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23.2.13

Vapiano, London {Review}

Following my review of another restaurant recently we were invited to review Italian restaurant, Vapiano, in London during half term week. My husband was able to take a day off work and although we decided we wouldn't stay overnight we thought it would be fun to go to London just for lunch.

We went armed with only a set of reins and the baby carrier, no pushchair, and looking on a map beforehand it looked like we may have had quite a bit of walking to do.
We arrived at London Liverpool Street and jumped straight on the tube to Oxford Circus, the nearest tube to the restaurant. We came out onto the street and my husband said "where to next?" I hadn't got a clue as I forgot to check the map, but I didn't need to after all. Looking over the road we saw "Great Portland Street", now our only issue was how far down it we had to walk...which turned out to be not very far at all. And within no time we were stood outside Vapiano reading the menu on the window.

Before we went I had looked online at reviews on TripAdvisor, just to see the general feedback really.
On the whole the reviews were positive with the odd moan so I was able to take these on board and go with an open mind.
When I read that it was a 'buffet style restaurant' I must admit that it didn't fill me with much confidence. I thought it would be almost like a scrum to get food, and although I had read that you're own chef will make your pizza or pasta, I thought this would mean only two chefs actually working and a lot of queueing and a lot of having to walk around people to get to where you want to go. Like a carvery I guess.

I couldn't have been more wrong.
Walking in I was instantly struck by a really calm, relaxing atmosphere. The restaurant only had around 8 customers in at this point as it was on 11:45 so the lunch time rush hadn't yet hit.
We were greeted by a host at the hosting station who handed us a card which would be used whenever we ordered food or drinks. I'll explain more about that later.
We were also asked if we had been before, at this point I was handed over to Dagmara, the manageress, who would be looking after us and showing me how the concept works.
The staff were all friendly, and well presented.
On first impressions I was really impressed and hoped it would remain this great.

There is a variety of seating. High tables with stools and sofa type seats, lower tables at the front and around the sides there are 'normal' sofa style seats with stools. I didn't get any photos of these but you can see them on the Vapiano website.
Charles wanted to sit on the higher sofas which I thought would be a problem because we needed a high chair for Harry. I was happy when Dagmara said it wasn't a problem and informed me that they had high chairs in two heights to accommodate the different seating options. The only downside to these highchairs is that they don't have straps to keep your child contained so we were constantly having to make Harry sit down.
Seats are in the centre of the room with additional seats to the front and to the right hand side. Food stations are to the back and the left. There is a bar at the front ride hand side, next to the hosting station.
Whilst the boys sat and coloured in the sheets of paper they had been given I was shown around.

In addition to the downstairs seating and bar there is also an upstairs. Lots of seats and tables, as well as really plush sofas which would be great for relaxing with friends in the evening. There is also a bar upstairs for soft drinks, hot drinks and alcohol, as well as desserts.
The really special touch upstairs is the Basil and Rosemary garden. Pots of basil and rosemary are placed on every table, not only to look and smell nice, but for you to help yourself too if you want extra on your meals. This really impressed me, Charles loved the garden and commented on how 'oooo beautiful' the fragrance was in there.
Toilets are also upstairs, with baby change situated in the disabled toilets downstairs. The female toilets are big enough though if you needed to change a baby in there (with your own change mat of course).
I'm very fussy when it comes to toilets in restaurants. I think if the toilets are clean then you can almost guarantee that everywhere else will be just the same. These toilets were amazing. Beautifully decorated and SPOTLESS. We went a couple of times in the two hours that we were there and each time it was as if someone had been in a second before you and had cleaned. Charles was particularly taken by the spotlights in the cubicles and felt it required a dance (see photos below)

There are dedicated stations for each meal choice.
Salad [Antipasti and Insalate]
Pizza
Pasta
Desserts are at the bar which serves soft drinks, hot drinks and alcohol. You can also purchase soft drinks at each of the food stations.
The beauty of Vapiano and the food stations is that you see your food made, from scratch. Pizza bases are made in front of you. Your toppings go on, in front of you, and it is placed in the oven in front of you.
Due to the pizzas taking a while to cook (I can't recall how long I was told but it was possibly between 4-7 minutes) you are given a pager so you can return to your seat to wait. Once your pizza is ready your pager will beep and you go back up to collect it. I love this idea and it certainly saves shouts of "21!" from the chefs! This is also handy if you are seated upstairs for example as you wouldn't hear a chef shout but also if you wanted to move on to the pasta station or salad station and order there whilst you wait.
You can only order the food mae at each station. For example, you couldn't go up and order Spaghetti Bolognese and a pizza at the Pasta station. You would have to go to the pizza station first and then to the pasta station, or vice versa.

As I mentioned, the pizza is made from scratch, but so is everything. Pasta sauce, salad dressings, vegetables are prepared in a downstairs kitchen, desserts are all made by the same person so that they are all identical.
Even the pasta is made on site! This is made in a booth which is positioned inside the restaurant. Charles was fascinated by this and may have had a tantrum when I tried to get him away from there to sit and eat his food, although I don't blame him, it was really interesting to watch.
The bonus of the food being cooked right in front of you, other than it being so fresh, is that you have total control over the ingredients. More garlic? More chilli? Less garlic? Less chilli? Just let them know!

A pasta dish can take as little as 90 seconds to cook, or longer for something with more ingredients [especially using meat such as Carbonara or Bolognese].
There is a selection of pasta available. Penne, Spaghetti etc.
Each chef has two woks in front of them, they can cook two meals at the same time...impressive hey?!
I actually found it fascinating watching them cook each meal (ours and those in the queue in front of us)

Specials are available in Salads, Pasta and Pizza. These are changed every two months.
Desserts are changed every quarter and tend to match the season. They make a fantastic rice pudding which is topped with fruit (although this is also available without the topping too), the fruit topping will reflect the season. Currently it is apple and cinnamon but throughout the year it could also be, for example, cherry or rhubarb and strawberry.

Rather than a written bill and having to keep giving your table number every customer is given a plastic card. Each time you go to any station, or to the bar, your card is swiped on the till. At the end of your meal you simply visit the hosting station, which you walk past as you leave, hand over your card and your bill is then available. It's a really useful and easy system.

We went in at 11:46. I'd say that from 12:30 onwards it started to get busy. at 1:45 it calmed down but between those two times it was a real lunch time rush. Still people were getting their food quickly enough, although may have had to wait for 20 minutes but due to the quality of the food, it's completely worth waiting.
So my tip here would be to plan your visit. Get there at 12 or at 1:45/2.
Find a table before you go to order food. I saw this as a negative on some TripAdvisor reviews but in all honesty, I think it's just common sense to find a table before you order anyway.

Takeaway is available and the tubs are a generous size.

There are so many positive things to say about this restaurant that I fear this review could literally go on forever!

We ate Piatto Antipasto, which is my absolute favourite thing at the moment so there was a lot of pressure for them to get it right.
Well....amazing! I was rather disappointed that we decided to share the plate as I could have easily have eaten this all to myself.
This was then followed by Bolognese, which we all loved. You could taste how fresh each and every ingredient was. I find that sometimes a Bolognese can leave you feeling uncomfortably full and bloated. The Bolognese at Vapiano was light, full of flavour and although you feel full after eating it you are not uncomfortable and can definitely fit in a very tasty dessert.
My husband then had Death by Chocolate. He said it was very rich but very delicious.
I had Crema Di Fragola. It was amazing, although Charles stole some of my strawberries.
The boys both ate a plain rice pudding. These are served in very cute jars.

The prices for every dish are extremely reasonable (if not slightly surprising) due to the quality of the food and the service you recieve.

We would highly recommend Vapiano and would love to return if/when we visit London again in the future.


Travel and our meal were paid for in exchange for this review. All words and photos are honest and my own.