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29 April 2015

review | vapiano soho, london

last week i was lucky enough to be invited along as laura's special guest for a meal at vapiano, which is just behind oxford street in soho. i don't eat a lot of pasta at home, besides the occasional pizza when i'm too lazy to cook after a long week (every week), which is hardly the stuff italian restaurants are made of - so i was looking forward to getting knee deep in some fresh pasta, and well-made (no offense 'xpress pizza' in honor oak park) pizza with laura.

we had a reservation for six thirty, but when we arrived just before six, realised that was totally unneccessary as vapiano is a very... casual and relaxed restaurant, where reservations are basically unheard of. so we met with the host, were given the 'grand tour' of the restaurant, and shown to an empty booth. with menus and vapiano cards in hand, we perused the options before us and settled on... well, basically one of everything, please! i guess the first thing to note about vapiano's cafeteria-ordering style system is that... it's very stressful. we were given two vapiano cards to use to order our dinners, and told to head up to the designated food-ordering areas to do just that when we were ready. 

laura took one card and ordered some drinks from one of two bars, then i headed to the starters area to order some of those. there, it was very confusing; wait to order while the staff chat about their days, swipe your vapiano card - a few times because the scanners don't work very well, be told the card is 'maxed out' (huh? how? apparently they max out at £50, but we'd only ordered drinks so far...), wait for your food to be made in front of your eyes, then take it away on a tray, back to your table. a definitely casual and relaxed operation in theory, but fricken stressful when put in to action.

top tip: don't try and order more than one dish at a time - it will confuse everyone, despite it being the logical thing to do. order one thing at a time, and make the processes unnecessarily long and drawn out. this will annoy you at the time, but you will appreciate not having a tiny table full of food mere minutes later.

for starters we chose an antipasto platter and also a fresh salad. the grande platter was enormous, and would have easily been enough for me for dinner if i hadn't stopped to consider the rest of the foodie treats that lay ahead of us, but... with proscuitto, salami, pepperoni, homemade pesto, grana padano, mozzarella and bruschetta, well... where do you draw the line? not to mention the beef and reef salad (three small chunks of beef, three small king prawns...hrm) with extra cheese/s, it was a big mistake to have ordered that much food, as well as a pizza, all in one go. 

we were half way through our crudo e fichi pizza - topped with proscuitto, fresh figs, honey and mozzarella, that we had to cut ourselves with the butter knives available because they... didn't cut it for us, when the host came over to recommend some onion-free pastas we might like. having learned that all the (low-grade-gluten) pasta is made on site, daily, we were definitely keen to sample their offerings. we settled on the scampi e spinaci with king prawns, basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, spinach and light cream, and laura went off to order that while i tried to rearrange the table to try and fit everything on it better.

the table was designed to fit four people, but in the middle of it was a giant, static box that contained all the oils you could ever want for, a really, very dim light, and - on some tables, some fresh herbs. a nice touch, i'll admit, but not being able to move the centre piece certainly made it hard to position the large plates and trays on the tables. am i being pedantic? i am. it was annoying.

the tagliatelle was lovely; cooked al dente as it should be, and it was a good sized serve for one person - it would have totally filled me up if i wasn't already full to the brim from the four hundred other dishes we'd already consumed. we struggled somewhat to serve the pasta from the bowl, as the length of the individual strands was quite long, and sort of meant we had to cut at it to set it free. that, and the cream sauce had sort of... bonded the dish together somewhat, so we ended up both just eating from the one bowl (and scavenging for those sought-after prawns, which all seemed to be at the bottom of the dish. but, deliciously charcoaled when we found them!). romance!

after that, we loosened the belts, sat back, and relaxed as our overly-creamy dinners settled. we were again met by the host, and given the full vapiano spiel. it was nice to hear someone talk so passionately about their business, the ethos of the brand, and the history of the restaurant. we chatted for a little while, until he encouraged us to head upstairs to have dessert. not needing to be encouraged to eat dessert, by anyone, ever, we did just that. poured the rest of the bubbles into our glasses, and headed upstairs to see what the fuss was all about.

oh, you know, just an entire herb garden in the middle of the room. you could smell it before you could see it - lush and green, and bright and scenty, there were over 100 potted herbs sitting proud in the centre of the dining room. mint and basil and thyme and rosemary were obvious, but there were a few unknowns to me too. the host confirmed that the entire supply was used up weekly, and rotated if not. a week. one week's supply. it was insane.

we placed our dessert orders (laura the creme di fragola - marscapone and strawberries, and me the panna cotta... until we swapped), devoured them (nothing spectacular, sadly) and the rest of the bubbly, and then made plans to roll the whole way home. with both of the cards totaling bang on 85 quid - that's three courses, a bottle of bubbly and a soft drink each, i think we did pretty well? the mains were all about a tenner each - even the pizza, and the desserts were probably overkill, which is pretty good for fast food in london.

although i probably won't head back for anything other than pizza, it definitely was the ultimate in quick dining. i mean, we totally dragged it out, but that's because we can both talk for days, and we wanted to try everything. if i went back, say - pre theatre, or after a long day on the high street, i'd know that i could be in and out in under half and hour, and be satisfactorily full to the brim from whatever i'd chosen. there's only a couple of places i can honestly say do that.

so, thanks to vapiano for having us, and opening my eyes to another affordable pizza joint, super close to work. no really, thanks. it's just what i needed....

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