Vapiano is a concept restaurant that started in Hamburg in 2002 and I had eaten previously at their first location “Hohen Bleichen”. I didn’t realize that hey had become an international franchise organization with restaurants in 29 countries since and was surprised to see one on the central train station square in Helsinki during my Baltic Explorer trip! I was craving for Italian food (as I often do) and was happy to try it out!
The Vapiano is located right across from the Ateneum, with indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the square. It was conveniently close to the Radisson Blu Plaza I was staying at and the weather was perfect for an outdoor dinner.
Vapiano is a self-service restaurant offering pasta, pizza, antipasti and salads freshly made on sight in front of your eyes. You get an electronic order card at the entrance and proceed to a number of cooking stations offering pasta, salads, etc. You can order from a list of dishes on the menu and customize to your liking. The Chef is right in front of you and is making your meal from fresh ingredients, checking with you on what you’d like in it or not to make sure it’s exactly the way you want. I like the idea of being able to get my pasta exactly the way I want them and have them made fresh and from scratch!
On previous occasions in Germany, there were no lines and I had my food and drinks within minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky in Helsinki. There were lines in front of each station and it took the staff forever to process each one of them. I had my mind set on an appetizer, wine and some pasta, forcing me to stand in line twice: It took me about 45 minutes to get my meal which was rather ridiculous!
One I made it to the front of the line, the staff was very friendly and competent, making the meal to order: I picked pasta with a light, creamy sauce and chicken, some peppers and garlic for a little spice, and bruschetta to start. While the bruschetta was cold and rather hard by the time I got my pasta, the pasta was delicious! The pasta was al dente as it should, the chicken was well done and juicy and the sauce was light and just a little spicy!
The seating outside was great: With the backdrop of the Ateneum and people walking by on their way to the train station, shopping or offices, there was plenty of people watching for a solo diner!
I still love the concept of Vapiano – the food is very good and great value at the price they charge, the setting is relaxed and the service is generally friendly! While I don’t mind the self-service aspect, it clearly showed its limits in Helsinki. Next time I go – and I will – I will check the lines and speed before getting started – you better have a few Michelin stars if you make me wait 45 minutes for my food! Try it out some time, it’s a nice way to get very good Italian food at a reasonable price and in a relaxed setting!