Two Otarian restaurants opened in London this year, one in Shaftesbury avenue and one in Wardour Street. They are entirely vegetarian (and also egg-free) and are based on the concept of a low-carbon footprint, with everything sourced and prepared in such a way as to minimise carbon emissions. Their style is ‘fast-food’ with burgers, salads, soup, fries and wraps among the items listed on the menu.
Since the closing of Eat And Two Veg (a great vegetarian US diner style restaurant) and the London branch of RedVeg, there has been a gap in the market for a new vegetarian fast-food/burger restaurant in London. We were therefore very excited to hear about the opening of Otarian, especially after browsing their menu online!
Last month we visited Otarian for the first time. We went to the Wardour Street branch which is about a 5 minute walk from Piccadilly Circus. We were slightly apprehensive upon arriving at the restaurant, since it was a Saturday lunchtime (usually a popular time for restaurants) yet all the tables (there must have been at least 15) were empty! There were no other customers and we wondered why - since vegetarian restaurants are usually very popular. Perhaps it was because the restaurant has only been open a few months, and hadn’t yet become established. We hoped that this was all it was! In any case, they need to get a few more visitors soon, or I doubt they will be open for much longer. London rents and rates can’t be cheap, and they had three or four members of staff working there.
As soon as we walked over to the counter to browse the menu, the server informed us that all the Combo meals (meals comprising a main, side/dessert and drink) were 20% off. There were no signs to this effect inside or outside of the restaurant, so we found this slightly strange! However someone on Twitter informed me that quoting ‘Evening Standard’ gives a discount - and researching this further I realised that this was the same discount that we were given, except that we didn’t need to quote anything. The Evening Standard promotion runs out on 30th November, but considering the emptiness of the restaurant, I wouldn’t be surprised if they extended it or introduced some new offers to entice people in. The normal Combo meal prices (£7.95 for burger/wrap, fries and drink) are very high compared to other fast-food restaurants. They aren’t going to entice meat-eaters away from McDonalds when they are charging twice as much!
Ben ordered a Tex Mex Burger Combo meal. This included a burger in a bun with either fries or sweet potato chiplets and and a bottle of water. He asked for the burger without guacamole (which he doesn’t like) and chose the sweet potato chiplets. I ordered a Mushroon O Cheese Flatbread Combo meal. The flatbread was a wrap filled with roasted mushrooms, potatoes, cheese, and herbs, and I had it with fries and fruit juice. It says online that it comes with salsa or hot sauce, but mine didn’t come with either of those. Both meals were very quickly brought over to us, and they came with free little tub of ketchup or BBQ sauce. I think they may have had an egg-free mayonnaise option too.
The food was packaged in paper and cardboard cartons and placed on brightly coloured plastic trays. The restaurant, trays and furniture all looked very clean, fresh, and tasteful. According to the Otarian website, almost everything in the restaurant (including the floor, tables, chairs and lighting) is made from recycled materials. Everything looked nice apart from the staff uniforms - the bizarre cut-off denim tops teamed with baseball caps really stood out… and not in a good way! On one of the walls of the restaurant, there was a screen displaying images and messages about protecting the environment and how a vegetarian diet can help to feed the world. Unlike at Loving Hut, this information was presented in a cute and friendly way - so I don’t think it would have alienated non-vegetarian visitors.
We opened our little food packages with great anticipation! I was instantly disappointed when I found that my flatbread was heavily burnt on one side. I probably should have complained, but I decided it would be better just to eat around the burnt bit (easier said than done). The fries and chiplets were very good, and the ketchup and BBQ sauce tasted fine. Ben thought that his burger tasted okay, but he didn’t find it particularly inspiring. For £6.36 each (with the 20% off Combo meals discount) it was okay, but I don’t think the meals were worth the full price of £7.95 each.
The first course wasn’t a huge success, but we were still optimistic about dessert! We ordered a chocolate mousse to share. I thought this would be a good choice, since vegetarian mousse isn’t easy to come by. The mousse came in a small plastic pot with a large plain chocolate button and a squirt of cream on top. The mousse was quite dense and rich, with a nice flavour. I’ve never [knowingly] eaten an egg-free mousse before, but it was really good. At £3.45 it was quite pricey (considering the size) but I’d probably still have it again if I went back. As we left we found they had recycle bins for the different types of rubbish generated. We thought this was a nice touch, although we were slightly confused about which bin to put some of the items in.
We really wanted to love Otarian, but unfortunately we just like it at the moment. However, we are still very eager for it to become popular and successful - since there aren’t many restaurants like this. It provides a wide selection of fast, simple and unpretentious vegetarian food, something not easy to come by. They may have burnt my wrap, but I think I can forgive them for this. Next time I’ll just make sure I order something else! Or I might just pop back for a mousse or another dessert sometime.
If you visit Otarian, please do let me know what you think in the comments section below!
UPDATE AUGUST 2011
I’m sad to announce that both UK branches of Otarian have now closed. On the Otarian website, the company made the following announcement:
We are currently working to expand our eco friendly range and to improve our offerings to you. During this time of development, we shall not be functioning in UK. We realize this will come as a disappointment to all the Otarian London fans, but rest assured that we shall soon be bringing back a tastier, yummier Otarian experience that will make you forget that we were ever gone!!
You can catch up with us at our fully functioning New York stores anytime! If that’s hard on your schedule, visit us at our website, FB or Twitter pages and we will keep you updated about what’s going on with the Otarian way of life! Keep doing your best to save our planet, London.
We will soon be back to help you better, one delicious Otarian meal at a time!