Eat, Restaurants, Sydney / 18 December 2013

There’s a new kid on the block. But it’s not their first time in the big smoke. And with a name derived from the Italian phrase “one who takes life easy and relaxed, lives healthier and longer” we may have made a new friend.
His name is Vapiano.
Vapiano is an Italian-based restaurant franchise. The first Vapiano opened in Germany over 11 years ago and there are now over 130 restaurants of the same name in 26 countries. Vapiano Sydney (under the Grace Hotel on the corner of King and York Streets) is the latest addition to the franchise’s Australian family, with its siblings located in Brisbane (Albert Street), the Gold Coast (Cavill Avenue) and Melbourne (Flinders Lane).
I have to admit that I was a little hesitant going to a ‘franchise’ restaurant, as my style of dining destination is more fresh, unique, personal and distinctive than the speed and sterility that typifies the term. However, I quickly appreciated that there are several key aspects of Vapiano that make it fit this criteria quite nicely:
1. The food is cooked in front of you (at designated antipasti/salad/pizza/pasta stations) and all ingredients, including the house-made pizza bases and pasta sheets, are on display. Plus you can season your meals to your liking with the array of oils and herbs on offer. That’s fresh.
2. The chip card system. You may initially have a dig at German efficiency when presented with your personal chip card on entry, but it is a very handy way to order and pay for your meal. You swipe the card at each station when placing an order. The cost of your meal accumulates as you swipe, leaving your own, simple bill to settle as you leave. That’s unique.
3. The staff are friendly, very friendly. This started as soon as I walked in the door (which was important for a tech-phobe like me when presented with my chip card) and continued as I walked station to station, peering curiously at what was being prepared, placing my own orders and receiving the my food straight from the chefs hand. That’s personal.
4. The food seals the deal. All of the above would not count for much if the food did not deliver on expectations.[ Stand out dishes include the Carpaccio (thinly sliced rare beef drizzled with tangy sauce and topped with rocket), Rucola Ravioli (with rocket and ricotta filling, cherry tomatoes and pine nuts) and the Pesto Con Spinachi. It is not often that I name a pizza as my favourite dish, but when the house made base is topped with spinach, bruschetta mix, pesto cream sauce and mozzarella (and extra mushrooms – thanks for the recommendation, pizza chef!) the combination is different enough that it tops my list. That’s distinctive.
Vapiano describes itself as “somewhere between the nicest of fast casual and the hippest of casual dining restaurants”. I think that’s a great statement as it shows that the restaurant is proud of its positioning. It is a new breed of dining experience that toes the line, but does not cross over, with other establishments in our fair city. I’ll be back, firstly for a weekday pizza with one of my CBD friends. With all of them available for under $20 and the power in my hot little hand to pay as I please, it’s the perfect meeting spot to take 30 minutes or two hours out of our busy lives to have a quick bite or a lingering lunch.
Vapiano on Urbanspoon