9 June 2008

Vapiano - The Casual Hip

Here, everything is simple. . Pick up a menu, pick up a chip-n-pin style card, pick up a tray and order your food. At each food and drink station there’s a little machine you hold your card up to and it records the price. Get as much - or as little - as you want, and when you’re done bring the card up to the cash registers and pay. Easy, right? Call it a canteen, if you want. But it provides you more, and much more than a canteen.

It’s name? Vapiano. Yes, it’s everywhere in Europe and in the US. But still, new to London. Open one week ago in Oxford Circus, the two-level restaurant offers about 300 seats. The deco is classy, predominantly brown, flanked by a large chalkboard with quirky sayings and pictures. Seating is either high stools and benches at thick wooden tables or low, red, lounge-y seats with bright red circular tables. Upstairs are more of the same types of seats, plus long sofa banquettes. On each of the wooden tables are little potted rosemary and basil plants. Can customers have fresh herbs directly from the plants?

Here, everything is fresh. Although people call it a fast food restaurant, the actual food is anything but, with pasta made on the premises fresh every day and key ingredients (like mozzarella) imported from Italy. Whilst there are a couple of salad options, mains are basically pizzas and pastas. Pasta is made right in front of you (it only takes a couple of minutes) so you have the chance to specify what ingredients you want: a bit more chilli, a bit less salt. When you order a pizza they give you a buzzer, which goes off right as it’s coming out of the oven.

Prices are decent, especially with the tourist trap that’s Oxford Street right down the road, with main courses ranging from price brackets of £5.50 to £8.50. Cheap n Chic, this is the place: somewhere between the nicest of fast casual and hippest of casual dining restaurants.

Vapiano, 19-21 Great Portland Street, London