Yesterday was my birthday and I decided that as I had been asked to review an Italian restaurant and I would have chosen an Italian restaurant for my birthday lunch anyway, we would use the opportunity and combine the two.
I’d not heard of Vapiano before, a worldwide chain with just two restaurants in Great Britain, both of which being in London. They sounded like they had an unusual concept where you go up to the counter to order your food from chefs who freshly prepare everything for you. I didn’t really know what to expect so we went with a totally open mind and kept our fingers crossed that it would be suitable for the children.
As it happens (I’m getting well ahead of myself here) it was perfection. For everyone! I only have one complaint from the whole experience and it is that the high chair had no straps. Other than that the high chair was also perfect. Wooden, chunky, clean as a whistle and the exact right height to make Jimmy part of things at the table. But… Like I said, I’ve got way ahead!
We arrived at mid day, just at the start of the lunch time rush for the working folk of Bankside, London. We were shown to a table by the window. I’d kind of harboured ideas for sitting outside but while there were tables in the sunshine, it wasn’t really a place I wanted to sit with the children. Although a stones throw from the river it’s just the wrong side so their outside seating is a bit noisy with passers by. I thought with children it would be better inside and it was. High wooden tables intended to be shared canteen style and then at the back of the restaurant a cosier lounge.
The philosophy was explained by manager Alex. Every adult is given a credit card sized charge card which is used to order everything from the nibbles and drinks to the food. The menu is a rough guide which can be taken to the letter or drawn upon interjecting your own ideas. Go up to the bar or the counter at different sections for Antipasti, Salads, Pizza and Pasta and order your food at your leisure and your own pace. They charge your card with your order each time you go up and then you pay at the end. Sounds frantic and I assure you there were certainly people rushing in and out but Vapiano, loosely translated, means ‘go slowly’ and there were plenty of people, like us, enjoying a leisurely meal with no waiters rushing in to move you along and get you out for the next covers. It felt relaxed, there were plenty of seats and it felt like a birthday lunch. It actually felt like we were on holiday…
The food is out of this world. Literally everything is prepared freshly in front of you. The pasta and dough isn’t brought in but prepared on site in the morning and sectioned into portions to be used throughout the day; the freshness certainly came across in taste! Unbelieveably, once you’ve been inside and seen it, it’s an Italian chain restaurant. I like Italian chain restaurants very much but this one is very different and didn’t look or feel like one – we were told we’d taste the difference too and that pizza here would be something else! Have to say it was! Everything looks and tastes amazing right down to the condiments where instead of salt and pepper tables are provided with fresh basil plants and infused oils. We were so spoiled for choice as we just love food!
Ordering at the pizza station, which we did first as it takes a bit longer, is, I imagine, like being in a real Italian pizzaiola. You can watch them make the pizza of your choice or simply take a buzzer away with you which will go off when your food is ready. We took a buzzer and ordered our pasta while we waited. The pizza was for Jimmy while Florence went for Carbonara and Jonny and I two different prawn pasta dishes. You choose the type of pasta you would like and then add a sauce. Florence loved this and debated for ages between curly whirly pastas! The chef then cooks, quickly right in front of you (or of course you can sit down and wait). I watched the staff taking things to tables if people had sat down but they kind of missed out on a little of the experience in my opinion as watching the chef and asking to add a little of this or that was all part of it for us. Of course while you wait you can try bread dipped in different dressings or pour yourself a glass of water so I would always be where the nibbles are!
Our main courses, which we had added ingredients to and deviated from the menu on, were absolutely as delicious as their gorgeous cooking aromas promised and we had to dive into each others dishes for more taste sensations. Jimmy’s pizza came and I’d made a mistake by ordering an adult one so we had to try that too, it was close your eyes good! He and Florence were going to share their pasta and pizza, which they did do but we had an awful lot to bring home for supper – what a shame! They would have had enough even they’d both shared Florence’s children’s sized pasta (£3.50) which was HUGE! Having too much wasn’t a problem as I was given a pizza box and a rather sturdy tupperware to bring the left overs home in. I don’t care if I’m the only one that likes to bring left over food home? A Christmas meal’s best bit for me is often the left over roast potatoes and if food is great then I would always bring a doggy bag home without shame!
The food was ready so quickly every time we ordered something and with dramatics in the cooking which increases the experience to a visual one too! The base of my prawn dish (of which there were NO left overs) was cream with spinach and it was smooth and rich yet light and easy to eat. We absolutely stuffed ourselves and were such piggies. We even had starters and I haven’t even told you about those! I’m definitely going in the wrong order but I think that’s rather in keeping with the vibe of Vapiano, it’s a very easy place to be where the children moved from their seats to sitting drawing with the crayons provided on the floor to even sitting ON the table. No one batted an eye lid when Jimmy smashed my glass and it was all swept up and clean very quickly.
So, back to the starters! Well, as ever we were greedy big eyes and ordered far too much but I’m glad we did because it was DELICIOUS! Carpaccio of beef with Parmesan and the yummy Cipriani sauce (which we’d tried with bread while ordering) and a sharing platter of fresh and tasty Antipasti. The mozzarella was amazingly creamy and soft and don’t even get me started on the Bruschetta which was just mouth watering! Before that we’d had olives with our Strawberry Bellinis. When I say olives I’m talking ones of the giant fat green variety. The thought of them is making me salivate with wanting more as they are the sort which you can’t help but suck the salty juices from just before you chew satisfyingly deep into their flesh! Oh gosh, I do love olives like that! I didn’t get to eat many though as my children snaffled the majority! I did however, enjoy a few of the Bellinis I talked about, Prosecco with fresh strawberry puree, well, it was my birthday! Jonny had an Aperol Spritz too which is also from the Long Drinks menu and contains Prosecco. Aperol orange liqueur and soda water making it fresh and perfect for a summery day celebratory drink! Nearly a cocktail but in Central London at under a fiver not with a similar price tag! They went so well with our meal and I could have easily carried on drinking them all afternoon!
At the end of our meal we moved to the lounge to finish drinks and share a dolci. Crema Di Fragola, strawberries with mascarpone cream – large of course – was the perfect way to finish the meal.
Vapiano is a superb place to go with children because you can stay, sit and linger as long as you like and people around you couldn’t possibly mind. It’s busy but it doesn’t feel like it and the food can be dictated by you from the ingredients used to the time it takes to order, cook and eat. This restaurant is like being on a Mediterranean holiday, lunching over antipasti and olives with a glass of something special while you watch the world go by. Even with two children running around, literally, we felt relaxed… This IS a place that we will go back to. How it wasn’t on my radar before is a mystery but it is now and while the prices are similar to other Italian chain restaurants, the food is a definite cut above.
I’m lucky, I get asked to review restaurants in a not infrequent way. I get to experience meals we might not otherwise try. Very often we have a lovely time but I don’t go back because I want to try something else… Here I have already made plans with a friend to return and am half thinking about asking if they would do Florence’s birthday party in December instead of the other Italian chain restaurant we were going to have it in. They don’t do them yet but I know the manager sounded keen to try new things! I’m just so pleased we’ve found Vapiano and the only shame is the fact that there are only two in London! We need more round the rest of the country; we definitely need Vapiano as an option elsewhere. Could they please open one in Norwich were we are often visiting family, that’d be just perfect and I know my Mum would love it too! Thank you for a lovely birthday meal Vapiano!
For more information on the Vapiano restaurant chain which is world wide please see www.vapiano.de.
I was not paid to write this post. I was offered a complimentary meal and drink for the purpose of an honest review.