Their success has often lead me to suspect that Davie Icke has been right about us humans all along. We really are just a bunch of wandering microchipped wallies doing whatever the lizard folk want us to. Perhaps the lizards are restaurateurs. Or maybe chain restaurants are like chain letters? If you don’t visit them regularly and bring along 10 friends you will receive 10 years of bad luck and never ever find your true love.
Vapiano is the new Italian kid on the block. Well, newish. It opened last November. Was it just another underwhelming Italian restaurant serving overdone orecchiette, clumpy cabonaras where you only know the pasta is cooked properly by throwing it against a wall? I hoped not.
Before my visit, I did some research (also known as quick Google search) and found out that vapiano is Italian for ‘to go slow.’ I love going slow! Perhaps we could be friends after all?
So I did as they would have wanted, moving slowly toward the Corn Exchange which houses Vapiano across two of its floors, the neighbour of a host of other Manchester newbies.
First impressions were good. The restaurant is large and airy, with plenty of prettily placed fresh herbs, an olive tree centrepiece and big open kitchen, but most of the Scandinavian furniture was empty. This was not a problem for me as I tend to avoid human contact with people I don’t know. But for people who prefer their ambience to be a bit warm and buzzy, this could pose a problem.
Lack of atmosphere aside, I do love the concept. Food is cooked to order with nothing pre-ordered or pre-made. Each diner is given their own smart card, which is scanned whenever an item is ordered. The tab from each account is closed upon departure. This means no squabbling over splitting the bill. Hurrah! We all have that one friend who grumbles over an equal divide through fear of being a few quid down. If you don’t have one of those friends, then it’s probably you.
Pizzas take the longest time, but rather than waiting around staring creepily at the chef, you are given one of those buzzy pager things that always make me feel like I’m in the 1990s and really popular. You can sit on the balcony near the bar while you wait, people watching those below, or further into the restaurant among leafy walls.
I enjoyed the food more than I expected. Pizzas were surprisingly tasty, with a thin base which wasn’t overcrowded with toppings, but missing the crucial leoparding which always accompanies the perfect pizza. There are far better pizzas in Manchester, but this did its job.
Pasta is made on site before being individually packaged away, as if being saved just for you. I found the spelt pasta a touch underdone and far too overwhelming to accompany the chicken alfredo sauce which just wasn’t punchy enough to hold its own. But papardelle was a great match for granchi di fiume, the silky lobster sauce lovingly coating the curly strands of perfectly cooked pasta with little gems of crayfish burrowed inside.
The dessert menu is filled with the usual staples – tiramisu, pannacotta, cheesecake, again all made daily on site and bloody good they look too, but after eating half a pizza and a bowl of pasta, I had to throw in the towel – a towel covered in food.
There isn’t any table service at Vapiano. It’s a bit like the food court at the Trafford Centre but without all the chavs, but the staff and chefs are helpful and friendly and all wear name badges in case you want to grass any of them up.
I don’t think Vapiano is the kind of venue for a date. It’s more suited to a quick bite before the cinema, speedy work lunch or a pre-booze food stock up. It’s far better than those other Italian chain restaurants I’ve had the displeasure to visit, and hopefully it will become busier as people hear about it.
Apparently, their London venues feed 27,000 diners a week, so they clearly know what they’re doing. Or maybe it’s just those lizards again. Pesky lizards.