We picked Vapiano on a whim for lunch on our last day in London this summer chiefly for the unromantic reason that it was close to both the Tate Modern and where we’d parked the car. In more detail, and more seriously, I was attracted by its plant-filled interior, quirky quotations and illustrations on the wall (including Sophia Loren’s famous “everything you see I owe to spaghetti”) and by the fact that I just love Italian food.

However, we didn’t realise that Vapiano was more than just an Italian restaurant until we got inside and the greeter directed us to the cash desk. There we were issued with a card each, which you can either pre-load with cash and come in and use for quick meals (to eat in or take away), or leave ’empty’ to settle the bill at the end of every meal. Once you have your card, you can go to the antipasti, pasta, pizza, dessert and drink stations where your order cost is placed onto your cards individually for each course and each person. This method should definitely help to avoid arguments when settling up!

I was in awe of the pasta-making station, with its see-through windows and shiny pasta machines. All pasta is made fresh in-house before being boxed up into individual portions for easy access by staff at peak times, and in a number of different varieties – their spelt pasta, which I had wanted to order, was clearly popular, as it had run out. You’re not short of choice on the pasta shape front either – from papardelle to penne, there’s something to suit everyone. The 21 sauces are categorised by cost, too, from £6.10 for the pasta of your choice with arrabiata or pesto, to £9.10 for duck and seafood varieties.

But the fun doesn’t stop there, oh no. The sauce is not pre-made, but rather made in front of you with pre-chopped fresh ingredients, so you can see exactly what goes in. What’s more, you get plenty of control – you are asked at regular intervals about your preferred amounts of garlic, seasoning and chilli, and when it comes to serving, you’re asked if you want cheese or extra seasoning. The result is that the pasta is perfectly and speedily cooked, served with a healthy sauce, and all to your taste.

The pizza is prepared similarly, although my husband commented that you could tell that the pizza dough had been more quickly than you’d cook a homemade pizza at home. Nonetheless, the pizza toppings also received equally high marks. We did not sample any antipasti, desserts or wine, but the choice seems extensive and authentic. Italian soft drinks are available, too, and these we did sample with gusto.

Two mains and two drinks came to under £20, and not only were we full and satisfied with the high quality food, we were hooked. We were therefore surprised and delighted to find that this innovative concept has indeed made it to France (which is hardly innovation personified), with locations in Puteaux and Lyon. However, less of a surprise was the fact that Vapiano is in fact a German invention – with that level of efficiency and quality, it was practically a guaranteed success.

Sadly the only UK locations at present are in London; I look forward to its expansion so that all of you can try it too.


Locations: see the website for more details, but there is at least one location in just about every European country, as well as outside Europe – Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Oman, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, UAE, UK, USA