"The epitome of new age, quick-eat dining"Review Rating: Reviewed by Rebecca Wynter
A different dining experience in the heart of Oxford Circus, Vapiano is the anti-establishment of the classic restaurant. The prime factor being - there is no service. As soon as you enter the building, you and your rival parties are suddenly on a scouting battle for the best table (or any table if arriving at peak times). Eyes squint and muscles tense as you eye up the competition – like the beginnings of a shoot-out scene from a bad western.
Split over two levels, it appears that Vapiano’s interior designer may have been suffering from bipolar disorder; a mix match of modern solid wood furniture and squishy red sofas are scattered in opposing ‘mood’ areas splogged over the venue. High picnic benches dominate the centre of the floors. ‘Chill out’ sections cosy up on armchairs snuggled against the red walls with odd clusters of black framed London city photographs hanging above them. Near the front wall-to-ceiling windows is the ‘tree’ table. Yes that’s right, a circular table built around a tree. There is even a glass encased log fire burning on the top floor balcony. Sandwiched somewhere between an Ikea canteen and a bachelors living room – oddly it works.
Once seated, you’ll find no menu or waiters ready to take your order. The open kitchen, lining the back and left side of the restaurant, consists of food ‘stations’ where diners queue up, order and watch their dishes cooked in front of them. Specialising in Italian cuisine the ever-varying menu is a mix of salads, pizzas and pasta dishes. Like a higher class version of Subway, you select the components. Ordering a pasta dish, you first select from ten types of pasta, then say “yes” or “no” to the extra ingredients potted in a patchwork of tubs behind the glass counter. Your personal chef then cooks your dish in front of you in the sizzling stainless steel pan – making an acrobatic display of the job.
On entering, diners are given a ‘credit card’. Like an oyster, you swipe the card at the station you select your food from, swipe at the bar machines when ordering drinks, then pay the total on the door when leaving. The best part; there is no service charge, the worst part; if you lose the card it’s a £50 fine.
The salmon special (£8.50) is a delightful twist on the classic carbonara with a creamy sauce, hints of garlic, and melt-in-the-mouth fish. The juicy tangerine segments provide a tangy balance to the soft salmon taste.
Amongst the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tables are also dressed with individual basil potted plants – a sweet display as well as a fresh ingredient you can hand-pick and add to your meal.
An impressive range of cocktails (£6) and wines are available (starting at £3.35 per glass). For the less adventurous spirits, mixers and bottled beer also grace the drinks list.
A pleasant spin on ‘fast food’, Vapiano is the epitome of new age, quick-eat dining; perfect for the après Oxford Street shoppers for a swipe-and-go or half-time retail refuel.
Rebecca Wynter reviewed Vapiano on Thu 14 Apr 2011