Having researched Vapiano, I half-expected the conveyor belt of standard Italian food peddled from every tourist trap hidden down the side streets of Soho.
Instead was a restaurant which, though lacking any table service, lost none of its charm. The dark yet warmly lit corners ushered us in invitingly as a smell of fresh basil lured me closer like a Disney character being wafted along.
Vapiano has a distinct formula that has clearly chimed with customers. Their rapid growth since opening in 2002 has seen chains open in 26 different countries, including one lone branch hiding out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They offer undeniably fresh and tasty food served in a busy but comforting Italian environment (cue the wall length picture of Rome and the fresh herbs bedecking each table).
Upon first arriving I was ushered to the bar where I was offered an impromptu, generous and thoroughly enjoyable wine tasting. I carried my new full bodied acquaintance over to the antipasti stop where my partner was ordering herself a Platto Antipasti and a plate of Carpaccio.
The Platto Antipasti was a delicious selection of Italy’s finest offerings. It’s difficult to go wrong with any dish when the key ingredients are juicy buffallo mozzarella, zesty bruschetta and proscuttio (though the roasted vegetables could certainly have been better). My Carpaccio was lovely, if perhaps a little too much of a good thing. The delicate slices of raw beef that robed the plate dappled with a light cipriani sauce and the mountain of rocket with a generous shaving of Gran Padano needed the distraction of my partner’s antipasti to keep me going.
For the main course, both my partner and I opted for pasta, partly because pizza can only ever get so good and partly because the spectacle looked like something worth seeing. Each pasta chef is set up with two shimmering pans in front of them and cooks with the pace only repetition can afford. I chose the Scampi e Spinaci for the main event and would highly recommend you do the same. The perfectly cooked pasta, laid the foundation for the prawns, pesto, cherry tomatoes and spinach. The creamy sauce with a handful of chillies made this genuinely one of the best pastas I have tasted. It managed to be both decadent and delicate, a feat only previously achieved by Audrey Tatou. The fact that they allow you to add the finishing touches yourself (chilli, cheese, sauces) makes it all the more rewarding.
The desserts were less impressive, but still a lovely end to the meal. The Death by Chocolate, though tasty was less a death and more a light beating, and I think it lacked the depth and bitterness that a stronger dark chocolate would have given it. My partner’s cheese cake was everything I expected of a cheese cake. Unfortunately the blueberry dollop on top failed to square up to the heart-achingly rich mascarpone, like a prize fighter throwing in the towel before the first bell has even sounded.
Vapiano, much like Italy, while also known for its starters and desserts, finds its real strengths in its mains. They are delicious, voluptuous and without doubt worth a trip to Vapiano. Both my partner and I walked away immensely contented, a tiny bit tipsy and two stone heavier.
Vapiano Soho review by Adam Boatman