Vapiano has an interesting system of ordering food. Usually a diner expects to be seated and handed the menu to order. Instead, you are given a smartcard upon arrival and proceed to the food stations behind which the chefs stand. Each chef focuses upon preparing food that is within their remit. The stations are pizza, antipasti and pasta and you directly order your dish from the chef behind the station you are interested in. There is also a separate desserts station with pre-prepared dishes. Your smartcard is used to record your ordered dishes for payment purposes at the end of your meal. If the dish is going to take some time, such as the pizza, then you are given an annoying buzzer which buzzes when the chef has finished cooking your food so that you can go collect it.
Although an unusual system you do get direct contact with the chef preparing your dish so it is easier to request additional dish related information, or to get dietary restrictions across without a third person potentially muddling the order. However, it can feel a little gimmicky and as such a nuisance especially if you are ordering from all the different food stations in the same visit. However, for meals with friends and acquaintances it is a handy system for paying for your individual dishes without having to do some mental maths at the end of an enjoyable meal.
My dinner companion and I have visited the restaurant a few times, partly due to its location but mostly because food is prepared fresh and we have that direct contact with the chefs. As a food lover I really enjoy those eateries that have their kitchens or chefs visible from the dining area. It is a confident straightforward approach – ‘here we are, here is the food, there is nothing to hide here’.
We have ordered from all three stations and the dishes have been executed within an adequate time frame. They have also been presented well and there does appear to be some consistency across the menu. The dishes we have tried to date are: Tonna (tuna) Pizza, Nicoise salad, Spaghetti Bolognese and Mista Piccola Salad. All the dishes have looked tantalisingly fresh and healthy. The pizza dough, pasta and desserts are prepared daily on site by the chefs.
The Tuna Pizza had a lovely crispy base topped with a flavoursome homemade tomato sauce and tuna and red onions, whilst the Spaghetti was perfectly cooked and had a flavoursome meaty sauce. What Vapiano does well is restraint in its main dishes. The pizza isn’t doused in tomato sauce and cheese. The spaghetti is not too saucy but rather the dish highlights the quality of the pasta. If only this consistency was carried through to its salads. Having eaten there on a few occasions I have tried the salads a multiple times. The Nicoise is lovely and fresh and because of the ordering system at Vapiano diners can amend their dishes so I was able to remove the tomatoes and potatoes. However it would be nice to have other options available to bulk up the rest of the salad, rather than just be given more leafy greens. Also the Mista Piccola Salad was a little disappointing as the bulk of the greens consisted of big chunks of iceberg lettuce. For the price it was not a dish to be ordered again.
The salad portion sizes are quite generous so I would not order a salad with another main unless you are sharing the dishes. The salads are presented in the same deep dishes that the pasta comes in. Because the salads are very generously dressed in fresh and tangy dressings all the extra soupy liquid ends up in the bottom of your deep dish. You end up with a soggy mess at the bottom of your salad which is not really the best thing for greens. I actually requested a new plate so I could remove all the liquid and enjoy my salad without it swimming in the dressing.
The restaurant itself has a well-thought out design with seating both inside and outside. They also have potted herb plants dotted around which have a dual purpose. They act as décor but a diner can also tear off some basil leaves should they wish. I do enjoy the ambience at Vapiano whatever time of the day I eat there. Would I eat there again? Yes, but this time I know which dishes I need to be more specific about. And there will always be a request for an extra bowl.