A few weeks ago, I was invited to enjoy a meal at Bill’s Restaurant and Bar in Southampton, and to view their newly decorated restaurant. This was actually really exciting, and nerve-wracking for me, as I’ve never been invited for a gifted meal before! I thought this would be a really cool opportunity to test a new restaurant, while also testing out how good their vegan options were. Of course I took Greg with me and we dined there on a Saturday evening at 8pm.
Bill's Southampton is located on the ground floor of West Quay's newest development, the Watermark. It’s the perfect location for this charming restaurant. The restaurant looks over the historic walls that once protected Southampton, as well as plenty other eateries and bars that really capture Southampton dining perfectly.
Although Bill’s Southampton has been redecorated, it was lovely to see they had kept their classic outside dining area, which is wrapped in giant fairy lights for a cosy summer evening feel. As well as their beautiful outside dining area, there is plenty of room inside so you can enjoy breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea or a leisurely dinner with friends.
We were greeted at the door straight away by friendly waiting staff and promptly shown to our table, which was beautifully set – candles, clean cutlery, wine and water glasses, soft and good-quality napkins and an attractive looking drinks menu. We were given food menus as soon as we sat down and introduced to our lovely waitress, who said she would come back in a few minutes to take a drinks order from us.
The thing I liked most about the seating was, although we were sat on a two-person table in between a few other single tables, we still felt like we had our own space and that we were on a date, rather than sitting on strangers laps and feeling cramped.
The redecoration was absolutely stunning. I would describe it as a bright and modernised twist on classic Tuscan décor. Each colour, from vibrant red chairs to cream coloured prints in rustic frames, complimented each other perfectly to create a comfortable - yet sophisticated - atmosphere, which made for a very pleasant dining experience.
The bar was especially eye-catching. Covered in roman, mosaic-style tiling, faux plants and artistic prints and sculptures, it was definitely the focal point of the restaurant. There did not seem to be enough room to just sit there and have a relaxing drink after a long day at work, but it certainly a conversation starter during the sit down meal.
I have to mention as well – the music. Loud enough to mask the background noise from around the restaurant, but subtle enough not to disturb your meal and feel like you’re shouting in one another’s faces…
The drinks menu was already on the table when we arrived. It had a wide variety of choices, from exotic cocktails, such as Rosé Sangria or Frozen Watermelon Margarita, to fruit soft drinks and experimental coffees (they had a beetroot and coconut latte! Like what?!), and they were all reasonably priced. Greg chose a classic bottle of Coca-Cola (£2.85 for 330ml) and I chose a sweet and refreshing Bill’s Pink Lemonade (£3.75) The drinks were delicious and served to spec in cold, clean glasses with ice and a slice.
There is one small issue I had with the drinks menu though – no vegan drinks, or none that were clearly marked as vegan; not even bottled water was marked as vegan. At the bottom of the menu, there was a clear identification of symbols for ‘V - lacto-ovo veggie’, ‘Ve – Vegan’, and ‘N – Contains nuts’, and some drinks, such as the Iced Drinks, were clearly labelled with the V symbol, but no Ve symbol was to be seen. The menu also states: “Wines on this list may contain sulphites, egg or milk products. Please ask a member of staff should you require guidance” so either Bill’s Restaurant and Bar have not clearly labelled any their vegan-friendly drinks, including soft, or they don’t have any? I would have liked this to be a little bit clearer…
Food and prices
There is a lot of choices on the dinner menu, however, as I am writing this from vegan perspective, I found the vegan options were limited. Greg, who is not vegan or veggie, had a huge variety to pick from; on the other hand, I was left to pick from a total of 4 ‘for the table’ snacks, 2 starters, 3 mains and 1 dessert. A little disappointing if I’m honest…
For starters, I had the choice between the Pea and Watercress Soup (£5.95), served with mixed seeds, olive oil & toasted focaccia, or the Rosemary, Pea Hummus and Garlic Sourdough (£6.25). I’m not a huge soup fan, so I went for the sourdough. My starter arrived quickly and was beautiful presented - topped withshaved raw rainbow carrots, courgette & fennel and mixed seeds- and served on a decorative, floral plate. I have to say, this was the best starter I have ever eaten; it’s not something I would have normally gone for, but definitely something I would order again… and again… and again. The flavours complimented each other beautifully. Even Greg (who is a rather fussy eater, definitely not a dish he would have chosen for himself) thought it tasted incredible – he even went in for second bite!
For mains, I chose the glow bowl (£11.95) from the salad section, which upon seeing I was a bit like ‘oh, I don’t want a salad’ as I was in the mood for a good vegan burger. There was no option for a vegan burger at all; the best was a halloumi burger as a veggie option – but cheese. A bit of a shame really as I would have thought most places had at least one vegan burger option by now? There were two vegan salad options, the glow bowl or the kale, chickpea and miso hummus salad, or a carrot, cashew nut and mushroom wellington, but as I can’t stand the taste and smell of mushroom, this was a no-go area for me.
Now, the Glow Bowl, which included pea falafel, grains, chickpeas, hummus, roasted butternut squash, long stem broccoli, pickled red cabbage, red pepper tapenade, spinach, miso dressing & grilled flatbread; it was delicious! With every mouthful there was a new flavour and/or texture to try, it was beautifully seasoned (normally I chuck loads of salt/pepper on to my food, but not this time), well presented and all around tasty! Sadly, I could not finish it as the portion size was more than generous! You definitely get your money’s worth!
For the non-vegans/veggies out there, Greg chose the Buttermilk Chicken Burger, which was made up of crumbed chicken breast, creamy coleslaw, chipotle mayonnaise, sesame bun & fries. He said it was very tasty, although he thought it was more ‘battered chicken’ than ‘crumbed chicken’.
Dessert time – I actually did not get a dessert, but for two reasons: 1) I was SO FULL, and 2) ONE dessert option of vegan coconut ice cream or lemon sorbet…
I just… yeah… can you see my frustration? I appreciate Bill’s putting a vegan, or at least dairy free, option on the menu, but it’s a little basic and easy.
Overall, Greg and I were extremely impressed with the quality of food and the portion sizes! Just a shame about the lack of vegan options…
Service was so friendly and professional, from bartenders and waiting staff to managers and kitchen staff, everyone made us feel so welcome even when tying to take awkward photos around the place! Although the restaurant was busy, service was quick and prompt when taking our food and drinks order, but slightly slower when it came to clearing our plates from our starters and mains. Then again, I think maybe this is my previous waitress experience shining through; it was obvious the staff were busy as there were a couple of larger parties in the restaurant at the same time as us, so this was not out waitress’ fault at all. Our waitress made sure to check back on our meal, asking if everything was OK and if we needed anymore drink or sauces. After clearing our table, she offered us dessert menus quickly and gave us a few minutes to browse the menu before making a decision before coming back one last time.
There was one thing I did pick up on though – toilets. There was only one male toilet, and the rest were female. I can kind of see why Bill’s has done this, but at the same time it was unfair to watch Greg wait for extended periods of time for the toilet to be free. As for the girls, there was always one free, which for once it felt nice not having to wait in huge queues to pee. When I was in there though, I was not welcomed with a particularly clean and tidy bathroom, as soon from the photo below. I went back to the loo again about an hour later and they were super tidy, so I’m glad someone noticed quickly and took initiative.
I wont lie and say it’s the best dining experience we’ve ever had, it had some areas for improvements, primarily around the vegan food options. I just feel like, vegan food has come a long way in the past couple of years. It’s not longer boring salads and dry vegetables anymore; vegan food has stretched to the likings of scrambled ‘egg’ and creamy, chocolaty no-cheesecakes. I think Bill’s needs to embrace the fact that vegan food is not limited anymore; and from what I did eat at Bill’s that was vegan, it was delicious as I’d even go as far to say it was the most flavourful, delicious vegan meal I’ve ever had… just imagine what they could create with a whole, separate vegan menu?!
BUT, all in all, Greg and I had a lovely dining experience. The new décor was absolutely gorgeous with loads of little bits and bobs to look around at, even gave me some inspiration for when Greg and I move out of our flat haha! I would definitely visit here again; mainly for the Glow Bowl… it was just incredible.
Bill's Southampton is open daily from 8am serving breakfast, brunch/lunch, afternoon tea and dinner.
You can book a table by phoning 023 8082 9240 or by visiting their website here.
Thank you so much for reading!
- Ellie x
All opinions and experiences are my own, completely true and honest. This was a gifted meal experience.