I stood on the streets of Soho, waiting for my dinner companion. It was a nice, cool evening, the kind of evening that sends your mind away to a place where you can spend all day drinking Aperol Spritz in the sunshine. Summertime in an Italian plaza, wearing the sunglasses that you thought were a good idea at first but you’re now concerned are too big for your face and make you look like a fly. Tonight was the perfect evening for an Italian feast, which was just what we were in for. My thinking was interrupted, as the sound of clanging armour came ever closer.
“Sorry I’m late.” Said a voice. I turned to see Oliver Cromwell, Puritan, 17th century Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, signatory to the death warrant of King Charles I, and my dining companion for today.
“That’s ok. Have you been to Vapiano before?” I asked.
“No.” Said Cromwell. “Is that a problem?”
“No, it’s fine. I mean, they’re going to ask you the exact same question the minute you walk through that door, but it’s a very simple process so just say that you have. It’ll save time.”
“Ok, cool.” Said Cromwell. I opened the door and we strolled into Vapiano.
“Hello, have you been here before?” Said the woman at the till.
“No.” Said Cromwell. I sighed, and decided this would be a good time to do an introductory background on Vapiano.
Vapiano is an Italian restaurant franchise that was established in Germany back in 2002, but has since spread across the globe. It’s a restaurant that sort of sits on the same kind of level as Nando’s and Wagamama. It’s the kind of place you might take a date, or in my case, a ghost opposed to Christmas. Their speciality is very much the home-made pasta, freshly made each day and cooked to order in front of you by their expert chefs. It’s ‘boomerang-friendly’ food, the kind that can easily drain your soul when you see a friend posting it on Instagram with a ‘SUNDAY FUNDAY’ graphic, making you think that everybody is having more fun than you are and forcing you to reconsider all of the life choices that led to you still being sat alone in your pyjamas at 4 PM watching an episode of Friends you’ve seen a thousand times where Ross is yelling about some kind of gravy sandwich, ultimately depleting your very essence until you’re just a husk of your once unlimited potential. But anyway.
“… and then you just give us your card on the way out and settle up.” Finished the woman at the till.
“Thankyou.” Said Cromwell. We walked off together towards the stations.
“Do you know what you want?” I asked, as I handed Cromwell a menu.
“What is pasta?” Asked Cromwell.
“What is pasta? It’s a wheat-based shape. You put sauce on it.”
“Ok, great. What is pizza?”
“Are you serious? It’s like a disc of wheat that you cover with other food.”
“Excellent. I will enjoy a disc of wheat.” Said Cromwell.
“Ok, I’ll meet you back here shortly.” I said, as I headed for the pasta queue. The queue for pasta was around 7 people deep, whereas pizza was always significantly shorter. This was very much typical of Vapiano. If you want pasta, you have to be prepared to wait. Being a big fan of their ‘salami e ricotta con rucola’, I was prepared to wait. Five minutes into my queuing, I heard the familiar approach of clanging.
“I’ve got my wheat disc.” Said Cromwell. I looked at his tray to see that he had procured a pizza base that was absent of any toppings whatsoever.
“Where the hell are the toppings?”
“I did not want any toppings. Toppings are pointless enjoyment that detract from a spiritual life.”
“We’re here to review this place! How many people do you think are going to come here and order a plain pizza base?”
“Go and sit down!” I said, annoyed, as I continued to wait for my pasta.
As mentioned earlier, part of Vapiano’s attraction is that you see them making your meal fresh in front of you. It makes it a little bit more of an experience, whilst also giving you the false confidence that this is something you could (but never will) make at home yourself. The salami e ricotta con rucola that I had chosen seems deceptively simple, a combination of salami, butter, rocket, garlic, white wine and pine nuts mixed in with one of five available pastas. On this occasion, I had chosen the spaghetti. The spaghetti is also available in a more healthy ‘spelt’ version, but as with all things that are more healthy, the less-healthy version is generally significantly tastier. I thank the chef and head back to find Cromwell. Scouring the area, I find that he has procured us two seats in the window of the restaurant.
“What did you go for?” Asks Cromwell, as I sit down.
“I went for the salami e ricotta con rucola.” I say. He looks at me blankly. “I went for the tiny wheat-based shapes.” I sigh. He nods approvingly.
“Now, we must say thanks to God before we enjoy the feast that he has procured for us.”
“Oh, err… really?”
“We must all say thanks to God for the food that he has provided us on this day!” Says Cromwell, standing up and shouting to all of Vapiano. A confused hush descends over the restaurant. “All of you, bow your heads!” Nobody moves. “Do it, now!” He says, unsheathing his sword. There are screams from across the restaurant.
“Cromwell, for goodness sake!” I object.
“This’ll only take a minute.” He says. “Lord God our… God. Thankyou for this generous bounty that you have given us.”
I look at Cromwell’s plain wheat disc. If there is a God, he has long since forsaken him.
“-Most merciful God, we ask that we may continue to receive your blessings as we have done today.”
I mean, literally not one topping. Not even rocket.
“-For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”
I’d like to think that if it had been left to an omnipotent being to demonstrate its power and glory it might have at least applied a béchamel sauce.
“Forever and ever. Amen.” Finished Cromwell. “You may now feast.” He said, as he holstered his sword. The silence and sobbing gradually faded away as people got back to their meals. For the fairness of this review, it should be qualified that the atmosphere isn’t usually that of people contemplating the threat of their imminent death. It’s more casual than that.
“Let us eat.” Says Cromwell. I take a bite of my salami e ricotta. As usual, it is delicious. There is a fantastic balance between the richness of the cheese and butter and the salty salami cutting through. The texture of the pine nuts adds another level of depth too, providing a beautiful crunch that helps to hold the whole thing together. It is a superb dish. Cromwell meanwhile takes a bite of his pizza base.
“How is it?” I ask.
“There is little flavour.”
“Of course there’s little flavour! You didn’t get any toppings!” I say, angrily.
“We should leave a bad review.” Says Cromwell.
“No, this is on you! Mine is delicious!” I argue. Cromwell shakes his head, rattling his armour as he does.
“Let me try it.”
I twirl a fork of my pasta and hand it to Cromwell. He carefully removes all of the salami, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, onions and garlic before taking a bite. “It is very plain.” He says.
“For goodness sake! You think God is going to judge you if you enjoy a couple of pine nuts?!”
“Pine nuts detract from a spiritual life.”
“Do you even hear yourself? THEY’RE PINE NUTS. We’re never going to get this review done if you don’t eat anything!” I shout. “Now eat the pine nuts!” I say, as I twirl another fork and push it towards his face.
“I shall not eat the pine nuts!” Shouts Cromwell. “As the lord is my shepherd-“
“EAT THE BLOODY PINE NUTS!” I say, as I wrestle Cromwell to the floor and try to force him to eat the fork of pasta. “EAT THEM!” He slaps my hand away with his gauntlet and kicks me backwards, sending me crashing through a stool. I get back to my feet and make sure I haven’t dropped my Vapiano card. As much pain as I’m in, it would be nothing compared to the embarrassment of having to go back to the front desk to explain that I’d lost my card as I was fighting with the reincarnated spirit of a man who shut all theatres except presumably the one that’s been showing Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ for what must be five hundred years. I smash the stool on the floor, breaking off a leg, whilst Cromwell withdraws his sword. We prepare to duel when we’re interrupted by the sound of sirens outside. Concerned that the review is about to come to an abrupt end before it is done, I grab a nearby glass of white wine and take a sip. It is light and crisp, fresh apples with a hint of green pep-
We are both tasered by police and bundled into the back of a van. Whilst this does put somewhat of a dampener on the evening, I don’t feel it’s fair to score down Vapiano for this, as it’s my understanding that not every trip there ends in this fashion.
“You are well within your rights to behead us.” Says Cromwell, as we are seated in the back of the van. “We would think no less of you.”
“Will you please shut up?” I say.
“I only ask one last thing.” Says Cromwell. “Before I die, I ask that you permit me one final disc of wheat.”
“You said you hated it!”
“I would eat it again.”
“I hope this is the last we ever see of each other.”
9/10. Terrific pasta.