With an increasing number of people embracing vegetarian, vegan and ‘flexitarian’ eating, veggie food is no longer the poor relation of meat-based offerings that it used to be.
Nevertheless, it’s still a joy to find somewhere that provides a huge choice of – to use popular parlance – plant-based dishes and has the ability to tickle the tastebuds of the most committed carnivores. Welcome to tibits (spelled with an on-trend lowercase t) Bankside.
Boasting a large modern frontage on Southwark Street, which is naturally painted green, the first thing you notice about tibits is the size. This is no passing nod to a vegetarian eatery, but a seriously spacious restaurant that moves seamlessly from breakfast through to lunch and dinner; not forgetting brunch at the weekends.
In fact, we visited on a Saturday to experience the ‘bottomless brunch’, which recently became a permanent fixture on the calendar at both tibits Bankside and its older sibling in Mayfair. Turning back the clock (in this case a Swiss timepiece would be very fitting) the tibits story began back in 2000. Vegetarian brothers Christian, Daniel and Reto Frei were uninspired by the lack of suitable offerings in their native Switzerland and decided to do something about it. They teamed up with Rolf Hiltl, the owner of Zurich’s Haus Hiltl which was opened in 1898 and holds the Guinness world record as the oldest continually operating vegetarian restaurant. Fast forward to today, and there are now 11 restaurants in Switzerland, one in Germany and the pair in London.
The ‘bottomless brunch’ runs alongside the regular food offering from 11:30am to 5:00pm every Saturday and Sunday. For £18, during a 90-minute time slot, diners can enjoy unlimited Bellini cocktails, vegan Prosecco and Freedom Brewery beer. If you’re in a group, you just need to note that everyone must order the first drink at the same time as that’s when the clock starts ticking.
Housed in a former factory, the airy eatery has a light, bright interior with tables that are well spread out and a mix of individual chairs and banquette seating with plump cushions. The light-flooded Garden Room provides an al fresco feel whatever the weather, and on fine days there are two small outside areas. There’s also a private dining room that seats up to 12 people.
It has a really nice inclusive vibe and, on our lunchtime visit there were couples, singles, groups of friends and multi-generational families – later with contented children asleep on the aforementioned cushions while the adults chatted over drinks. Nice touches include a magazine rack and self-serve water fountain.
The ‘food boat’, moored in the main restaurant close to the bar, is the focal point of all tibits outlets. So named because the bottom section is shaped like a vessel, it is to all intents and purposes a buffet. But don’t worry, this is not the type of buffet that looks great when it opens and ends up with bowls of semi-congealed sad looking food. Chefs are always buzzing around to check on the dishes, get them topped up well before things run out and test hot food with a culinary thermometer.
For first time visitors, and the uninitiated, the buffet is a bit of an odd concept, albeit staff members are on hand to talk you through it as need be. At tibits you pay for your food by weight, irrespective of what it is – starters, mains, desserts or a mix of everything. At breakfast each100g of food costs £1.90, moving to £2.40 at lunchtime and £2.70 for dinner. So unless you’re a whizzo at weights and calculations you won’t know how much it’s going to cost until you take it to the bar to be evaluated, minus the weight of the plate of course, and then you get a tray and cutlery to go back to your table. The concept is that you can eat as much or as little as you want and set up a tab so you can make several visits to the ‘food boat’ without piling up a mountainous plate with a kaleidoscope of clashing food types and flavours (the inherent peril of the set price, one plate, one visit buffet set up).
Once you get the hang of it, and realise roughly what you’re going to spend, it’s plain sailing. As our guideline, our respective lunches cost around £19 and £24 for one main plate and £5 and £7 for desserts, which wasn’t at all bad given the quality and variety on offer.
Aside from the signature sticky toffee pudding, the menus change regularly to make the most of seasonal produce. What you can expect each time is more than 40 imaginative and creative hot and cold dishes. We filled our plates with tangy Asian-style kimchi with beansprouts and coriander, soba noodles with soya tempeh flavoured with roasted ginger, mange tout, leek and pineapple, Chilean celery and avocado salad, spinach and kale falafel with home-made chutney, cucumber relish rice and more. Meat-lovers can easily delude themselves with dishes such as the piquant sweet and sour veggie meatballs with beansprouts and spring onions.
And if you’re visiting for brunch and want to err more on the breakfast side of things, there will be options such as a lovely three-layer omelette with mornay sauce and vegan novo salad made with scrambled tofu, almonds and Indian kala namak black salt.
For the sweet-toothed the puddings are standout, and my highlights (having put several on my plate) were the chocolate apricot squares with dates coconut and cashews, and tiramisu with an unusual hint of vanilla and almond topped off with a big dollop of vegan cream.
For those who aren’t opting for the included brunch deal or visiting on a different day, the drinks menu starts with all manner of coffees, organic teas and freshly squeezed juices and home-made ginger lemonade (you can even bring your own cake in for a £1 per person ‘plating’ charge – although not sure why you’d want to when tibits’ tempting sweet treats and pastries start from £2. The predominantly vegan wine list is small, but comprehensive with craft beers and wines from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Romania and England, including organic and biodynamic wines, starting from a reasonable £19.50 a bottle for the Spanish Tempranillo, Cerrada Viura, with wines also available by the glass. If you want, you can also bring your own wine for a corkage fee of £12 for wine and £20 for Champagne.
As the vogue towards vegetarian and vegan food gathers momentum, tibits will go down a treat with both long-term veggies and new converts. And with the range of dishes on offer, even carnivores won’t feel short changed. Having circumnavigated the ‘food boat’ several times and only sampled a fraction of what was available, I would certainly drop anchor there again.
tibits, 124 Southwark Street, London, SE1 0SW, England.
Tel: +44 (0)207 2028 370
The restaurant is located just behind the Tate Modern and is a short stroll from Southwark and Blackfriars Stations. Open daily from 7:30am to 10:00pm Monday to Wednesday, 7:30am to 11:00pm Thursday and Friday, 11:30am to 11:00pm Saturday and 11:30apm to 10:00pm on Sunday.
Type of Restaurant: Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant
Price Band: Medium
Insider Tip: The two small outdoor areas on each side of the conservatory area are intimate spots to sip a cocktail or two on warm days.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Known as the ‘River Cruise Queen’, Jeannine Williamson is an award-winning travel writer, cruise expert and our cruise correspondent, who has clocked up thousands of nautical miles.
Photographs courtesy of tibits Bankside