“ Address: 19-21 Great Portland Street / W1W 8QB „
I had heard lots of rumours about this "Vapianos" restaurant and earlier this month it was my friends birthday and she wanted to go for a night out. I went to dinner and stayed at the bar for about half an hour before I had to head home as my daughter was unwell so I promised to take her out for dinner soon and we would go to any restaurant of her choice. She of course chose this unique restaurant on Great Portland street hence the choice of this review!
***Is it a restaurant or a Buffet?***
I was a bit confused and let down by the service upon first entering as the woman at the door handed me a black card which looks like a matte black gift card and asked if we had been here before. When we said no, she kind of rolled her eyes and said "wait here" then let other customers behind us in, and then pretty much said to us "Use this card to beep what food what you want, then when you leave come back here to pay (vaguely pointing to a till point locating by the door). Oh and I'd advise you to find a seat first" then she stalked off.
It was about 8.15pm and the restaurant was completely PACKED. There are no specific seats or tables but pretty much an assortment of low tables and stools/cushioned sofas and then randomly in the middle some high bar stools and tables and literally you share a table with whoever is already there unless you jump in someones seat literally as soon as they finish eating and stand up to leave! So we ended up looking around then wandered upstairs and thankfully found a small table next to a couple where we left our coats and then ventured downstairs.
Downstairs there are different counters for what you want to eat. Theres "Pasta" with about 6 chefs where you can order your pasta dish from and it is made in front of you.
Then theres the "Pizza" area where you can order the dish requested and then a pick up point where you can collect it as this is not made in front of you. Then in the corner there is a "Antipasti" section where salads and starters and bread can be picked up.
To me this felt like more of a buffet style as you are pretty much wandering around with a tray trying to decide what you want and then lining up whilst you get it. There are no waiters/waitresses around to help you or advice you on what to do or where to sit, but you are kind of left to figure it out on your own what to do.
There isn't really a large range of food on offer and it's pretty much pizza, pasta, and salad. Being not too exciting we chose a really simple meal - both of us getting the tagliatelle with scampi in Grupo D which cost each of us £9.75. As a drink I got an appletiser and my friend ordered a diet coke and together we each beeped our card to the sum of £12. If you ask me this is really cheap and cheerful and we were impressed at the price. The chef we placed an order with told us it would be 2 minutes as he was cooking the dish for the customers in front so we happily beeped our card so he could charge us and wandered over the antipasti desk.
My friend ordered Bruschetta which costs £2.80 and was very lovely crusty bread garnished with tomatoes and basil and a drizzle of olive oil. Whilst it looked appealing it was a bit basic and to be honest the bread itself is free so I just dipped it in my dish which kinda was the same thing!
We then drifted back to the pasta counter where our tagliatelle was ready to be made. The chef took a bag of tagliatelle pasta out which was already measured and threw into the wok some oil, onions, garlic and the prawns (although I was a bit peeved he only seemed to add about 6 prawns or so, but in fairness they weren't teeny tiny but a pretty decent size) and he started cooking. He then asked if we wanted white wine, and we said yes so he put a splash in. He then sizzled it about a bit and asked if we wanted some chilli. We both said yes so he sprinkled some chilli over and kept swishing all the ingredients around in the wok. Finally was some pepper, salt and tomatoes, basil and within a few minutes our dishes were ready to be served!
He poured our food into a bowl and asked if we wanted cheese. We both agreed so he sprinkled some parmesan cheese (again I was peeved as I wanted far more cheese than he gave but didn't want to seem too greedy lol!).
The food was really nice and the portions were really large so for that I was pleasantly surprised. The food was quite tasteful and really filling, and we enjoyed chatting over our meal as a lovely evening out. My only small gripe was that the pasta was quite hard and so I think it was cooked al dente. This is not particularly my favourite way to eat pasta but it didn't ruin the dish too much.
The restaurant has a very intimate feel (seeing as you are squashed in and sitting wherever you can) and it feels like a wide, and weird assortment of furniture as there are sofas, bar stools, chairs, and all kinds of tables. The lighting is really dark, but the designated areas for the foods are clearly laid out and we soon got to grips with what we had to do. Once we finished eating, one thing I did find was a member of staff there came over at the speed of lightening to clear away our plates and trays. Considering no-one else was particularly helpful for the entire evening before hand I was surprised at the promptness and the politeness of this member staff.
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and the food was good but it felt like a bit of a workout. There was a bit of walking around, ordering the food, then walking over to the antipasti section to get the salad/bread then back to the pasta section to wait for our meal to get ready all whilst holding a very heavy metal tray. Then trotting upstairs with our food trying so hard to walk carefully not to drop the tray.
On our way out, we stopped at the till point, handed over our black cards and I paid £12 for my pasta and appletiser, and then £14.80 for my friends meal (pasta, diet coke and bruschetta) and there was a random small bowl of haribo with a spoon. I am more used to the traditional after dinner mints but I suppose Haribo is a fun and funky change! I would recommend Vapianos as a fun, evening meal out, but it did not seem very family friendly as it was very loud, busy and hectic for a Saturday night and with the stairs it would not be so good for anyone with a pram or a wheelchair.
While in Finland, my sister and I had found this amazing restaurant called Vapiano and ever since I found out there were two branches in London, I was desperate to go back. Unfortunately though, it took me a year and a half to make the trip to London and to find the restaurant.
History of the chain
In October 2002, the first Vapiano restaurant was opened in Hamburg, Germany and founded by four German entrepreneurs. The group of men wanted to create a fast food style restaurant with a bit more class than the average restaurant. In doing this, they cre-ated an Italian style restaurant which prided itself on the high quality of the food being served which ranged from fresh pasta and hand-tossed pizzas. Now, the restaurant chain has spread throughout Europe and is in the process of being taken across to America (with a few stores already open) with plans for the rest of the world as well.
Where you can find some Vapiano restaurants
Vapiano now have nearly 100 restaurants worldwide with others currently in development.
Finding the restaurant
The branch I visited is located at 19-21 Great Portland Street which is just behind Top Shop on Oxford Street. Due to the location, it can easily be found after getting off the tube at Oxford Circus. I say easily but this wasn't so true for me. I had read the map wrong on the website and not even looked at the actual printed address and I thought the restaurant was on the street next to where it actually is. Needless to say, I was disappointed when I went to find it and it wasn't there. My flatmate and I (who I was in London with) decided to eat at Strada instead, only to finish our meal there, turn the corner and see Vapiano looking right at us. At least we had another day in London so we could go back.
How the restaurant works
As you enter the restaurant, someone at the front desk will greet you and then hand you a credit card style card and explain that this is what you use to order your food with. The restaurant is set into different sections and as you go up to the station you wish to order from, you hand over your card and someone behind that counter will scan in whatever it is you have ordered. This is a really good thing for people who like to order separately or order different kinds of food. At each station, when you order, the food is then cooked there and then right in front of you. However, if you order pizza, you will be given a buzzer so you can go back and collect the food when it's ready.
At the end of your meal, you take the card back to the front desk where they scan it and give you your final meal price. Everything apart from how much a drink will cost is clearly priced on the menus so you pretty much know what you are going to spend anyway. There are paper take-away style menus at the front desk in the restaurant or there are menus are each different cooking station.
As my friend had not been to a Vapiano restaurant before, I explained to her how it worked. I already knew what I wanted to eat and we decided to split two dishes so we could have the best of both worlds - pizza as well as pasta. Kate went off to order our piz-za while I went to the pasta station.
At the pasta station, first you must decide which kind of pasta you would like. The choices were Pappardelle, Spaghetti, Penne, Linguine, Conchiglie, Campanelle, Fusilli, Tagliatelle, Ravioli, Spelt Spaghetti and Spelt Fusilli. Both Kate and I always have penne pasta so this was an easy choice for me. Once you have decided this, then you choose what kind of sauce etc. you would like. The menu is split into four different price categories with everything in A costing £6.75, B £7.75, C £8.75 and D cost £9.75. As you can see, the prices vary depending on what is in the pasta and D costs more because there are dishes with seafood items and expensive meat. Carbonara (menu B) was our choice so this cost us £7.75.
After telling the chef what you want and scanning your card, he took a little bag of pasta out from behind him which had obviously been weighed out earlier in the day. In this branch, you can actually see people making the pasta fresh and then bagging it up which was something I didn't get to see in Helsinki. Next, he added oil into a wok and threw in a lot of chopped up ham for a few minutes, letting it cook. While this was cooking, he added the pasta into the cooker beside him so it would be ready when the sauce was. Next, I was asked if I wanted garlic which I did but at this point, I also said I didn't want onions in my meal so he left them out. The garlic smell mixed with the ham was amazing and I couldn't wait for my pasta to be ready. Next he added in some white wine and the carbonara sauce along with an egg yolk and began to mix it all together. This only took a couple of minutes and then the pasta was added, letting it mix together. Once the pasta was placed in a dish, basil and ground black pepper, along with cheese was added to the top. The basil was pulled directly from a plant in front of the chef which I thought was a great thing to do, instead of it being from a tub.
Carbonara is my favourite of pasta and my flatmate's too so we were both excited to eat this amazing dish. Kate was extremely impressed and now understands why I wanted to go back to Vapiano so mucj. The sauce was rich and creamy but mixed with the parmesan and black pepper, it had a bit of a kick to it at times too. The pasta was soft and the portion was very reasonable for the price. Each of us had a bottle of coke with our meal, which came in a glass bottle instead of plastic and cost us £2.25 each which I don't think is bad, especially in London.
We had nearly finished eating our pasta when the buzzer went off and the pizza Kate had ordered was ready. This was perfect timing and such a good idea if you are sharing meals. Again, the pizza menu is set up into four sections with the same prices as pasta. We only had a margherita so this cost us £6.75. The pizza comes on a thin and crispy base with the normal tomato based sauce and then loaded with cheese. The pizza was lovely but nowhere near as nice as the pasta but it was nice to be able to eat two different meals without being bored of just one thing. I know I would have struggled to eat either a whole pizza or a whole pasta dish to myself.
The restaurant has a very contemporary feel and look to it with the tables being high and surrounded by stools. There are fresh herb plants in the middle of each table and in this branch, a massive tree at the front of the restaurant. The herbs are mostly grown in the restaurants themselves so you know how fresh they are. I like that you can see the chefs working and watch them make your meal for you and with the pasta section, a dish only takes a maximum of 5 minutes to cook. The chefs were also extremely friendly and didn't mind if you wanted certain items not cooked in your meal. The front desk staff were also very friendly and had big smiles on their faces. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to this restau-rant and I couldn't have asked for better service. Vapiano on Great Portland Street is just as good as the branch in Helsinki and I would happily go again!
Find out more at www.vapiano.com