If you want to splash out on Italian for lunch in a bright, modern, and trendy place, then Vapiano is worth a try. As for returning, it depends whether fast-casual Italian restaurants that charge gourmet prices for pasta that comes out of a packet floats your boat.
Granted, it is good to see the packets show that the pasta is fresh and there are different pasta shapes and flour types (including spelt) you can choose from. This restaurant is a healthy choice. But after the initial attraction, one does remember that such packets are stocked in most supermarkets. Better stocked, it turns out, than the branch of Vapiano I went to, which had run out of pappardelle at 4:30pm. Maybe they had too busy a lunch hour, but they did have two hours after that to restock. This is a German restaurant chain, and manufacturing (the pasta is made fresh daily in the restaurant’s own kitchen) is meant to be a forte of theirs.
The fast casual concept also sat uneasily with me. The fresh, quick, and easy method I practise at home, not when dining out the Italian way. I did wonder whether we were expected to wolf our food down with a gulp of water then leave. The water glasses come in such minute sizes; only just taller than the bread slices. Yet the heavy, rich sauces led me to head for the water machine more times than I can count. Next time I will remember to fill ten glasses in advance to prevent my food from going cold. Maybe its purpose is to encourage us to order more; the climb up and down the bar stool and repetitive walk between one’s table and the water machine means that by the end of the main your stomach feels ready for dessert.
There are many redeemable features, which befit a successful restaurant chain. Highlights for me were the pot herbs; two are distributed on each of the bar tables, rosemary and basil. Not only does stripping bare half the plant makes your spending worthwhile, but it also adds flavour and freshness to your dish. This excited me more than the chip card payment system that piqued my interest in the restaurant in the first place, where you collect a chip that records your orders and after eating hand the chip in as your receipt before paying and leaving.
The Salsiccia con Ficci (spicy Italian sausage, fresh figs, tomato sauce) I ordered for £9.95 with campanelle pasta, was well balanced. The sweetness of the figs is essential alongside the saltiness of the meat. This was a pleasant surprise for me, since I tend to shy away from cooked fruit and am not hugely carnivorous. Moreover, the pasta was cooked to al dente perfection.
Nonetheless, after a single sitting, the novelty wore off on me. There are interesting fusion pasta dishes on the menu – one has pak choi – I have yet to try, so I may return. But I am tentative. This chain has fun with its flavours, but fun flavours were not enough to impress.
Find the Vapiano nearest to you in London, at:
19-21 Great Portland St, W1W 8QB
84 Wardour Street, W1F 0TQ
90 B Southwark Street, SE1 0FD