As every vegetarian knows, dining out can be a nightmare. If there isn't an unadventurous (and slightly soggy) goat's cheese tart on the menu, you'll often end up stuck with mushroom risotto.
Australian-born Jessica Kruger is not far behind. The 26-year-old's restaurant offers meat-free dishes from around the world including Italian panzanella, Japanese miso-roasted aubergine and Thai sweetcorn fritters.
A stone's throw away from Oxford Street, Ethos is a self-service restaurant (diners plate up and pay according to weight) and offers a range of vegan options.
We caught up with Kruger to find out more.
Why did you decide to set up Ethos?
Because the stereotypes surrounding meat-free food are so outdated (yawn) and because I want to show people that eating less meat is seriously delicious!
I’m by no means a chef (I get very nervous cooking for others) but I just know how delicious meat-free food can be and I want to share this with others.
I’m obsessed by food. And eating out. And restaurant menus. And interesting new dishes. Plus you only live once – so you’ve got to try to do something you’re passionate about, right?
What does Ethos stand for?
Ethos is about discovery. How many times have you ordered a fantastic-sounding dish only to be severely disappointed the moment it arrives at your table… I know I have. Many times.
At Ethos, rather than reading a two line description on a menu and leaving it to fate, you can see exactly what you’re going to eat and choose what appeals to you. Try a bit of everything and next time you come, get more of the dishes you loved!
Ethos stands for deliciously different food, for flexibility, for friendliness, and for exceeding expectations (both from our food and our great team).
What has been the biggest obstacle in setting up your business? And how did you overcome it?
Perseverance and self-doubt. I have a good team around me but I work on my own a lot. I’m a self-starter but constantly need to be bouncing ideas off others. I’m a perfectionist, so that means I’m quite critical of myself and my decisions. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome, and I have felt slightly overwhelmed at times.
Finding the location was also a mine field – competition is so fierce in securing sites, especially in the West End. We missed out on our site three times before they came back to us asking if we were still interested.
Are you a vegetarian? If so, how long have you been one? And what were your initial motivations and how have they changed, if at all?
Ahh… the v-word… ! Yes! I am vegetarian. It’s been almost 2 years since I changed my eating habits. It was literally over night after watching a documentary. My motivation is ethical – I just didn't like what I saw going on behind the scenes of the food industry and decided to cut meat out of my diet. I have tried to be strictly vegan, but it’s frustrating eating out. Either the food lacks creativity or is very heavy.
That's where my restaurant comes in! It allows you to choose a little bit of everything – so you can be mainly healthy whilst still having something more indulgent on the side.
How do you select dishes?
Flavour, appearance and wow-factor. I think our aloo scotch egg is the perfect example of this: it’s delicious (especially piled high with our chili-tomato ketchup), it looks delicious and it’s got that double take factor because you don’t expect that coming from a meat-free establishment.
I love researching recipes indigenous to different parts of the world and then trying and find a restaurant around me that serves those dishes. I also find visiting ethnic supermarkets super fun, where I will roam the shelves to find hidden culinary treasures.
The restaurant industry has notoriously long hours, how do you manage your work-life balance?
Yes - now, about that…
Unfortunately I have no work life balance right now. Hopefully soon though! I’m learning how to better delegate, so this helps free up my time. I’m setting goals to make the time to see a film and have dinner with a girlfriend. And to sleep longer!
What do you do to let off steam/relax?
I listen to music to switch off. Watching films is also a good distraction. A good film can completely transport you to another world. Just getting out of the same four walls and going for a walk is something I take pleasure in.
And…I love love love having a glass of wine with my girlfriends and catching up. Give me a good glass of Chablis any day and I’ll be happy in no time.
As a young, female restaurant owner, have you come up across any problems because of your gender?
Being young and female and embarking on opening a restaurant … yes – I’ve definitely come across my fair share of doubters. But for me that’s part of the thrill. Doing it despite all the obstacles. If you look for problems, you’re going to find them. I try not to think about things in terms of a male-female dichotomy. It’s more about character I find. Knowing how to work with people to earn their respect – or just their time of day.
Do you have any advice for young women trying to get in the industry?
Perseverance and a super-strong work ethic. I read a good quote advertising a marathon the other day: it’s hard to beat someone who never gives up. I repeat that to myself a lot these days!
Ethos, 48 Eastcastle St, Fitzrovia, London W1W 8DX. Contact 020 3581 1538.