Pho, Banyan, Cosy Club, Tampopo… I’ve been reviewing the vegan offerings at each of these restaurants in the Corn Exchange to celebrate November being World Vegan Month. That theme continues here at Vapiano, the German casual restaurant chain offering authentic Italian food.
James and I dined here back in August and were impressed with the spot-on service and light, spacious surroundings filled pots of fresh herbs, even an olive tree growing from the table. The twist with this place is the self-service concept which I think divides opinion and to be honest, is the reason we haven’t really been back.
When you arrive you’re given a card which you use to go and order your food and drink at different stations, where your chosen dish is made freshly in front of you by the chefs. I really like this element as it means your food can be cooked how you like it, although as I said in my last blog post, it meant that time spent together was disjointed as we took it in turns to go up to get our food, not wanting to leave the table with our belongings. However we couldn’t fault the food last time, so we were looking forward to trying out the vegan offerings in keeping with this feature.
On arrival we were greeted by Gemma, who was very friendly and welcoming. She apologetically informed us that the gluten-free options were limited, as all the pasta and pizza contains wheat, although they are working on a gluten-free dough for 2017 (unlike some other restaurants, this won’t be bought in but made fresh on site). I must say that this challenge has made me realise that being wheat intolerant AND vegan was making this a limiting experience…!
Olives made a compulsory appearance on our table and my god, were they big and juicy *ahem* and incredibly tasty. On first glance of the menu there was no indication of what was vegan, although we later spotted the Specials boards at the stations with some clearly labelled options.
It was a shame the Chestnut Soup contained cream but we both went for the Tomato Soup. Not something I’d usually order, but this was one of the few GF options (without the bread and crutons). And in all seriousness this was one of the best tomato soups I have ever tasted, echoed by James, who slurped it down in seconds. Rich, wholesome and perfectly seasoned with so much depth in flavour, you could tell it was home-made (in the best possible way). The ideal winter warmer on a chilly night.
The sound of Risotto Zucca Caramellata from the Specials board made me drool: ‘Creamy risotto rice with a homemade sauce made of Hokkaido pumpkin, orange juice, coconut milk and with a hint of vegan white wine, ginger, sesame & lime.’ HELLO. A generous serving of well seasoned risotto spiked with colour and fresh herbs (that’s what I like to see), this dish was a satisfying combination of components. I expected more of a coconut, orange and flavour to peek through but I can’t grumble that it wasn’t tasty.
James ordered the other vegan Special option of Funghi Bolognese: ‘Delicious ragout made of mushrooms, carrots and celery in our homemade tomato sauce with onions marinated with soy sauce and fresh herbs.’ Another bowl of generously portioned comfort food, James enjoyed this tasty dish, which he asked the chefs to spice up with extra chillies while preparing it. Although he would have usually ordered a meat-based pasta dish this filled him up.
I only realised as I was finishing my main that I had totally forgotten about ordering a salad on the side – which is unheard of for me. I was obviously enjoying the risotto so much, but I also think going up to the station and ordering threw me off a bit. The Insalata Mista Piccola (mixed leaf salad, cherry tomatoes and grated carrot) would have been one of my limited options so I don’t think I missed out on much to be honest!
Both so full from our starter and mains, James and I were too full for dessert on this occasion. Bearing in mind ‘sorbet’ had been the only vegan-friendly, gluten-free options available at the other restaurants so far, of course I had a gander to see what Vapiano were offering… Lo and behold, SORBET. If you’re vegan and eating out, it must get boring just seeing this as a dessert option…? Not dissing it and I’m sure it would have been tasty, but surely a little more imagination is lacking here across the board.
Even if throwing in the gluten-free card narrowed down the choice, we enjoyed flavoursome vegan-friendly food and left feeling full and satisfied. It’s good that more attention is being given to this way of eating; it’s just the non-gluten pasta (even pizza) that needs to catch up at Vapiano.
When you finish your meal you simply swipe your card and pay, an easy process but it means splitting bills can be complicated! Whether you love or find the self-service concept a little inconvenient, the food and value for money were spot on.
Thanks to the Corn Exchange to inviting me to be part of this campaign and the lovely staff. Read my other posts over here.