Vegetarian restaurants don’t tend to spring to mind as the first choice for eating out when you’re a meat eater however, the latest vegetarian restaurant to open in the capital is set to convert even the most cynical of carnivores.
Occupying a prime corner site on quaint, pedestrian friendly Heddon Street, tibits feels miles not metres away from the hustle of Regent Street. The Swiss restaurant’s name is far from seductive (in fact it sounds like your Great Auntie Betty with a lisp trying to pronounce titbits - an equally unsexy moniker) but thankfully the restaurant itself is. A large canopy shelters the chunky outdoor tables and benches from the elements and even on a rainy evening it feels as though you’re drinking in climes far further flung than Central London.
Stepping inside, the restaurant is a glamorous affair arranged across two levels. The ground floor houses a central buffet of freshly cooked vegetarian dishes but it’s as far away from all you can eat buffets as Paris Hilton is from being French. Tibits on Heddon Street is an upmarket but friendly affair and the secret is to treat it as such. Simply select as much or as little food as you want and then take it up to the bar area and place it on the scales beside the till to be weighed. The restaurant world’s version of Pick’n’Mix and just as much fun.
A counter with stools runs along the length of the windows at the front and there’s another counter at the back near the stairs which is ideal if you’re on your own and fancy stopping by for a quick snack. Immediately behind the buffet is bright contemporary sofa seating complete with a long, low coffee table and a vase of fresh hydrangeas and beyond that are small tables illuminated by pools of light from the individual pendants hanging above each one. Throughout the rest of the restaurant the lighting scheme is just as eyecatching with giant fabric covered rectangular lampshades trimmed with fuschia pom poms casting an intimate glow.
Downstairs, there’s a cosy sofa area on a slightly raised platform, longer tables for larger groups and a children’s area complete with kiddie height seating, a box of toys and books and plenty of chalk so that they can leave their mark on the blackboard specifically intended for their doodles that’s hanging on the far wall. And, whilst it may be child friendly, it hasn’t sacrificed taste. tibits have teamed up with London designer Tricia Guild (better known as the talent behind the fashionable Designers’ Guild wallpaper) and the results are incredible – from the sofas to the chairs to the wall coverings, everywhere you turn there’s sink-into-it style. As per its Swiss predecessors, the interiors will be changed every two years but at present the walls are hung with bright velvet flocked wallpaper in silvery gold, bright turquoise and magenta.
In fact, tibits bridges the generation gap often found at London restaurants with ease. Scruffy students, trendy pre-theatre goers, young families stopping off laden down with bags from Hamleys, elderly couples and smart office workers can all be found heading to the buffet. At breakfast and lunchtime, it’s usually most popular for takeaway thanks to its speedy service but in the evening it’s well worth eating in. tibits works so well because you’re helping yourself so if you’re in a hurry you don’t have to wait anxiously to be served and for your food to arrive and if you feel like lingering and taking your time, you don’t have to worry about being moved on or asked if you would like the bill. Better yet, you won’t have to fret about paying a service charge as there isn’t one. Instead, spend the money that you’ve saved on an extra helping of dessert or a cocktail.
Although it’s a buffet and you serve yourself that’s where all comparisons with an all-you-can-eat, pile your plate high and eat-until-you’re-sick affair begin and end. The food is high end restaurant quality and it’s worth remembering this and serving yourself portions you’d expect to find if the chef was dishing up the portions rather than you. Eat this way and a large main course plate of hot food and inventive salads will only set you back around £10 (hot food and fresh salads are priced at £2.50 per 100g to eat in and £2.10 to takeaway) whilst a selection of desserts will come in at a couple of pounds. All ingredients are seasonal wherever possible and if you’re realistic with your portions there’s rarely if ever any food wasted plus you’ll have plenty of change left from a £20 note – a near impossible feat even at a gastro pub nowadays.
Roasted red and yellow peppers are full of flavour, juicy ripe tomatoes are served with slices of feta, large slices of beetroot are served in a secret tibits’ dressing as is the grated carrot and the sweet red apple and ginger salad is must. Make sure you choose both options when it comes to the fennel that’s served both cold (with a simple dressing that brings out the vinegary aniseed of the vegetable) and hot (with a chunky tomato and black olive sauce). Hot dishes are just as varied and the menu changes regularly but you can expect aubergine, courgette and tomato vegetarian lasagna, slices of vegetarian sausage served with roasted cherry tomatoes and gherkins, samosas and lightly battered jalapeno peppers to add kick to the selection. Even the bread basket is diverse with a wide selection of bread rolls including white, brown and olive and better yet they’re on the house so make sure that you take them off your plate before you weigh it at the till (and before you ask, the weight of your plate or takeaway box is deducted automatically too).
As for the desserts, it may be worth starting the meal with these. One definite advantage of helping yourself is that you can eat your food in any combination and order you choose to so there’s never any excuse for not having room for dessert. Ginger tiramisu is twist that works well with saturated sponge, large pieces of Clementine, a mild hint of ginger and a light whipped cream topping. Fresh figs are sliced in half and are perfectly ripe and then there’s the chocolate cream (a blend of yoghurt and double cream and of course, chocolate), fresh fruit salad is chunky and fresh and the bircher muesli is so delicious many Swiss diners choose to eat it not only for breakfast but also for lunch as an alternative to a sandwich.
Even if you’re not planning on eating very much or anything at all, tibits is a superb spot for an after work drink as they’re incredibly reasonably priced for the area (again, there’s no service charge to contend with) and there’s just as much attention to detail as there is in the food. A glass of Prosecco is just £3.90, red and white wines start at £3.50 for a small glass and rise to £6.10 for the most expensive glass of red and a glass of Pimms is just £4.50. Cocktails are great value too with top picks being the classic caipirinha and tibits Margarita, both priced at £7. Lagers are organic and hail from the Freedom Brewery and come in at £3.90 a pint. There are plenty of interesting non-alcoholic options too namely the homemade Rooibos Iced Tea with peppermint, raw cane sugar and orange juice (£2.30) and the Ginger Lemonade (also, £2.30).
The Last Word
If eating veggie generally feels more virtuous than enjoyable, you need to pay a visit to this new Heddon Street restaurant. The name tibits may not be that enticing but frankly who cares when the rest of the offering is. The food is fresh and the dishes so diverse that you’ll be hard pressed to ever get bored with the selection, the drinks are reasonably priced and the surroundings stylish. Better yet, you’ll never be hurried off your table because someone else has booked it for a later sitting and there’s no service charge to pay. In fact, all things considered, tibits may well be the perfect credit crunch restaurant.