While travelling round Germany, I spotted Vapianos in various big cities and it was always a popular restaurant. I’d presumed it was a chain unique to ze Germans until the peeps from Vapiano in London got in touch and invited me to one of their three branches in the capital. AND THEN my super cool pal and former New Yorker Georgie told me she’d been to Vapiano in NYC too!
It seems like the whole world is going crazy for the German Italian chain. And by that I mean a German chain of restaurants that serve Italian food. With me? Good.
Yup, the first Vapiano opened in lovely Hamburg in 2002, and now there are over 150 Vapianos in 29 countries on four continents. World domination? I’d say so.
But why is Vapiano so popular all around the world? I was keen to go and find out for myself.
After a day of brunching and shopping, the Shrimp and I met up with the aforementioned babe Georgie at Vapiano on Great Portland Street – the ideal location for a post-Oxford Street Topshop energy boost.
The restaurant is big and had a great, chilled vibe and a buzzy atmosphere. Georgie said she thought the music made it feel like we were in a pasta club, which – let’s be honest – would be awesome if such a thing existed.
It was busier than I’d been expecting when we arrived at 5.30pm, and as the evening wore on the restaurant filled up even more.
The menu is really rather wonderful, and I speak no word of a lie when I say I wanted to eat just about everything. I also love the fact that everything is made from scratch on site, from the pasta to the sauces.
Another aspect I love is that Vapiano have seasonal specials, which is something that occurs way more in German restaurants than British. Being early summer, it was asparagus galore last weekend which suited me just perfectly. Germans also love their asparagus, although over there it’s always the white rather than green variety, but I digress…
Vapiano is totally unique due to its system: When you arrive you're given a card which you then scan when placing your order.
To do so, you go directly to the chefs at the individual stations in the restaurant and the dishes are prepared to order in front of your very eyes. This means you can basically customise your dish however you like! If you’re having pasta, you simply wait a few minutes and watch the chefs whip up your meal, and if you’ve gone for pizza you’ll get a buzzer to take back to your table which then, unsurprisingly, buzzes when your pizza’s ready for collection.
I think this system is fun and also makes it easy to pay individually – another very German trait. However, with different dishes ready at different times, it can be a smidge anti-social what with different members of your group getting up to get their food at different times.
With lots of chefs though, we didn’t really have to queue at all. But with speed comes compromise on the presentation front, which is more important for some people than others.
But let's get on to the important bit - what did we consume?
The Shrimp and I started with strawberry mojitos, because why not?
They were yummy, if not mind-blowing.
Georgie went for a very interesting-sounding non-alcoholic drink called lemon prickly pear green tea and I can tell you that it was a goooood choice. A super tasty beverage which I believe is unique to Vapiano.
To kick off our evening of feasting, we shared the seasonal special of asparagus soup and two portions of cheesy garlic bread.
The soup was utterly divine and was served with incredibly soft yet crusty fresh bread.
The cheesy garlic bread - oh, this cheesy garlic bread! - was too good for words. I mean, it's hard to beat cheesy garlic bread, isn't it?
The soft, doughy pizza base, lashing of garlic butter and stringy cheese. That right there is what dreams are made of.
On to the mains:
The Shrimp went for the ravioli con carne in a tomato sauce with spring onions. As she doesn't like parmesan, the chefs were more than happy to substitute mozzarella on top.
It may not look special, but this was some seeeeriously good pasta! With 11 different types of homemade pasta as well as two spelt pastas on offer, I kinda regret not getting pasta myself. A good reason to go back though...
That said, the pizzas Georgie and I had were epic.
I chose the verdura pizza (topped with Mediterranean vegetable), but as I'm not a mushroom fan, the chef suggested adding extra smokey cheese instead. Extra cheese can never be a bad thing, right?
This was one crazily good pizza. Not only that, but Vapiano's pizzas are HUMONGOUS! Considering we were having starters and puds too, Georgie and I only managed half our pizzas but I can report that the leftovers are just as good the next day.
Georgie chose the crudo e fichi pizza which is usually topped with prosciutto, fresh figs and honey. Being veggie, Georgie asked for extra vegetables instead of the prosciutto. The slight trouble with this was that her figs and honey got somewhat masked by a ton of Mediterranean veggies, although the resulting pizza was of course still delicious.
By this point we were all feeling somewhat full (thank God I was wearing a smock), but we powed on to pudding. I may not be able to run for a very long time but my eating stamina is pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.
And everyone knows humans have a separate stomach for pudding, duhh!
Georgie chose the tiramisu:
While not being my fave pudding as I'm not a coffee fan, Georgie assured me this was one top-notch tiramisu.
Shrimp went for the vanilla and lemon baked cheesecake:
She thought it wasn't lemony enough, I liked it being only subtly lemony. Horses for courses, innit.
For my part, it was all about the panna cotta:
This was one goooood panna cotta.
Creamy, rich, smooth and thick, with just the right intensity of vanilla flavour to match the strawberry topping. Did I scrape the pot clean? You betcha.
I also thought the puddings were in fact very nicely presented - nothing fancy, but nice to look at (and photograph) all the same.
Other important stuff: we liked the loos, the staff were delightfully friendly and there were bowls of gummy bears by the till.
Oh yes, to pay, all you do is take your Vapiano card up to the till on your way out - simples, eh? I personally think the prices are very reasonably considering the portion sizes too.
As you can see, we had quite the feast. When I got into bed at 11.30pm - SIX hours after arriving at Vapiano - I still had a food baby. For reals. But it was so worth it.
We loved our evening at Vapiano and it was just perfect for a catch-up amongst friends and sisters. I'm already keen to go back and I welcome their continued world domination.
A word of advice though: wear a smock.
We were guests at Vapiano but as always, all opinions here are totally honest.