A picture-perfect location full of culinary delights: You’ll find Borough Market in Southwark, under the railroad arches at the end of London Bridge. Known as one of London’s oldest food markets, with roots dating back to the 13th century, some people might recognize it from the third Harry Potter film The Prisoner of Azkaban or the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary. But usually food is simply sold here all year round, as has been the case for centuries. While the market is a haven for delicacies and specialties from around the world, the vast majority of products come from local producers and farms in the area. In the middle of the Turnips market stall is a restaurant with the same name: Turnips by Tomas Lidakevicius.
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From pop-up to established restaurant
It all started with the lockdown in 2020, when Charlie Foster from the vegetable stand of the same name and Tomas Lidakevicius initially founded Turnips as a pop-up company. “Charlie had been supplying London’s upscale eateries up until that point, which were also closed because of corona. But he wanted to have something to do again,” recalls Lidakevicius. “His idea was to open a pop-up location in the middle of the market stall, one which cooks using the best products from Turnips, while also drawing inspiration from other market stalls.”
No sooner said than done: after just under two weeks, the pop-up version was set up in the market hall – in a shipping container that had to be moved in and out daily. Its success proved them right. Not surprisingly, then, the transition from pop-up to permanent venue after the end of the lockdown unfolded smoothly, with no major glitches. “We knew that this project didn’t just have potential – it was going to be something out of the ordinary. We had incredible reactions from the moment the restaurant opened,” says the Lithuanian native. “We identified both strengths and weaknesses and thought about what we could do with our resources.” Today, Turnips is a restaurant with two concepts and menus: Fine dining with seating for 40 and a second area with seating for 70 offering simpler dishes.
From construction site to Michelin-starred cuisine
Becoming a chef wasn’t necessarily his dream from the start. At 16, Tomas Lidakevicius was sent to a cooking school in Lithuania. “My parents knew my strengths and passions. They knew that a career as a baker or lawyer wouldn’t be right for me,” says the head chef. “So they encouraged me to try training as a chef in the hospitality industry, because this is a profession that will always be useful. The more I learned, the more I fell in love with this profession.”
After graduating, the adventurous 20-year-old moved to London on the advice of a friend. “I was looking for inspiration and motivation. My first job in London had nothing to do with the restaurant world – I was working on a construction site. But the kitchen still called to me. As soon as I had the opportunity, I worked in the kitchen of a private club,” recalls the 35-year-old. Then he got a job at Galvin at Windows. “This encounter changed my life forever. What I was really looking for was the level of joy and passion I began to feel in the kitchen,” says Lidakevicius. Other stops along the way included Texture and Corrigan’s, before he moved on to Jason Atherton in Star Local City Social.
Turnips – local and seasonal cuisine
According to Lidakevicius, Turnips is a restaurant with no boundaries. “We follow our instincts and use seasonal [locally produced] products that are only two steps away from the kitchen,” says the chef. “I literally start my day with a walk around the Turnips stand.” Of course, the main ingredients of his dishes, fruit and vegetables, come from his own stand. “But for meat, seafood and cheese, we rely on the other stands at Borough Market. We’re connected to this incredible community that we have here,” says the cook. “The lunches and dinners are cooked with heart and are full of flavors; nothing is forced, and everything happens as it should.”
Creative vegetable dishes
Given the meat-heavy cuisine Tomas grew up with in Lithuania and his 15-year career in London’s top restaurants, the menu may seem surprising at first glance. This is because it usually consists of 80% vegetables and 20% protein. However, the chef has never been afraid to break new ground and impressively demonstrates his diverse and delicious cooking style.
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“We can be so creative with fruit and vegetables. Vegetables come in so many varieties, each with a specific flavor, and we can apply all kinds of techniques: pickling, dehydrating, steaming,” says the chef. The fact that vegetables are the star on his plate is also proven by a dish with Cévennes onions. “It’s not just any onion, it’s the Cévennes, with such an intense taste that it’s almost overwhelming,” says the top chef with enthusiasm.
You can tell he’s particularly fond of this special onion. Although there is no official signature dish at Turnips, he adds, “Maybe it’s ‘cheese and onion’ with the Cévennes onion because that’s a fantastic combination of two flavors. So simple and so intense at the same time,” Lidakevicius reflects. He adds that this is also an ingredient of his favorite dish at Turnips –Cévennes onion with Parmesan sauce and a waffle. However, he doesn’t have a particular favorite ingredient. “Mushrooms are probably at the top of my list.”
In any case, the thirty-something chef has no intention of standing still and always offering the same dishes, which is why he tries not to have the same dishes on the menu for very long. “We want to avoid doing the same thing over and over. Instead, we want to evolve, drive ideas, keep creating something new and consistently make better dishes.” It is precisely for this reason that he could never offer the same menu, the same dishes at the restaurant for too long. “We are changing at a micro-seasonal pace and at the speed of our ideas,” notes the chef, who serves diners along with just six other employees.
When it comes to convenience
Sustainability and zero waste are an integral part of the restaurant concept: Turnips uses its own leftovers as well as surplus unsold products from the market stall that would otherwise be thrown away. This food is often simply a result of over ordering or not for sale because it no longer looks good. But to not use the food anymore because of this, or even to throw it away, simply makes no sense to the full-blooded chef. “I used to help my grandmother a lot with canning, pickling and fermenting,” the chef explains. So he whips up delicious spreads, preserves, or his own convenience items from just these “leftover” foods at Turnips.
Commercial convenience, on the other hand, is not really his thing. “With Turnips, we primarily use fresh ingredients sourced from our kitchen,” says Lidakevicius. However, freezing is OK. “Some ingredients are better frozen and then cooked to preserve their shape or texture.” In his opinion, vegan meat substitutes also don’t make much sense. “Is it really necessary to consume an industrially produced product with so many additives to mimic the taste and texture of meat? That seems counter-intuitive to me,” the chef says. “People who choose a vegan lifestyle should eat fruits and vegetables.”
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Reaching for a (Michelin) star
The ambitious, visionary chef still has big plans for the future. “The biggest dream is of course to become one of the best restaurants in the world. After all, there is no other place like Turnips. Just take a look around – the location, the products we have, the fine-dining experience we offer, it’s truly one of a kind!” In 2023, he and his team succeeded in taking the first step towards this goal by receiving a mention in the Michelin Guide: “Interesting small plates are accompanied by a tasting menu of creative modern dishes – most of the produce doesn’t have far to travel!”
We say: keep it up – and wish his team and him all the best!