Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tibits, Piccadilly


Wandering aimlessly around Piccadilly a few weeks back (everyone in Piccadilly is wandering around aimlessly; nobody goes there on purpose. Why would you?) I happened upon a row of bars and restaurants that even for this deeply unambitious area of town looked particularly unappealing. Heddon Street has, at one end, one of those "ice bars" where you put on a silly fur coat and drink hugely marked-up frozen vodka in a big freezer, at the other a gloomy corporate brasserie seemingly transplanted from somewhere awful like Epsom where hen and office parties drink pints of Stella and shout at each other in the dark, and in between a collection of family-friendly Italians where you can eat Spaghetti Bolognese for £15, all very thinly populated by bewildered tourists.


All except one, that is. Vegetarian restaurant Tibits was - and is - doing a roaring trade, every table taken inside and out, with a healthy queue of punters at the bar and many more encircling the large central buffet. The contrast between here and the other joints on Heddon Street was so marked that it made me wonder if it could be the first non-Indian vegetarian restaurant worth bothering with, so this week I returned with a friend to see what all the fuss was about.

Well, you can colour me baffled. You would hope that, in 2013 and in London, paying over the odds to throw together on one plate various bits of badly-cooked food of wildly differing geographical origins wouldn't be a concept with much appeal. But the staggering number of people willing to do exactly that is proof, if nothing else, that just when you think you know London's restaurant-going public, they'll pull the rug out from under your feet.


Every bit of the Tidbits experience seems designed to irritate. Firstly, you need to find yourself a table, which given the crowds I've already mentioned, isn't easy. Then in order to actually eat you need to get up and leave your table, and as there are no front of house staff to speak of (save a couple of bartender/cashiers and the occasional person refilling the buffet) the only way of guaranteeing your spot won't be stolen by someone else is to leave a bag or item of clothing draped over your chair. Fine if you have something suitable, not really very handy if it's midsummer and you're travelling light.


Then the food. Never has London's current trend for uber-specialisation in restaurants (rotisserie chicken, burgers, steak) been shown in a better light than by a buffet containing a massive variety of dishes with absolutely nothing in common other than their ineptitude. Initially seduced by the sound of the jalapeño poppers (breaded, deep-fried chillis stuffed with cheese) and the novelty of being able to load as much guacamole as I wanted onto my plate, I realised I'd painted myself into a Tex-Mex corner and found little else suitable to accompany them other than some potato wedges and a couple of onion rings.

But I was hardly any better off after my attempts at geographical consistency than those fellow diners loading up their plates with sushi rice, pasta penne and poppadums - none of it was any good. Once we'd queued for the weigh-in and paid (it's all sold by weight, regardless of the dish) and struggled back to our table, tasting revealed bland, mushy Iceland freezer brownfood jalapeño poppers, overcooked onion rings you could have used as plumbing, truly awful commodity guacamole that betrayed only a fleeting relationship with avocado, and some unnervingly crunchy kidney beans.


Speaking of crunchy, a friend's potato gratin was undercooked and inedible, and some creamed spinach was seemingly completely unseasoned. So the problems with the food went deeper than mere incoherence - there were actual mistakes being made and some of this stuff should never have left the kitchen. It's not even that cheap - each of our hardly generous dinners cost the best part of £20 once we'd added wine, a sum that would have got you a couple of lovely courses of Venetian seafood at Polpo on Beak St, a few minutes walk away.

And yet, the place was rammed. Not just with naive tourists either - I saw groups of work colleagues, couples on dates, families with small children. Queuing up to get in, queuing up to load their plates with quiche and moussaka and Thai vegetable curry (together), then queueing to pay. Tibits is little better than a hospital canteen with an alcohol license but it wasn't just turning over, it was popular. It makes absolutely no sense at all. So before I give myself a migraine trying to get my head round it, I'm going to stop talking about it and go and do something else. Then maybe I'll have a little lie down.

3/10

tibits on Urbanspoon

18 comments:

Janey said...

Such a shame! I wanted to try out this Tibits after visiting a friend in Basel over the summer and going to Tibits there. It was a really chilled out place, not busy at all and food was good and cheap compared to other eateries in Basel.

Paul Garnham said...

Chris, it's easy to forget that for very many people quality is not the benchmark they're interested in - it's quantity.

Chris Pople said...

Paul: But Tibits charges by weight, so they aren't even getting that benefit!

David J Paw said...

Please note that the general populace of London's dining public - never mind the tourists walking around the West End - has barely any resemblance to the bubble of food nerds and bloggers we all exist in. I spoke to someone who had never had fried chicken in their life the other day - this type of thing is startlingly common. Let us count our blessings.

David J Paw said...

Please note that the dining habits and preferences of the general London populace - never mind that of the tourists wandering the West End - barely resemble those within the bubble of food nerds and bloggers we exist in. The other day I spoke to a grown woman who had never tried fried chicken in her life. This, my friends, is startingly common. Let us count our blessings.

- D

Anonymous said...

They charge by weight? They WEIGH your food? That is the single most absurd and horrid thing I've heard of a restaurant doing. Just, whut?

Anonymous said...

It's popular (I think) because it has a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes that are clearly marked. It's popular with people following a non-meat diet.

The idea that you pay by weight (let's face it salad isn't heavy) ensures people don't waste food as people do with the 'all you can eat' set ups.

Anonymous said...

The image of that "Chirashi Sushi" should be enough to make any rational person walk away from that horrendous place.

Graphic Foodie said...

Tibits. Sounds like a brand of cat food.

Graphic Foodie said...
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Graphic Foodie said...
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Anonymous said...

Pound Shop - Rip Off
Weigh your cereal,soap,sweets shops- rip off
Tesco-rip off
Sainsbury-rip Off
Tibits- rip off
Manny people shopping in all of the above genuinely think they are getting a superb deal. You can show them, the evidence that they are not. They will still continue buying this sh!t.
I guess this is a chain? Not all chain food is bad, but much is.
So help me Bob!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of cat food you should see the cat food isle in the supermarket. A cat Bistro opening soon, perhaps. I have seen a cat therapy café(alas before it was open), seriously I sh1t you not.Loads of cats a café, good for you apparently.
http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk/Anger-Totnes-cat-therapy-cafe/story-19056659-detail/story.html#axzz2fG5fRqYK

Lizzie Mabbott said...

I went here on my vegan month and paid £9 for a box of beans. It was horrible. It's what vegans are left with.

Anonymous said...

are you on your period Chris?

mardou_amato said...

McDonalds on the other hand is a good deal no? This whole discussion has intelligence level of a simpleton.

Reto Frei said...

Hi Chris, many thanks for your visit to tibits. I am very surprised and sorry that you did not like our place. As you say, our restaurant is often rammed and we have many enthusistatic guests and very good reviews also on Tripadvisor. I can promise you that this is based on very hard and honest work and delivering quality and consistency to our guests. We are a family business, striving to serve our customers only fresh and tasty food & drinks throughout the day - food that we eat ourselves and serve to our friends. We are definitely not a tourist trap but a 'hidden gem' for Londoners and tourists alike. I would love to invite you back to explain our ethos and philosophy in person and to give you a chance to taste our fare again. I know that we cannot please everyone, but at least we can ask for a second shot. If you want to take up this offer, please send me an email on info at tibits.co.uk. With best wishes Reto Frei, Co-Founder of tibits

Anonymous said...

You clearly didn't try their dairy-free sticky toffee pudding... As a reluctant lactose allergy sufferer, that dish is worth going back for every time. Sad to say that very few other restaurants provide anything half as appetising for dessert that cater for me and my kind!