Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vapiano: Globalised Italian cuisine reaches Sydney

Sydney hasn't really seen anything like Vapiano, with its cook-to-order Italian food stations and smart-card billing and payment system.

Originating from Germany, Vapiano is a global franchise chain of "fresh casual" Italian restaurants that has some impressive reach around the world: more than 120 outlets in 26 countries on four continents.

Vapiano Sydney, Grace Hotel, corner York and King Streets, Sydney
In Australia since 2009, having opened initially in Brisbane, Gold Coast and then Melbourne, the Vapiano Sydney restaurant opened in December 2013 in the gorgeous art deco styled Grace Hotel in the CBD; a good 11 years since the first-ever Vapiano opened in Hamburg, Germany.

Enter from the corner of York and King Streets, and be greeted by signature pale wood furnishings and pots of fresh basil throughout the venue, and the Vapianisti – as employees of the restaurant are called – who provide smart-cards and seat diners.

Pasta kitchen stations
The Vapiano smart-card is essentially an electronic bill that totals up orders as diners move, order and collect food from a number of kitchen stations in the centre of the restaurant: for antipasti and salads, pizza, pasta, drinks and desserts.

Swipe your card as you order and pay a collective bill at the end. It's almost like the casual dining version of Asian hawker stalls, with no waiters or runners, and cooked-to-order Italian offerings instead.

Bar
The ground floor is an amazing space with lots of natural light, high ceilings and art deco features from its Grace Hotel corner home. There’s plenty of seating: an entire upstairs dining area, low tables and high stools surrounding the kitchens, and even basil pot-laden tables outside on the sectioned-off footpath.

Inside, the tall table with stools was a little awkward with mushroom lamps and pots of basil down the middle of the table obscuring views of your fellow diner across (perhaps designed for that specific reason).

Downstairs dining space
Meanwhile the table space was not friendly to the numerous, long-handled, wooden boards that various antipasti are served upon.

The Vapiano food concept is the same the world over: fresh Italian cuisine, made onsite and in most instances, prepared or cooked to order – fast and in front of you.

Pasta and desserts are made fresh daily in the restaurant while pizza dough, sauces and dressings are all prepared in-house. Produce is sourced locally, and wherever possible, within 150 kilometres from each restaurant.

Antipasti plate (small)
We started with a small antipasti board; a generous platter featuring a rounded offering of cured meats, vegetables, cheese and bread. Both the prosciutto and fat-studded salami were winners, while there were no complaints about the buffalo mozzarella and parmesan – which are not often seen together.

The tomato and basil bruschetta, green olives, sun-dried tomatoes and extra bread rounded out the platter which is ideal for sharing among at least three people.

Insalata Caprese
We also had the Caprese salad of the same buffalo mozzarella (never quite as good as when in Italy), not the ripest tomato slices and basil with more thick-sliced bread on the side.

Bruschetta pizza
A hearing/ordering mistake saw us with the simple bruschetta pizza (instead of prosciutto pizza). It featured classic bruschetta toppings and rocket on a traditional tomato base with melted mozzarella cheese.

The pizza had a decent crust and base, but I would recommend much more exciting toppings than simply diced tomato, garlic, rocket and parmesan cheese.

Pasta menu
There's a great range of in-house made pasta on offer, with two spelt varieties too. All pasta dishes also come with a slice of bread for that carb-on-carb action.

A good Bolognese sauce is the hallmark of any quality Italian eatery (or home cook) and so I ordered Vapiano's rendition with my selection of linguine.

Pasta cooked to order
You can actually stay and watch as your chosen sauce gets heated on wok-like pans on the stove, with the Vapiano chefs adding ingredients, seasonings of choice and finally, pasta which is firstly cooked alongside.

Linguine bolognaise
Garnished with a line of parmesan cheese and a basil leaf, the Bolognese was surprisingly lacking in depth, as if it was made only minutes ago. It also seemed to feature diced carrot and cherry tomatoes over anything else in the sweet ragu.

It was a little bit sad, especially as the just over al dente linguine cooled and started to stick together in large clumps.

Ravioli con carne
Much better was the ravioli with a Bolognese meat filling. There was better seasoning and flavour to both the pasta parcels and the sauce which had cream in addition to classic tomato-based sauce ingredients.

Innocent Bystander moscato 
It was pleasing to see Australian drops like the cult-favourite Innocent Bystander moscato on offer by the glass (in two sizes, too), while the cocktail menu probably needs a bit of help to compete with any nearby bars.

Cheesecake
From the dessert bar we opted for the jar-contained cheesecake with mango jelly on top; a generously sized sweet treat with minimal biscuit crumb base.

Strawberry pannacotta
The vanilla bean speckled pannacotta was more a creamy than wobbly version, with a lightness that was quite appropriate after a fair bit of cheese and carbohydrates.

Vapiano pasta station
Vapiano undeniably has a fast food feeling, albeit a fresh one, but one which I would have thought is a little at odds with the Grace Hotel offering (back in 2012, the guys behind the acclaimed Bentley Restaurant were slated to take over the space).

I couldn't shake the feeling of being at a Sizzler or a back-in-the-day Pizza Hut style restaurant, where you grab food from different stations (though not all-you-can-eat in this instance). The panels promoting the menu and ingredients above the cooking stations add to the franchise feel, although the many, many pots of basil help greatly with the general feeling of freshness and greenness.

As we left a tourist couple walked in, sharing that they were familiar with the concept from their home of Sweden; comfortably grabbing their smart-card in preparation for an almost self-serve lunch.

Vapiano's European roots obviously run deeper than their Australian offshoots so far, but in an increasingly globalised world there seems to be a place for franchised, fast and fresh food – for global customers at the very least.

Food, booze and shoes dined at Vapiano as a guest, with thanks to Open Haus.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon

14 comments:

Jacq said...

It was an interesting concept especially with the smart cards but for freshly cooked pasta I was expecting it to be a little better :(

Sherrie Huang said...

I was expecting more from Vapiano but left feeling a little underwhelmed. The ravioli wasn't bad though!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

An interesting idea. It reminds me of the place in the Inter Continental years ago.

Priscilla @ foodpornnation.com said...

Great write up Tina. I've always wondered what Vapiano was about.
Not sure the concept is really for me. Feels like Ikea to me! But it sounds like it is located in the right spot for all the tourists!

SK said...

Great to hear there's a branch in Sydney. I think it's worth giving it a try!

Amy zhong said...

love the idea! cant really o wrong with handmade pasta and cooked to order!

Cindy (a foodie's joy) said...

What an interesting concept! The ravioli didn't look too bad. :)

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

The cheesecake in a jar is so on trend! Walked past this a few weeks ago and they were going great guns at lunchtime!

Chris @ MAB vs Food said...

This place is so close to my office that I might check this place out for the handmade pasta cooked to order. Thanks for the great writeup!

Tina said...

Hi Jacq - Definitely agree with that. Not quite good enough for fresh pasta.

Hi Sherrie - Yes, I think the ravioli we had was the best of the lot, wine aside ;)

Hi Lorraine - Not familiar with what was there earlier... but seems too casual for the Grace.

Hi Priscilla - Thanks. Not quite Ikea; more like... yeah, hawker stalls was the best I could come up with.

Hi SK - Sure worth a try, just to see how the concept works!

Hi Amy - Well...

Hi Cindy - I would recommend the ravioli, not the bolognese sauce though.

Hi Helen - Indeed! There's a lack of good pasta options in the city.

Hi Chris - Worth checking out; may well be a good, fast lunch option.

ThomasMaloney said...

Sad to read this lukewarm response to Sydney’s Vapiano’s because the one we have here in Brisbane is doing not bad. I reckon they can take it up a notch if they can prioritize station manning according to how busy they are.

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hou said...

The cheesecake in a jar is so on trend! Walked past this a few weeks ago and they were going great guns at lunchtime!
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tatjana6@tpg.com.au said...

Went on Monday for lunch with a girlfriend. She has been before and recommended it. Both very disappointed we ordered the pasta dish with pesto. No pesto. Cold undercooked, dry hardly any flavour. Adding oil and balsamic didn't really help much. Will not go back.

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