Vapiano, Buchanan Street

Glasgow

TO Buchanan Street, on a damp and chill Glasgow evening, where there’s a mini-queue at a reception desk at the bottom of stairs leading up and up. This is the entrance to Vapiano which sits a lofty two flights above the characterless office-like welcome area where I am now being spoken to by a greeter person.

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Yes, there is an explanation of this thrilling concept to be gone through. No, this explanation contains nothing thankfully about any company mission statement. Actually it's mainly about the exciting plastic card I have just been given on which to record all my purchases.

What’s that all about, I’m still thinking as I reach the vast restaurant area above and see a row of serving stations amidst an ocean of pine-ish furniture.

I am instantly reminded of Ikea and their awful food area. I select a seat from the couple of hundred free ones – it is a Tuesday night – and stop a passing clearer-upper person to ask where to get a drink. He points off to a distant bar area. Sigh. I trot towards it, order a Diet Coke and am directed to scan the card on a counter-top reader. My Coke will be brought apparently.

No sooner does that arrive then I am off again to the antipasto counter to stand and watch as the cooking-person toasts bread, then scoops chopped tomato unappetisingly from a big clear tub. Offstage a few generic prawns are being heated through.

By the time I have returned to my table with my bruschetta I will be wondering what sort of discount there will be for all this fetching and waiting. A quick scan of the menu reveals the bruschetta is £7.35. That will be none then.

No sooner has this so-so dish been digested than I am trotting to the pasta counter and ordering an aglio e olio. Card scanned. Price added. A vast silver machine lurks at a window to the side. This apparently makes the pasta daily. Uh-oh, I think. Jamie’s Italian had one of these. And that hasn’t ended well.

Another pleasant person puts exactly five thin slices of garlic clove into a hot wok with oil, a spoonful of chilli and waits as an automatic pasta boiler lowers spaghetti from a little packet into water.

“Did you say you had had this before?”, he asks looking surprised.

I did.

“Where that was?” he adds.

My mum used to make it every week, I reply. Ah, he says. And then we both look on in silence as one sliced clove of garlic sizzles far too fast and far too unevenly.

I think, but don’t say, that I put a lot more garlic in mine, maybe a splash of the pasta water, sometimes a drop of stock, or wine. It may be a simple dish but it’s very hard to get right. The pasta basket rises automatically. It’s all tossed together. I trot back to my seat again. Taste? Absolutely none. I add some basil leaves from the pot that is on every table. I splash some extra oil. A pinch of salt too. It’s still not happening for me.

What about the fresh pasta? This being one of Vapiano’s selling points. Frankly, it has the consistency, look and taste of half-cooked instant noodles. Remarkable. Should aglio e olio even be made with fresh pasta? Anyway at least at £6.95 for a small bowl its reasonable value.

By now I have worked out there is nothing other than pasta, bread, salads, risotto and pizza on the menu. Pizza to finish then.

More trotting, more card registering. Another pleasant person behind the counter. He stretches out dough for my margherita. He’ll bring it to the table when it’s cooked in that electric oven. And he does. That dough tastes like it hasn’t had long enough to prove, this pizza’s not great.

Strange place I think as my card is read for the bill downstairs. And not in a good way.

Vapiano

235 Buchanan Street

Glasgow

0141 370 9290

Menu: Corporate Italian; the idea is pasta made freshly by a machine, pizza dough by hand, oh and you get a charge card, otherwise completely unexciting. 3/5

Atmosphere: Comfortable Ikea-like barn with an olive tree and rows of serving counters. Too big, too impersonal. You’ll tire of everyone getting up and down. 3/5

Price: I thought the bruschetta was overpriced, the pizza and pasta reasonable priced, despite its authentic prep-vibe ingredients seem generally generic. 3/5

Service: There are no waiting staff which no doubt cuts costs. The cooking staff are happy to chat and are the best thing here. 4/5

Food: Gimmicky attempt to capture the essence of fresh pasta and pizza without real effort or result. 4/10

17/30