Walk-In Pasta and Pizza Cooked up to Order
There’s more to Mariahilfer Strasse than shopping we discovered one day, as we came upon Vapiano’s Italian Restaurant on the corner of nearby Theobaldgasse and Windmühlgasse.
Part of a German-based walk-in Italian restaurant chain with 22 other restaurants in seven countries, Vapiano opened in early December 2006 and has quickly built up a following.
My girlfriend and I went on a Friday night, hungry as horses after a couple of hours pounding the rainy pavements busy with shoppers on the way home.
Stomachs protesting, I suggested we try Vapiano’s.
Unlike other Italian restaurants, the Vapiano system of ordering and serving comes with a twist. There are no waiters; you go directly to a cook and tell him what you want, and while he is making it, you can make up your mind about what spices you want and what type of pasta.
As we entered, two staff members greeted us, handing us plastic "credit" cards and menus. The kitchen to our left was bustling, and the sounds of cooking and chatting between chefs and visitors a pleasant blur. In fact, given the amount of discussion and activity, it all seemed surprisingly discrete and non-intrusive, the casual lounge music pleasantly spiced with a murmur of guests and clanking cutlery.
Although the weather was gloomy, the white walls and large windows managed to create a cheerful and pleasing atmosphere. On each table, there were two small lamps and the usual condiments, vinegar and oil.
More surprising, there were also fresh herbs, growing in pots. Staff member Rista Branislav said they could be clipped and used for the meal. They are cultivated in a small glass-walled space just behind the dessert counter where the restaurant displays its tiramisu, panna cotta, and chocolate cake.
There are also two shady olive trees inside the restaurant, surrounded with square tables, that at the right time of year, produce fruit for the kitchen. "They are not artificial," a waiter told us, proudly, "and are very expensive to keep."
We found a seat at one of the bar-style tables with high stools upholstered in creamy white leather. Opening the menu, we saw choices ranging from bruschette and carpaccio with tuna fish crème and capers, to different salads, pastas, pizzas and desserts.
I decided to start with an arugula salad tossed delicately in a mild vinaigrette, and dressed with fine parmigiano. For my main dish, I ordered the spicy penne arrabiatta. It was interesting to see the cooking in process, as a restaurant will usually hide its operations as if it were a top-secret research facility. Vapiano is more generous.
As we waited, the chef was just finishing up another decadent looking pasta dish, fettuccine in a creamy crab-lobster sauce, laced with ribbons of basil.
A couple of minutes later, my meal was ready. I was met with a characteristically aldente pasta, drawn into the thin tomato sauce and covered with cheese. The only drawback was perhaps excessive zeal on the spices; even for a committed fan it was a little too hot.
While nibbling, I could not pass up the opportunity to try my girlfriend’s Pizza Toscana, with a thin, crunchy crust and ingredients chopped fresh as we watched. The pizza was more authentic than other pizzas in Vienna; it was lighter and not swimming in oil. The spicy Italian sausage added a kick to the mild olives, herbs, and fresh mozzarella.
As we finished the meal, we checked out the lounge bar located at the end of the main hall where you can have a coffee, drink or dessert with business partners or friends.
Even though lounge-bars are typically more relaxed than restaurants, in Vapiano there are no obvious differences between the two. In both sections people seem in a good mood. The only real difference is that the lounge bar consists of comfortable red leather chairs and sofas accented with red and white pillows. On the red painted wall of the lounge bar, there are small red bottles of sampita, a Campari alcohol.
Although Vapiano is a stylish place that looks as if it were designed with a wealthier clientele in mind, the prices for drinks and meals are actually average. Both pastas and pizzas are between €5.50 and €8.50, with salads between €3.50 and €6.00.
Leaving the restaurant, we handed back the "credit" cards we received at the entrance that record everything you have consumed during your stay, avoiding the need to hail your waiter and tote up a bill.
All in all, the Vapiano restaurant offers quality food that is satisfying without filling you to excess.
With average prices, good food and friendly staff it is not only a good choice for fans of Italian food, but also for times when you’re tired of shopping and need some replenishment before heading back to the front.
Vapiano Pasta & Pizza
6., Theobaldgasse 19
Opening hours: Mon. to Sat., 11:00–1:00 am
Kitchen open until Midnight