We're always really excited about new things cropping up in Brisbane. A few months back there was a period that I didn't really step into Brisbane City. When I finally go the chance to, I noticed a LOT of change. Brisbane is great for a lot of things but it's hardly famed for being fast-paced. The new shops along Albert St (near Queen St Mall) were a pleasant surprise to me.
The little arcade is called Albert Mall and contains a few trendy developments including a branch of Little Singapore, a specialist loose leaf tea shop and of course, Vapiano.
I wandered up to it when they first opened and felt mildly curious but not enough to eat there. I had also heard from a mate of mine that there was a new restaurant in Brisbane that had potted herbs on the table for you to tear directly into your meal. Though this is obviously a novelty factor more than anything else, I admit that it appeals to me.
Last week, I finally made the connection that Vapiano WAS the restaurant with this concept and I arranged a visit straight away. Actually, I've been twice in the past week which should give you some insight as to how much I liked the place.
Firstly, Vapiano is very much a concept restaurant. By that I mean that, especially in Brisbane (sorry if it sounds like I'm picking on the city but let's be real here), you're unlikely to have come across any other restaurant like it. In fact, I've eaten at many restaurants and cafes here and there but Vapiano was all new to me.
As soon as you walk in, you're given a card that works a bit like a GoCard.
The left of the restaurant is the bar... which I won't comment on since I haven't ventured into that side.
The right of the restaurant has a long counter divided into separate sections. Behind the counters are the staff in the open-style kitchen.
After consulting the menu, you decide what you want to order and line up accordingly. For example, if you want a pasta dish, you line up in one of the pasta queues. If you want pizza, line up in the pizza queue.
When you make your order, you'll be asked to touch the Vapiano card on sensor at the counter. The order is then registered on your card so that when you exit the restaurant, you present the card at the cashier and pay before leaving.
All the food is made fresh at Vapiano. In particular, I was impressed by the fact that the pizza dough is actually rolled out before your eyes. Yes, they do flip it in the air.
Similarly, the pasta is cooked and the sauce is constructed before your eyes.
Both times that I've been to Vapiano, the hours were a bit obscure (I'm talking 2pm on one occasion and barely 5pm the other) so it was hardly peak hour. I'm not sure if it's 'supposed' to work this way but one time, my friend was waiting in line to order pasta and there was only one staff member serving that queue. He had to take the orders and cook the pasta himself.
Rather than taking orders from multiple customers and then cooking, we had to wait for him to finish cooking for the girls in front before we could even get the order in. We then had to stand around there for him to finish cooking our dish. It wasn't a VERY long wait but it was a bit, well, 'awkward'? With the pizza, my other friend got a buzzer so we could retreat back to the table and wait for the buzzer to go off when the pizza was ready rather than stand around the counter like idiots. If that's how Vapiano is supposed to work, I much prefer the buzzer system and acknowledge that there might be teething problems early on, especially during unconventional eating times when staff are limited.
The pizza we chose was a very simple creation with ham and mushrooms. The base was gorgeous - soft and fresh. I quite liked the flavors of the sauce but the topping was ordinary. I don't blame the cooking or the ingredients... I think it's more that I'm too food-spoilt to be impressed by ham and mushroom on pizza.
We chose a classic pasta dish that first time I visited Vapiano: a chicken and bacon carbonara. You are allowed to choose the pasta shape too, which is nifty because there's a bundle to pick from, including 2 wholemeal options. I went for 'conchiglie' for no reason besides that I've never heard of it before. Typical me.
The pasta was pretty awesome. I'll honestly say that it didn't seem 'gourmet' at all but it was cheesy and creamy and there was an abundance of chicken, bacon and extra cheese on top. Good in a sinful way. We had the option of extra garlic or chili but my friend resolutely forbade chili so I asked for garlic. The pasta WAS garlicky. I loved it. Actually... um (just thinking about whether or not I should reveal this), I HAD eaten lunch only a couple of hours beforehand and I was planning to eat minimally on this trip. Ended up munching half the pizza and basically fighting my girlfriend off for bits of pasta.
Special mention will go to this awesome mango-flavored green tea. Vapiano probably doesn't deserve credit for this (unless they secretly brewed and bottled the beverage, which I doubt) but it's an awesome tea and I recommended it to my other mate the second time I went. He liked it too. I normally don't like sugary, flavored drinks. In fact, I'm not a big beverage fan in general (ESPECIALLY IF IT'S FIZZY) but I liked this. Muchiously.
Second time I went to Vapiano, I had 2 objectives: be healthy and try something different. I opted for a salad but failed in my first objective because I succumbed to the heartiest-sounding salad on the menu and didn't reject the creamy dressing. You can choose out of several dressings. When I seemed indecisive, the lovely chef gave me a little sample plate of bread and salad dressing. I opted for the nizza dressing which is simultaneously creamy and tangy.
I was also given a plate of complimentary warm bread which I ate dipped in olive oil. Perfect in its simplicity. I am a faithful fan to good quality warm bread.
The nizza salad was HUGE. I spooned off half of it to my friend because one serving was way too big for me. There's LOTS of tuna. Lots of everything in fact. I thought it was decent but not amazing and at the end of the day, I think it's just because tuna isn't the greatest meat on the planet. No offense to tuna fans but if the tuna was replaced by say, grilled chicken or even sparse amounts of anchovy, my enjoyment would have increased drastically. When I'm eating a tuna salad I can't help but think 'canned'. I realize that I was the one who chose this dish. So I should just shut up now.
Or, move on to the next dish review.
Pollo amatriciana - chicken breast, Vapiano's own tomato and herb sauce with onion, mushroom and bacon
Which, also happens to be my favorite pick. My uni friend chose a chicken pasta with pappardelle. It didn't look amazing. I mean, it looked like cooked pasta barely covered in sauce. I was offered a taste which I knew I'd take up but I wasn't in a hurry to do so. When I finally got to my sample, I was very impressed. The flavor was intense and complex. The pasta sauce looks like the bottled variety but it's a very deceitful appearance. I would have liked more chicken though.
With everything I tried at Vapiano, I was seeking for ways to incorporate the fresh herbs. It's harder than you'd think! Maybe it's because I'm a cooking n00b and don't really know what's good for complimenting different flavors. I ended up throwing an unknown herb, torn from my table, onto my tuna salad. I think it was mint. It didn't really 'go' with the dish but I had my fun.
Aside from the little hiccups in Vapiano's system (i.e. the awkward wait for pasta), I really enjoyed eating there on both occasions. The environment is clean, modern, open and comfortable. I like the trendy innovations like the touch card, the cafeteria-style ordering and of course, the little herb pots. I like the fact that it's bang in the CBD where it's easy for me to get to. I like the food, some dishes more than others, but enough to make me want to try more.
(p.s. I just spotted desserts on the website menu. I wasn't aware of this? I must go back!)