Vegetables go from stall to plate at chef Tomas Lidakevicius's innovative Borough Market restaurant. Caroline Baldwin reports
Whether it's a snaffled bite of a fresh croissant straight from the bag or a meal to go from one of the array of globally inspired street food stands, it's understandable why Borough Market is a top destination for Londoners and tourists alike.
What Borough didn't realise it was missing was a fine dining restaurant, situated on one of the market's most famous stalls, under the railway arches. But it's this unusual spot that former City Social executive chef Tomas Lidakevicius has chosen for his first restaurant.
The restaurant was first opened by Lidakevicius and Turnips produce stallholder Charlie Foster in July 2020 as a pop-up, which popped up and down during the various lockdowns. After a sold-out winter and a significant refurbishment of the kitchen and bathrooms, the pair announced Turnips as a permanent endeavour earlier this summer.
The stall, which has been trading at Borough for more than 30 years, provides Lidakevicius with his own personal larder, allowing him to create a constantly changing menu centred around humble vegetables.
As market shoppers depart and stallholders begin to close for the day, Turnips transforms into a 120-cover restaurant, with tables and chairs lined with sheepskin appearing right next to crates housing the vegetables that might soon appear on diners' plates. Tangles of fairylights and plants soften the industrial feel, but not much can be done about the trains intermittently rumbling overhead. That said, consumers come to Borough Market for the hubbub, the noise, the smells and the chaos, and after the first sip of the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée NV from West Sussex and a bite of the Royal Marquee peach with chicken liver, you hardly notice the occasional disturbance.
"We wanted to keep the market feel, but it's all about the purest ingredients and the execution of the dish," says Lidakevicius, who describes his cooking as "freestyle" with "no rules whatsoever".
Diners can choose from either a small plates menu with dishes ranging from £5 to £14, or the six-course tasting experience (£72). When The Caterer visited, the Provence round courgette with sunflower seeds and bao bun was on the menu, for which the Lithuanian chef pickles finely sliced green courgettes in rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt for a couple of days, while a yellow courgette is sliced and marinaded in olive oil, lime juice and zest on the day of service. They are both rolled into roses and served on two purées – one from the courgette trimmings, which are diced and roasted to remove the water before blitzing with salt, and the second from toasted sunflower seeds with garlic, lemon and miso, making what Lidakevicius calls a sunflower tahini. The dish is served with a bao bun filled with sliced courgette and a courgette jam made with fermented honey and citrus leaves.
Datterini tomatoes are the hero ingredient of the main course. Fermented tomatoes are blowtorched to char the fruit, which once peeled sit under the kitchen light all day to confit slowly. They are served alongside avocado purée, ‘surplus' ketchup, a parsley tuile for crunch and a piece of Galician Blond beef, which is placed in a 10% salt brine with spices for two hours before being cooked in a water bath for 90 minutes at 54°C.
While many chefs focus on local produce, Lidakevicius doesn't limit his cooking to the British seasons. "It's fashionable to say you are hyper-local, but unless you are in the middle of Kent, that's hard to do. We source locally first, and if we can't get the quality, we go to Europe, and then we go further – there's no shame using something better from France or the south of Mexico."
Instead, Lidakevicius and his five fellow chefs ensure there is little to no food waste, with any leftover produce turned into surplus jams, ketchups and dipping sauces, and his current experiment, vegetable misos.
"It's rewarding when something turns out right – but it's trial and error," he says, pointing to his four-month-old fish sauce, which he says is "absolutely stunning". Whether the misos hit the mark, he will have to wait and see, but if his intuitive "freestyle" cooking is anything to go by, I would highly doubt it would be a miss.
From the menu
- Royal Marquee peach, chicken liver
- Kohlrabi, dill, Jersey oyster
- Brittany globe artichoke, preserved truffle
- Provence round courgette, sunflower seeds, bao bun
- Lincolnshire peas, Sicilian lemon, Russian king crab
- Datterini tomatoes, avocado 35%, 38-day-aged Galician Blond beef
- Saveurs Rouges strawberries, sorrel
- Tresor apricot, sweet woodruff, miso
Tasting experience, £72. Classic wine pairing, £65; prestige wine pairing, £95
43 Borough Market, London SE1 9AH; www.turnipsboroughmarket.com/restaurant
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