Vapiano, was established in Europe in 2002, and at last count had 135 restaurants in 26 countries over four continents. The style is casual Italian, with the emphasis on using freshly sourced produce (and predominately Australian wines) to underpin and drive the concept; giving it some essential local roots. On arrival everyone is given a chip card, which is your virtual bill. The large L shaped pass, which is the focus of the multi-level space, is divided into salad and antipasti, pizza, and pasta stations from where you progressively order. The Bar also doubles as the dessert station, and surprisingly on only the second official service, the whole operation runs like clockwork. Everything on the savoury menu is made to order, which is a refreshing point of difference for a chain style restaurant, which no doubt is one of the major factors behind its global longevity.
Starting with bruschetta ($5.90), thick cut well toasted ciabatta rubbed with garlic, lashings of fresh tomatoes, and olive oil is mandatory, as is the Insalata Caprese ($12.90), a generous board of four ciabatta slices, buffalo mozzarella, ripe sliced tomatoes, and fresh basil. The Carpaccio of thinly sliced rare beef ($15.90), garnished with peppery rocket, benefits from a generous garnish of olive oil, which is conveniently provided on the table. The antipasti ($15.90/$19.90) is a composite of the above, with the addition of olives, sun dried tomatoes and parmesan. Very noticeable throughout both the antipasti and insalate, is the vibrancy conveyed from the fresh produce.
All the pasta at Vapiano is ‘house made’ in a dedicated viewable area, then similarly cooked immediately to order, once you have chosen the pasta variety and advised the chef of any tweaks you may prefer (e.g. extra garlic, chilli, seasoning). I choose the penne Carbonara ($17.90), as an obligatory test, which is passed very nicely indeed. The pasta is al dente, with the sauce at the desired consistency, and the seasoning spot on. Linguine gamberi ($19.50), made with essentially the same tomato and herb sauce as the spaghetti arrabbiata ($14.90), is my pick of the two, not surprisingly with the prawns winning the day over the more modest garlic and chilli.
The Bianco pizza ($14.90), with its lovely crispy base and seductive aromatics, is proof that less is more with mandolin sliced potato, rosemary, garlic, cream and mozzarella. Every table has pots of fresh basil for the diner to add their own additional garnish, and this provides the perfect opportunity to liberate some. Also, providing olive oil and balsamic bottles, is noteworthy. Prosciutto e funghi ($17.90), smoked ham with mushrooms and mozzarella, once again has a perfect base, backed up by solid flavour combinations.
The tiramisu ($5.90), served in a large spirits tumbler, is an absolute steal. Putting aside the price, it is both technically sound, with the balance of texture and flavour the key. A slice of ‘death by chocolate’ ($7) is far more subtle than expected, but given the portion sizes to this point, it is a sensible option. White Chocolate Cheesecake, served in a jar, and a tad richer, has a particularly moreish base. The simplicity of Crema di Fragola ($5.90), strawberries and cream made with fresh mascarpone, potentially hits the mark best from the dessert menu; however it entirely depends on the context of savoury elements that has preceded it.
One of the fundamental questions of reviewing, regardless of the style or level remains; is the establishment succeeding in what it is attempting to be? From my experience, Vapiano is at the forefront of the chain concept, with its systems clearly having being well tested in 135 restaurants worldwide, but most importantly, the fundamental philosophy of making everything to order is clearly discernible on the plate. Also the policy preference of trying to source produce locally within 150kms of the outlet, whilst obviously not entirely achievable, remains laudable nonetheless. The volume and scale of the operation, ensures the pricing is clearly in the diners favour, with no pasta exceeding $19.50, dessert $7 or pizza $19.50. Australia has been subjected to very poor versions of chain restaurants throughout the years, so it is refreshing that Vapiano, by doing the simplest things properly, is already changing that perception by setting the standard for that niche of the market.
Corner of King and York Street, Sydney CBD
Sun to Thu 11am to 11pm, Fri to Sat 11am to midnight