You can tell who’s new to Vapiano’s 'concept' by the way they clutch their menus and look around in confusion – getting a meal here is quite a palaver. Upon entering you’ll be hailed by the cheerful maître-cum-cashier, who will present you with a plastic charge card and menus; once you’ve chosen from the pastas, pizzas and salads or sides, you queue at a separate station to order each. Most of the food can be collected minutes later, apart from the pizzas, which take longer – then a hand-held buzzer alerts you when yours is ready. Settling up involves another queue, this time at the exit, and this wait can be quite long.
Such oddball logistics haven’t stopped the German-born Italian chain from conquering the globe – at the last count it had hundreds of venues spread across five continents. And it’s easy to see what appeals: Italian food is a no-brainer the world over, the décor is attractive, the ambience carefree, and – crucially – ferrying your own food to your table instead of relying on staff to wait on you keeps costs low.
Dishes are a bit pot-luck: a tepid plate of ravioli, despite being freshly made on site, was on a par with tinned varieties, with tough, chewy pasta and an unappealing filling. We fared much better with a simple insalate caprese that boasted a whole ball of briskly fresh buffalo mozzarella and tangy cherry tomatoes; likewise, a wood-fired margherita was of good quality (although it didn’t hold a candle to the sterling efforts of some nearby Soho pizzerias). However, as a safe choice for a quick lunch, Vapiano has a solid fanbase.