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Vapiano - Amsterdam Restaurant Review

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The Bottom Line

Vapiano's streamlined set-up keeps costs low with its lack of waitstaff; diners swipe their meals on RFID chip cards at the different open kitchen stations where meals are both ordered and cooked. While the dishes far exceed expectations for an Italian restaurant franchise, some diners will lament the lack of service that's inherent to the Vapiano model.

Pros

  • Solid selection of Italian standards - pizzas, pastas and salads
  • Prices kept to a minimum thanks to streamlined set-up

Cons

  • Uncomfortably crowded - and diners have to scout out their own seats
  • Food lines evocative of a school cafeteria

Description

Oosterdokskade Location
Address: Oosterdokskade 145
Phone: +31 (0)20 420 1825
Open Sun - Thurs, 11 - 12 a.m.; Fri - Sat 10 - 1 a.m.
Kitchen open daily, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Guide Review - Vapiano - Amsterdam Restaurant Review

Everyone loves Vapiano. At least, that was my conclusion from all the reviews and forum posts I had read about the Bonn, Germany-based Italian restaurant chain, whose franchises have spread like wildfire to all six inhabited continents since its 2002 inception. With a prime location in the state-of-the-art Amsterdam Public Library and a second restaurant slated to open in the revitalized Rembrandtplein in mid-2012, it was time to check out this widely hyped restaurant and see what all the fuss was about - even if the idea of another Italian restaurant chain doesn't seem to hold much appeal at first blush.

Vapiano has a distinctive formula, I learned, when the hostess asked me a question I'm sure I've never heard at a restaurant: "Do you know how it works?" Each diner is handed an RFID "chip card" with which to place his or her order at one of the dedicated kitchen stations, which serve pizza, pasta or salad. After we obtained our chip cards, we headed upstairs into a cafeteria-like sprawl of tables and chairs to reach our stations of choice; the decor was restrained and neutral, but still felt cluttered thanks to the hordes of fellow diners on a Thursday at 7pm. For a restaurant that calls itself "Vapiano" - borrowed from an Italian proverb about the rewards of relaxation - the atmosphere felt decidedly unrelaxed.

We took our place in the shortest pasta queue and, with four or five people ahead of us, had ample time - at least 20 minutes - to study the menu. The fact that all the pasta is hand-made daily compensated for the run-of-the-mill menu, populated with dishes that even a novice home cook could easily whip up; most of us, on the other hand, don't have the time or patience to hand-make pasta on weekdays. The antipasti and pizza menus also leaned toward the standard repertoire, from insalata caprese to pizza salame (pepperoni pizza). There were also a handful of specials, from which I made my choice: the pasta al ragú vegetariano - a vegetable stew in a marsala-based sauce - paired with campanelle, a white, bell-shaped pasta.

The station chef took our orders, but not without a trace of surliness. The station set-up made it possible (or scarcely unavoidable) to look on as the pasta dishes were prepared, the vegetables speed-sauteed in a wok-like pan that, while by no means traditional, was rapid and effective. Within 10 minutes, our pasta was cooked and plated; we swiped our RFID cards to complete our order, and were off with our cafeteria trays to find a seat. This proved no mean feat; after we'd circled the floor three times, we settled for the outdoor terrace, whose river vista made up for the brisk weather. Some diners drape their coats or other possessions over unoccupied seats as a placeholder before they order, but this struck us as rudely preemptive.

There were, as promised, pots of fresh herbs on each table - redundant in our case, as our dishes brimmed with the same fresh herbs. The al dente pasta tasted fresh as claimed; the ragú vegetariano was rich and flavorful, a brunoise of onions, mushrooms, carrots and tomatoes steeped in the twin flavors of olive oil and marsala, laced with fresh red chilies and dusted with slivered almonds and parmesan. And while the menu prices were some of the cheapest I've seen in Amsterdam, the portion sizes were abundant; rare as it happens, there was no room for dessert.

Surprised as I was by the quality of the food, I wouldn't soon return to Vapiano. Some diners may find it fun to relive their school cafeteria days with Vapiano's distinctive set-up, but to me, the lack of service built into the model is a turn-off. It should also be the restaurant's responsibility to ensure that diners don't have to complete several circuits around the premises in order to find a table. The lack of service may keep the menu prices low, but I wouldn't mind the premium for a more relaxed restaurant experience.

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