Vapiano Australia has just opened its 5th restaurant in Australia, and it's the first one located outside a city centre. This Vapiano store is opposite the cinema at the newly renovated Westfield Garden City Town Square. Last night, Marc and I were lucky enough to be invited to try their menu, along with a group of other Brisbane food bloggers.
We given some background information about the Vapiano group. I knew it had an international footprint because Marc and I actually spotted a Vapiano store while we were traveling through Europe. It turns out that Vapiano started in Germany and due to the global love of Italian food, has blossomed across the world since then.
Fresh herbs available for use as garnish
The key approach to dining at Vapiano is its relaxed and flexible attitude. Unique to this restaurant is a post-pay system where you receive a card upon entry, bill all your purchases onto this card and pay the total when you leave. This solves all the awkward problems of splitting bills and trying to grab a waiters attention for payment. You don't have to feel inconvenienced about getting up to buy a second drink or extra side dish because it just gets added to your card tab.
Further to this, guests are encouraged to sit where ever they like in the expansive restaurant layout, and to eat and chat for as long as they like. This is a huge drawing point for me because even though I'm a disgustingly fast eater, I like to gasbag for long after the meal is done. It's nice to know that no one's going to come and harass me to finish up and leave. They're also open till 11pm daily, which is great for nocturnal folk or after-movie dining.
Vapiano prides itself of the freshest ingredients at affordable prices. Everything on the menu is under $21, which in this day and age is hard to come by. Desserts are all $5.90 and happy 'hour' at the bar lasts 3 hours.
We started with a drink while we were waiting for other invited bloggers to arrive. Marc and I both tried the Golden Pale Ale on tap, which I very much enjoyed. As the seats started filling up, we were brought out our first dish, the antipasto plate.
Antipasti - selection of meats, parmesan, buffalo mozarella, mixed olives, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto basilico and bruschetta
This starter board had a selection of cured meats, cheese, olives and bruschetta. I dutifully tried a bit of everything (my stomach was complaining of hunger at this point) and thought it was all delicious. I particularly liked the bruschetta.
Carpaccio - thinly sliced rare beef fillet, fresh mushrooms, homemade tangy sauce, rocket and parmesan
Our second starter was the beef fillet carpaccio. I have a strong attraction to raw beef dishes (not sure why since I order my steak 'medium') and this was one of the best I ever tasted. Normally, carpaccio/tartare type dishes lack in flavour but this wasn't an issue here. I thought the fresh mushrooms was an odd element but it all worked together very well. I ate this on its own but I noticed others sandwich the beef between pieces of bread and that looked like a good idea too.
Pizza bianco - rosemary roasted sliced potato, garlic, cream sauce and mozarella
We were brought a selection of pizzas to try next. Our end of the table got to taste the pizza bianco and pesto con spinaci. Both were white based pizzas with the bianco having a simpler topping but strong garlic and rosemary flavour. This would be great as a shared starter too.
Pesto con spinaci - baby spinach leaves, marinated tomatoes, with creamy pesto and mozarella
The pesto and spinach pizza had a beautiful basil pesto base topped with fresh spinach and mozarella. The diced, marinated tomatoes worked to give the whole thing a welcome tanginess.
Pasta in the making
Our group was then treated to a demonstration of fresh pasta making. All of Vapiano's cooking areas are visible to the public, which shows confidence in their food preparation and cleanliness. The German-made pasta machines (worth an exorbitant amount) pump out juicy looking morsels of fresh pasta in a flash.
These are then packaged away and labelled to be used within a certain time frame to ensure that all pasta cooked is indeed fresh. The little bags were so cute I just wanted to take some home!
Gnocchi pesto rosso - freshly made sun-dried tomato pesto with roasted pine nuts, chilli, ricotta and cherry tomatoes
By now, I was very excited to try the pasta. Our first variety that was brought out was the gnocchi pesto rosso. This had a lighter pesto flavour than the spinach pizza we tried earlier on. The gnocchi itself was a tad chewy for my liking (disclaimer: I'm not a huge fan of gnocchi in general) but the sauce had a gentle sweetness and nutiness from the roasted pine nuts.
Gamberi e spinaci - prawns, onion cherry tomatoes, cream with basil pesto and parmesan, topped with fresh spinach
We next sampled the gamberi e spanci, which is prawns and spinach tossed through a twisty pasta (can't remember the name; but it doesn't matter because you can choose what pasta shape you want for each dish anyway). The boys were very excited about this dish because of the inclusion of big juicy prawns. The only time I normally like prawns is cold with seafood sauce, but it was surprisingly nice with the creamy pesto pasta.
Spaghetti bolognese - Italian-style beef and pork, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes in homemade tomato sauce
The spaghetti bolognese was brought out next. It was fine but probably the dish that made the least impression on me last night. Whilst I don't often cook dishes like pesto gnocchi or prawn and spinach pasta, I made spag bol A LOT. I think that's made me pickier with it and as they say, with something as classic like spaghetti bolognese, it's hard to beat homemade.
Crema di funghi - fresh onions, mushrooms, white wine combined in cream sauce and a dash of nutmeg
The last pasta we tried was also my favourite. It was the crema di funghi and although just a simple blend of mushrooms, cream and white wine, it was just beautiful. There is something so comforting about the earthly taste of mushrooms and this is the only dish of the night that I went back for second (besides the nutella cheesecake, which is still to come).
White chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel and honeycomb, tiramisu, crema di fragola and nutella cheesecake (front)
There's no better way to leave a group of food bloggers happy and high than by ending on a sweet note. We were brought out a selection of 4 gorgeous desserts to share. After a flurry of photos (must. take. at. every. angle. to. ensure. it's. captured!!!), we finally got to dig in. O.M.G. These desserts were as decadent as they looked. My favourites were the nutella cheesecake and white chocolate cheesecake. Both were served in cute jars with a delicious crumbly biscuit base.
Marc and I both don't love tiramisu because it's quite a strong flavour but I think this tiramisu was done well. The other dessert tasted like simple strawberries and cream and it was nice but not as moreish as the cheesecakes.
We left Vapiano last night with very full bellies and content hearts. The standout dishes for me were the beef carpacio, crema di funghi pasta and the nutella cheesecake. What an awesome three course meal that would make!
The lovely team at Vapiano has granted me the power to give 4 lucky readers each a meal tasting at Vapiano, Garden City. To enter:
Simply comment with why you love Italian food and I will pick a winner next Friday, 19th of December. I'll also run this comp through my Instagram @tularip so if you prefer entering that way, check it out there instead.