When we were in London for Britmums Live! we were invited to try out a very different Italian restaurant chain called Vapiano. There are two Vapianos in London, and we decided to visit the branch on Great Portland Street, just north of Oxford Street.
Obviously this was a prearranged meal and therefore it could be considered that the experience we had was vastly different to reality. Both TripAdvisor and the three thousand people who eat at this branch every day clearly indicate that that is not the case. Yes, three thousand people. The Great Portlant Street restaurant is the busiest in the world. We visited at a peak time on a busy Sunday afternoon; no table was reserved for us (standard practise) yet we found a seat instantly on the upper level, and we stayed for two and a half hours. During that time the tables around us changed parties several times, however we didn't see anyone hanging around waiting for a seat and nobody appeared to feel rushed.
Vapiano is a chain of restaurants that originated in Germany in 2002, and now has over 120 branches in twenty six countries over four continents. The supervisor that greeted us was so genuinely enthusiastic about the company that I could feel his passion for their ethos, ensuring good, fresh food is delivered to the patrons quickly and in a friendly manner. The best bit of news he shared with me is that in Vapiano's five-year plan, there will be a restaurant opening in Cardiff!
I've digressed from the factual parts of this review.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, customers are given a card which has a chip embedded in it. Once customers have found their seats and looked at the menus, then they go and order at each food station (antipasti & starters, pizza, pasta, a bar, desserts). The order is made, the card is 'scanned' and the details of the order are added to the card (this happens for every item of food and drink ordered). The chefs prepare and cook the food to order while the customer waits, receives their food and then returns to their party to enjoy their meal. Once the meal is finished, the customers take their card (which has a £50 limit on it) to the cashdesk, which is situated on the way out, and pays.
This is an incredibly fair system as it means that if a party of friends is visiting together, then there is not the awkward moment when the bill comes and individual amounts are calculated, which often causes arguments. If a family party is having a meal, then the bill can be spread over several cards which the adults have; children do not have cards as alcoholic drinks can be added to the 'credit' on the card.
Seating is mainly in long benches and tables which allows for large parties to sit, chat and enjoy each other's company, there are booths, tall tables and smaller tables. We sat on a high bench and tall table at the back of the restaurant, watching everyone enjoying themselves and soaking up the atmosphere, before I went and ordered.
Antipasti & Starters
We decided to order a variety of starters so that the three of us could pick and choose:
- Piatto antipasti (Parma ham, salami, pepperoni, roasted vegetables, mozzarella, bruschetta) = £9.00
- Insalata Caprese (tomatoes, mozzarella, basil) = £6.50
- Bruschetta (toasted bread, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil) = £2.80
As I carried the food back upstairs on an overladen tray, I anticipated the look on my husband's face and I certainly wasn't disappointed! When he saw the plate of mixed cold meats, with bread, bruschetta and mozzarella, his face lit up and in all honesty that could have been a light meal in itself; there was so much choice!
I've had a lot of Insalata Caprese (including on Capri itself) and this was one of the best as the mozzarella was so smooth and virtually melted in my mouth. The brushetta was perfectly toasted meaning the middle didn't go soggy and the edges weren't too crispy and hard.
While the Insalata Caprese was a little more expensive than I'd have normally been prepared to pay, the quality of the mozzarella more than made up for that. The bruschetta was incredibly well priced for a starter.
A definite 10/10 for the starters.
Pizzas & Pastas
We decided to both go for a vegetarian main meal so that we could mix and match:
- Pasta: Rucola Ravioli (ravioli with rocket, ricotta cheese filling, butter, pine nuts) = £8.75
- Pizza: Dell’Alpe (Gorgonzola, Grana Padano D.O.P., smoked cheese, dried tomatoes and figs [I didn't have these on mine], rocket, mozzarella) = £9.75
This pizza has gone up there as one of the best I've had, and I've had a lot! My husband cites the one we had in Pompeii as the best he's ever had, I liked the one in Rome more, but this was just as good as either. Vapiano make their pizza dough on site every day from fresh ingredients, and the recipe that they use for the dough means that it doesn't get soggy in the middle underneath all the cheese. The flavours blended perfectly and the crust was suitably volcanic in appearance. I couldn't manage it all though due to the size, and I'd suggest this would be a good dish to share in the party.
The ravioli was very tasty and the pasta was again freshly made on site in the morning. There is actually a section of the restaurant which is encased in glass walls and contains the pasta machine. Here customers can watch the pasta being made, shaped and bagged into perfect 180g portions before being dispensed to the pasta chefs who cook the sauces to a given recipe but can personalise each dish.
Main meals receive a 9/10, mainly for portion sizes, but that might be more to do with the fact that we were pretty full from our starters!
When we were seated we were given a children's menu and a packet of colouring pencils for The Boy. There is a range of simple, and slightly more adventurous pizza and pasta dishes available for the grand total of £3.50 each. That is one of the cheapest children's meals I've seen. The pasta dishes are half the weight of the adults' at 90g and the pizzas are slightly smaller.
The Boy went for a ham pizza which the chefs shaped into a rabbit's head.
The Boy really enjoyed his pizza and was completely amused by it being shaped into a character. It would have been a good size portion for an older child of around 7-10 years, but for a 4 year old it defeated him and he managed around a third of the pizza. And what was worse was that daddy couldn't even help him as he was too full himself!
9/10 for the children's meal, purely down to the size of the portions for younger children.
This was the part of the meal I was really looking forward to; I'm a big dolci fan and Vapiano didn't disappoint me at all. I went for my standard Italian dessert (it's the one I hold as a true measure to the chef's ability to cook Italian), while The Boy and Mr. TBaM went for their usual as well:
- Tiramisu (small) for me = £1.90
- Baked cheesecake (classic lemon & vanilla cheesecake) for Mr. TBaM = £3.00
- Ice-cream (Green & Black's white chocolate and raspberry swirl) for The Boy = £2.50
I was really impressed with my tiramisu which was light and fluffy, smooth and really very tasty of coffee, while not being at all sickly. I sampled the cheesecake as well and it was so delicately flavoured with lemon that it was really enjoyable; there was none left on the plate at all by my husband. The Boy really enjoyed the ice-cream and I was pleased that the prices of all three were so reasonable = 10/10
As we weren't driving, we decided to try out a few of the long drinks that Vapiano has to offer:
- Aperol Spritzer (Prosecco, Aperol orange liqueur & soda water) = £4.50
- Strawberry Bellini (Prosecco, strawberry puree) = £4.95
I've never had a bellini before and I absolutely adored it! The conventional bellini is peach, but this was sweet and light making it a perfect Summer drink. My husband really enjoys citrus drinks and was pleasantly surprised to find that the aperol spritzer is the trendiest drink in Italy at the moment, one of the few times he's been fashionable!
I thought that the cost of each cocktail was very reasonable actually; especially as I've paid £20.45 for two vodkas and cokes in London before. They are something I will definitely have again.
We really enjoyed our meal at Vapiano, reflected in the length of time that we stayed there (two and a half hours). We've already said that it is the restaurant that we will actively seek out in future when we go to London, regardless of whether we have The Boy with us or not. It is a great family-friendly restaurant with reasonably priced meals for all which can easily be shared, likewise I can see it is a brilliant place for a group of friends to visit and enjoy the good food and company.
We received this meal for free in exchange for this review, my opinion is honest and unbiased.