Sunday, 12 October 2014

Vapiano - Italian done the German way

When thinking of Italian dining, there are a heap of places around Brisbane that come to mind.  I have a couple of favourites that I've visited many times over the years, my current favourite being Beccofino at Newstead (see post here).  Beccofino is not the only Italian restaurant I've visited, there have been many, and in fact, Brisbane has a dearth of Italian restaurants (see my blog list here). There is one Italian restaurant though that I don't often think about, even though it is right under my nose (figuratively).

Vapiano has been in Brisbane for a quite a few years now and is a restaurant that I'd gone to a little bit when it first opened, mainly due to it's unique approach.  Vapiano Brisbane is part of a much larger chain of restaurants which spans the globe and has outlets in Sydney and Melbourne as well as cities like New York and London.  It stretches from Estonia to Brazil; Luxembourg to Mexico; South Korea to Kuwait - there are over 135 outlets around the world.  Forty five of those restaurants are located in Germany.  Germany you might ask?  Yep, the very Italian restaurant Vapiano was created by a couple of guys from Germany and the first Vapiano opened its doors in Hamburg in 2002.

I remember when Vapiano first opened in Brisbane, it was actually kind of hard to get into, there were queues and fairly long wait times.  Nowadays, the restaurant is busy but those halcyon days are long gone, swept up with the restaurant renaissance that has occurred in the last few years in our fair city.  It had been a more than a few years since my last visit and I'd been meaning to get back to Vapiano and check it out for some time.  We just needed the right opportunity and motivation, which we found when heading off to see Spamalot one Sunday evening - it seemed as if the stars had aligned and we found ourselves standing at the entrance in Albert Lane.

Things are done a little different in Vapiano, each diner is issued with a card that contains an RFID chip. The card is an essential part of the dining experience, which can take a little bit of getting used to if you're used to table service.  Vapiano takes the concept of counter service to the next level by putting the diner in direct contact with the chef, who takes your order then gets you to scan your card, which collects the billing details.  The process doesn't finish there, after selecting your meal, you get to watch the chef in action, cooking your meal to order and tweaking it to suite your personal preferences - on the spot.  Like a little more garlic, sure, it gets added.  Don't like chilli, no problems, it's taken care of.

As well as being pretty creative when it comes to putting a meal together, Vapiano also prides itself on using sustainable produce, with many of the fresh vegetables and herbs sourced locally and in some cases the herbs are actually grown in store!  Pasta is made on premises and in the Brisbane outlet, you can watch the team making and packaging the pasta that makes its way to the kitchen area.

While Vapiano does pizza as well as pasta, we focussed our attention on the very comprehensive list of pasta dishes available, with SC ordering the classic fettuccine carbonara, while I went for the ravioli con carne.  SC went in search of a table while I spent a fun filled ten to fifteen minutes engaging with our chef as he performed some impressive multi tasking skills and cooked our very different pasta dishes.  It was fun for a while but to be honest, I got a little bored and went for walk around the restaurant and noticed that it was filled with teenagers and young adults, with a few families thrown in for good measure.  By the time I'd arrived back at the cooking station, there was a bit of a queue forming for the couple of chefs that I could see on duty, ours included.

Therein lies the issue with Vapiano and the reason why we stopped going all those years ago. When you are sitting in a restaurant, you're not aware of the time passing between ordering and having your meal cooked.  It's a very different proposition when you have to queue to order your food, then wait patiently while its cooked, or worse, if you are a few back in the queue, watch others meals get cooked before you can even order.  It can get a little frustrating and I have to applaud the chefs, who manage these queues really well and with smiles on their faces.

Our pastas were both pretty good, with the sauce from my ravioli con carne being quite punchy with a beautiful tomato base and just the right amount of seasoning.  I probably made an error getting the beef ravioli, which I found to be just a little dry, even though the pasta was al dente.  I think a fettuccine would have been a great match for the light tomato cream sauce.  

SC did enjoy here fettuccine carbonara, which had some beautiful Aussie bacon as well as the onions, egg and cream sauce.  I think I suffered a little when I sampled her carbonara, even thought the past was cooked perfectly, it tasted a little plain after eating my punchy dish.

We finished off our meal with some pre-made desserts, SC ordering the tiramisu, while I ordered a totally delicious mascarpone, whipped cream and strawberry concoction that was waaaay too sweet, but went down wonderfully nevertheless.

I'm not sure what I think about Vapiano.  It's certainly not a restaurant that I'd normally get along to these days, but it does fill a void in the CBD, that of a quick and relatively cheap pizza and pasta joint where young people can hang out, have a decent cheap feed and have access to a bar.

I find it interesting that a worldwide Italian restaurant chain was established by a couple of Germans, it really does boggle my mind a bit.  I think the concept is very German though, with the intent that it would be an efficient way of running a kitchen, essentially cutting out the middle man (wait staff).  I do find it a bit draconian though, everyone is issued with a pass that you need to scan in for each purchase and then each person needing to present their card on the way out..... It just seems so Orwellian!

Whatever my personal thoughts, Vapiano is a very cool looking spot.  I love the idea that herbs and vegetables used in the cooking process are grown at each of the tables and there is no doubting that the food is fresh and mostly tasty.  It's an interesting concept that doesn't seem to have caused it too many problems, except on those occurrences when you're at the back of the line, watching everyone else's food being cooked.....  Yep, then it's a problem.

Lots of fresh ingredients for the pasta sauces
Each chef has two wok style cooking stations to work with
Our pasta dishes were cooked pretty well
The desserts were all pre made - but this is fairly normal in some Italian restaurants
Many different styles of pasta on offer
Fresh herbs for the cooking abound inside Vapiano 
Including at many of the dining tables 
Once made, each of the pastas find their way to the kitchen area in little baggies..
Its all a bit of a weird process, I think I prefer a more traditional restaurant arrangement

Vapiano on UrbanspoonVapiano Brisbane

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