“Our philosophy is that if the produce is good enough it will appeal to anybody. We don’t want to make and sell the best vegan food, just the best food,” Malcolm Hett tells me.
Malcolm is hard at work when I arrive at Ribizli in Wallingford, getting the cafe ready to open for another busy day, as the locals begin to drift in, initially for coffee and some of his partner Timi’s famous cakes, and then later for lunch and teas.
The coffee machine is on, the bright interior – greens and whites – is gleaming, while smells of delicious bread and baking waft down the stairs from in-house baker Nathan Crawley Lyons.
His partner Timi (Megyeriis) is in the kitchens preparing the days menu, having opened up here three years ago.
Partners in life and business, opening a fully gluten-free and plant-based (vegan) modern cafe has always been their dream, and with the enormous focus on reducing our meat intake as the vegetarian and vegan trends boom, now is the time.
Not that it’s been an easy process – starting a new cafe from scratch in a south Oxfordshire market town was always going to be a challenge, but looking around they’ve got it spot on.
The pair say the locals have been nothing but welcoming as their reputation and popularity spread.
Timi is nothing if not committed to the cause, determined to prove that eating vegan and gluten-free food need not mean a loss of flavour or choice.
Which is one of the reasons the pair hold their successful pop-up dinner evenings, the last one of the year “The flavours of Europe’ six course tasting menu this Friday.
Timi agonises over the menu for weeks to ensure the cafes avid fans taste and experience new and international dishes that fully reflects their own ethos.
And yet, they are pioneering as they go, forging the way ahead for those looking to enhance and elaborate on a plant base or gluten free diet.
Ribizli, the Hungarian word for blackcurrant, was an idea born in Zurich, where the pair were living when Malcolm worked for a multinational company as an environmental consultant. Megyeriis accompanied him on his posting, and on discovering she was lactose-intolerant began baking and cooking her own food, whose fame soon spread.
She began a catering company of providing her specific food to cafes and restaurants in the city, as well as cooking for events.
“Everything she does has to be the best,” Malcolm smiles, “not just gluten and dairy free but without compromising the product, and that’s where she makes a really big difference to those who eat a specific diet.”
“So many people are now reducing their dairy, eggs and meat intake due to environmental, health, ethics and sustainability issues. There are so many more allergies out there now, due to farming processes and the processed food we eat.
“We need to rethink what we eat to help improve the environment we live in,” Malcolm adds.
“And while lots of restaurants have jumped on the vegan and vegetarian bandwagon by providing more vegan options, our mantra is to be healthy, environmental and cruelty free
“Only by providing all of these things can we really do it justice.”
So why Wallingford? “We wanted to come back and put down roots. But we also wanted to continue what Timi had started in Zurich by opening up our own cafe. We loved Wallingford. It’s such a beautiful location and we have got to know a lot of people here.”
The 17th century refit where Ribizli is housed took a lot of work: “We wanted to make it light, airy and welcoming for everyone, so it is child and dog friendly (both have designated rooms upstairs)
And yet the pair say that while veganism is a growing market, “there is still a lot of stigma attached. That’s why there isn’t a massive vegan sign outside, and we have a lot of interesting conversations with our customers.”
While open six days a week during the day, the pair have been trialling these pop-up evenings to demonstrate their scope. The evenings are about showcasing what a plant based diet can be. They all have different themes – Asian, African and this one is European, and a lot of work goes into them. We aren’t licensed so its BYO. And everyone seems to really enjoy them. We often sell out.”
The next six course taster menu is being held tomorrow (Friday). To book tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org or book directly with Bench Rest https://www.bench-rest.com/events/festive-flavours-of-europe-plant
The next pop up 6 course tasting menu is on 16 January, 13 February (Valentine’s day special), 19 March, 23 April. They all . From January tickets will be sold through the cafe’s new website, which will be up and working by then.