concerns; when I turned up at Ethos at 1pm on a Friday every table was full. A queue of impatient diners crowded around the main entrance, looking enviously at those already helping themselves to the food laid out buffet-style.

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It didn’t take long to be seated, however. Due to the restaurant’s location close to Oxford Circus, this quick lunch spot attracts refueling shoppers or business people on their lunch break. Most are looking for fast but healthy dining without the need to compromise on flavor. Ethos fits the bill. Of course, if you prefer to linger over lunch, there’s no pressure to rush.

For health-conscious Londoners, self-serve vegetarian food has become a popular choice. At Ethos, you choose your portion size and what you put on your plate before paying by weight. This no-fuss approach appeals to a wide market, and not just vegetarians either. In fact, according to Ethos founder, Jessica Kruger, the restaurant’s “target market isn’t vegetarians, it’s simply people who enjoy delicious food and want to try something different”.

That something different is great vegetarian food, something Kruger struggled to find in London. Vegetarian restaurants London that serve good food are really scarce!

“When I became vegetarian, I was frustrated at how few delicious and creative vegetarian dining options were available in the city,” Kruger recalls. “I decided to change this. Ethos grew out of my desire to make deliciously different vegetarian food available to everyone.”

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Since its opening in September 2014, Ethos’ combination of appetizing meat-free food, healthy dishes and relaxed ambiance has proved highly successful. Rarely is the restaurant not full during lunch and dinner service, and its number of employees has grown to ten chefs and eight front of house staff.

Considering this run-away success, I’m surprised to learn that this is Kruger’s first venture into the restaurant scene, having previously worked in marketing. This lack of catering experience doesn’t hold her back, however; Kruger has big plans to build on Ethos’ popularity.

“I’m aiming big,” she confides. “I hope to grow Ethos into an all-round lifestyle brand. It’ll be hard work but when you’re passionate about something and you really want to share that passion, you find a way to make it happen.”

Glancing around the restaurant, the lifestyle Ethos promotes is evident. The grey and white marble floors and table tops, pine wood features and minimalist chairs give the impression of a Scandinavian café. The effect is clean, cool and calm.

Designed by I-AM, a branding and design agency based in London’s hip Shoreditch area, Ethos’ décor reflects the focus on natural ingredients by bringing a little bit of nature indoors. At the center of the restaurant is a mini forest of silver birch trees, while flowers and plants adorn every available space.

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“We wanted to create a space where people feel relaxed,” says Kruger. “The idea of the trees was inspired by the food itself, which is all natural. Each time I walk in here, I love how I’m reminded of nature while still being in central London.”

The striking décor may have been the first thing that caught my attention but it was the food I really had my eye on. Plate at the ready, I headed to the buffet tables.

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Gleaming under low-hanging spotlights, every mound of food looked delicious. Ethos offers three separate buffet tables, one for hot food, one for cold and one laden with tempting desserts. About 50% of the food is vegan, and all is safe for vegetarians. Looking at the dozens of dishes I felt a flash of momentary anxiety upon realizing I couldn’t possibly try them all. While attempting to add a little of each to my plate, I discovered that deciding which to try isn’t easy.

Then there was my concerns about mixed cuisines. Do courgette and feta cakes really belong on the same plate as Thai sweetcorn fritters and a Mexican-inspired avocado salad? Fortunately, Ethos’ friendly staff are on hand to offer guidance on the perfect food combinations and dishes not to miss.

What’s more, once on the plate and creating an irresistibly colorful dish, it all tastes so good that the rules of flavor pairing no longer seemed to matter. Plus, there’s something quite liberating about slavering your ratatouille in spicy kimchi.

A meal at Ethos is a delicious adventure into color and flavor. The use of quality ingredients shines through. The food isn’t too fancy; the focus is on healthy food with big flavor. While every dish I tried tasted delectable, there are a few you really must try.

The Indian-inspired aloo scotch egg is the restaurant’s signature dish. With lightly spiced potato replacing the usual sausage meat and an egg center that somehow remains beautifully runny, this delightful fusion of two cuisines alone is worth visiting Ethos.

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The only problem with the seitan BBQ rib is there’s too much of it! Cut slightly too big, one rib alone is very filling and when there’s fifteen other dishes that you’re desperate to try, a large portion of high-protein wheat gluten can quickly sate your appetite. That said, I’d be happy to eat this finger-licking good vegetarian version of a meat classic in sweet BBQ sauce any day of the week.

At Ethos, they understand that living healthy isn’t just about eating food that’s good for your body; feeding the mind is just as important. A little indulgence now and then goes a long way, and the dessert table at Ethos offers the perfect indulgent dishes.

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Jessica Kruger insisted I try one of the American-style vegan cake pops, the restaurant’s most popular dessert. Rich, nutty and protein-packed, one of these is enough to settle your sweet cravings. That said, I still went back for seconds!

Charlotte Claxton

Charlie is a freelance writer who specialises in travel, luxury and food. Having earned her chops as a staff writer for international travel brands and digital marketing companies, she now writes for freelance clients and runs her own travel blog. Charlie grew up in London and has since lived in Canada and Australia. She currently writes from various cafés, hammocks and beaches as she travels the world, bringing LuxeInACity readers first-hand insight into the best luxury experiences worldwide. Get to know Charlie better at www.charlieclaxtonwrites.com