What: Tibits, vegetarian restaurant
Where: 14-18 Heddon St, London, W1B 4DA
Price: Very reasonable
Rating: 4 stars
What with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall looking decidedly less bloodstained butcher of late, owing to his foray – or should that be forage – into the bountiful promised land that is vegetarianism, a meat free diet, or at least a less meat heavy diet, is starting to appeal to many of us. Rather than a vegetarian meal being a sorry affair that’s just the meat option without the meat, we’re starting to think of vegetables as less sidekick and more main event. Like an alternate universe where we don’t see Robin and immediately wonder where Batman is.
It’s on this basis that we pitched up at Tibits on Heddon Street last week, a vegetarian restaurant-come-takeaway-come-high-class-joint. Reading up about it on its website before going, I wasn’t sure how the food to go aspect could work in harmony with its restaurant persona and worried if it would be a little too takeaway box-y and not enough table for two-y. I needn’t have worried. As soon as we walked in, I was at once reassured by the décor. (I am a bit of a snob) Minimalist furniture paired with low lighting and just enough of your Granny’s wallpaper made me a very happy snob indeed.
Settled at the table, with its own little ceiling light, slung low and providing just the right amount kitsch for me to feel at home, Luis, the manager, who looked after us for the evening, explained the concept of Tibits to us. It’s pretty simple really – in the centre of the restaurant is the “food boat” where you collect your food. Think of the food boat like the ark, only an ark where Noah didn’t invite the animals. Our guide for the evening explained that although the food boat is technically a buffet, it’s about as far from a buffet as you can imagine. The food is fresh and nothing is “recycled” from previous days. Once you have selected your items, you take your plate to the bar, where it’s weighed and you’re told how much it costs. That’s it. Honestly, the trickiest thing about the process is figuring out what you want to eat.
Before we did our first go-around, we ordered some cocktails; a thoroughly lovely Apple & Cucumber mojito, with just enough sweet acidity from the apple, and a Tutti Frutti Daiquiri, made with Tibits own tutti frutti syrup mix. Both were delicious and calorie free obviously, because we were in a vegetarian restaurant and we shared them, right? Then it was time for food. Before the food, though, was the incredible smell of the food. The scent of spices, herbs and exotic-ness rose up from the dishes and threatened to smack us in the nostrils; so we did what anyone would do. We dug in.
The boat is arranged with the cold dishes on the bottom level and the hot dishes on the top counter. We picked a little of everything – particular highlights were the cold lentil salad, which had just the right amount of spice from the chilli and heat from the ginger; and the red pepper hummus, of which we ate enough of to sink the food boat itself.
Of the hot stuff, we enjoyed a gently spiced green curry with aubergine & mushroom, as well as jalapeño peppers stuffed with smooth creamy cheese that straddled the hot and gentle divide like a champion jockey. The standout performers for us were the kacharis– which are delicious Indian style calzones. These pockets of loveliness were
filled with only two vegetables – pepper and peas – but with a roll call of spices that jumped out at you; poking and urging you to try and identify them. Mustard seeds whispered, cumin murmured and coriander exhaled a breathy sigh in your ear to finish. The end result was marvelous.
Dessert was a fruity, creamy, tiramisu-y bowl of unctuousness that screamed to be shared between two. Fresh and fruity it was, but it was also rich and a bit naughty, something that we didn’t expect from a vegetarian restaurant. By the stage though, we’d forgotten we were at a vegetarian restaurant. We weren’t merely uttering the usual platitudes one does when faced with a vegetarian meal, “Honestly. I didn’t even miss the meat. No really. Seriously. It was lovely.” Usually said whilst Google Mapping the nearest establishment serving burgers.
To bill this as a review of a vegetarian restaurant, although accurate, would somehow undermine what Tibits offers, which is, in the opinion of this fully sated reviewer, excellent food and far-too-drinkable cocktails. The fact that meat was not involved was, from the first sniff, completely irrelevant.
Tutti Frutti cocktail: £8.50
Apple & Cucumber Mojito £8.50
Plate of hot food: £8.90
Plate of cold food: £8.60
Dessert bowl: £6.90