It’s always nice to try a non-Indian restaurant which serves halal food. I’ve reviewed steaks (HS&Co and Meat Co), Turkish (Haz) and Thai (Kinkao Thai). So now is the time for a favourite of mine – Italian.
I was asked recently to review Vapiano restaurant in London. I hadn’t heard of the place before, but my husband and his friend had as they’d been to their restaurant in Washington DC.
Anyway, for those who don’t know, Vapiano is an Italian restaurant chain originally from Germany (go figure). It has restaurants across the world, with 11 branches in the US, two in London (Southwark Street and Great Portland Street), and several dotted around in such exotic places as Bahrain, UAE, Bosnia, Australia and Taiwan, to name but a few.
Vapiano has a pretty unique experience concept. It’s kind of a hybrid between a canteen and a restaurant. So on arrival, you’re given a card, which you use to swipe at the counter each time you order a dish. All food and drink is added to the card, which you pay for at the end. As each diner is given a card, I’m sure Vapiano can get many men out of paying for dinner dates. That’s an unexpected fringe benefit for mankind.
There’s a separate counter for pizza and pasta, and your pasta is made to order in front of you and you can choose your type of pasta, and modify the ingredients to your preference. It’s made while you wait and takes a matter of minutes. And if you’re lucky, you get good patter from the chef.
A friendly chef is ready and waiting to take your order
You can personalise your dish, right down to the type of pasta you want
They offer spelt pasta, and have a variety of vegetarian options.
Their pizzas can also be tweaked to your liking, though they can’t cook it in front of you.
The starters and salads can also be personalised with a choice of dressings from nizza, honey mustard to Caesar. You’re encouraged to try the sauce before you order. The chef cuts you cubes of bread to dip into the different sauces, so there’s no danger of you making a bad
This seemed like a really nice touch, as very few restaurants let you try before you can buy, and you’re usually restricted to a rigid menu, which hints that the food isn’t freshly prepared.
Also, once you’re at your table, the modifications can continue, as each table has its own fresh herb plants which you can pick at to garnish your dish.
fresh herbs at each table to garnish your dish
Vapiano’s halal credentials
I assumed that like most Italian restaurant chains the chicken and beef wouldn’t be halal. This didn’t bother me too much, as I feel that Italian food is one of the rare cuisines which actually has a variety of vegetarian and some fish options, so you don’t miss meat. Plus pizza and pasta are two of my favourite dishes, which I could eat for days on end, meat or no meat.
However, it was a HUGE, unexpected bonus to find that in fact Vapiano does serve halal chicken and beef. While it serves pork and bacon also – hence the chain not having a halal certificate – fresh utensils are used to prepare each dish. It seems to be one of the few,
mainstream Italian restaurant chains that does.
This obviously was music to the ears of my guests, two of whom were male and total carnivores.
The bruschetta is a staple at any Italian restaurant. The bread was crusty (perhaps a little too crusty for my liking!), the olive oil was light and the tomatoes fresh.
The Insalata Caprese was also a good light bite, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella is an easy starter that you can’t go wrong with, but the real food fest was about to start…
Calzone stuffed with chicken, peppers and tomato
The Calzone was a made to order pizza. My hubby just picked what he wanted and it was added on the spot. As you can see from the picture, it was a total monster – a mammoth pizza that could easily be shared between two. The filling was chicken and roast vegetables, with a tomato sauce. My only nitpick would be that I would have liked more of the tomato sauce and cheese.
But this may be down to my husband’s ordering. Next time I’d just ask for more tomato and cheese filling.
The Tacchino Piccante pasta was a real surprise. With chicken breast, pak-choi, orange-chilli sauce and peppers, this dish packed a real oriental flavoured punch. This was an unusual choice as it married the flavours of a stir-fry with traditional Italian pasta, but a good dish nonetheless.
Scampi e Spinachi
The Scampi e Spinachi was another specially modified dish. I ordered Linguine from the choice of 11 pastas available. While this dish was well prepared, it was too creamy for my liking, and it’s the kind of dish
that’s best shared as you’d only want to try a little. I think that could be said of pasta dishes in all restaurants. They’re great after a few mouthfuls, but once you’re halfway in, it can get a bit, dare I say, same-y.
But that’s one of the great pluses of Vapiano’s – it’s fantastic for sharing between friends and trying a bit of everything, and the portions are generous enough to do just that.
Barbeque Chicken pizza
The Barbeque Chicken pizza was a real treat. I wasn’t initially sure how it would taste, looking at how much barbeque sauce there was. But unlike shop bought barbeque sauces, Vapiano’s offering was lighter in flavour and less tangy, making it much more palatable. The smoked cheese added some intensity while the chicken was nicely coated in flavour. I think this was one of my preferred dishes.
The salads were great accompaniments to the mains as they were rich in foliage so you could get plenty of goodness on the side. We tried the Tuna Nicoise, with the Nizza dressing I’d selected. The salad was nice, though I’d prefer a little more dressing on the tuna itself, I feel it needed it to make it less fishy.
Insalata Reef’ n Beef
The Insalata Reef’ n Beef was a dish I hadn’t tried before. Apparently it was from Germany, and it had beef fillet cubes, prawns and roasted vegetables, on a bed of lettuce. This dish was a real surprise, with enough leaves to make it a healthy dish, but enough meat and protein to satisfy the meat-eaters. It was a real surprise and something that could be eaten as a healthy main, though I preferred it as an accompaniment to the stars of the show – the pasta and pizza.
Mascarpone and strawberries
Pineapple-topped rice pudding
After filling beyond spilling point with the starters, salads and mains, we only had room for a couple of desserts to share amongst the four of us. So we opted for rice pudding, topping with pineapple, and mascarpone with strawberries. The mascarpone was my favourite of the two. Light and fluffy, it was the perfect after-dinner dessert as it wasn’t heavy on the palette.
A happy and well-fed me!
Vapiano – the concept
So feeling comfortably full, I had time to reflect on my thoughts of Vapiano. In short, it’s a great restaurant to dine with a group of friends or just two of you. The pizzas are made for sharing, so if I go
again I’d definitely have one between two, and a salad or pasta to share.
I love the concept of picking your own ingredients. This adds a personalised touch, and it means that you can have a bespoke, fresh dish. It’s also a great bonus that you can try the dressings for your
salads. It’s a really nice touch and helps you make the most informed salad choice.
The cards are a great idea, particularly among large groups. It avoids the awkwardness of splitting the bill and getting out your calculator. Plus it also avoids any bad-feeling if you ordered less, or not had alcohol, which is a typical dilemma on group outings. You simply pay for what you ordered, no fuss.
The canteen-style may not be suited to everyone’s taste. So if you want to be treated to a sit-down meal where you’re waited on. This isn’t the place for you.
However, for casual, value-for-money Italian dining, this is definitely worth a look. And I will be visiting again.
Vapiano in a nutshell
Cost – between £3-£9 for a starter. Pizzas range from £6-£10. Salads between £3 and £8. Desserts all under £5.
Halal – Yes. Plus
plenty of vegetarian options. Spelt
pasta is also offered for wheat intolerant diners.
Great if… you want bespoke pizza and pasta without the price tag,
halal Italian food, dining with friends.
Not so great if… you want a fancy-pants dinner with waiting