Ahh Vapiano. I know you are a chain, but in this kimchi dominated country, you are like a breath of fresh Tuscany air. Inspired by LaCryMamosa’s review of Vapiano’s in Amsterdam, the wife and I decided to have a nice, quiet Sunday dinner at one of our favorite places in Seoul.
How To Get There: There are four Vapiano restaurants in Seoul. My suggestion is to check out their website and find the location nearest to you. We decided to head to the Cheongnyangni location which is near Cheongnyagni station beside the Lotte Department store. The easiest way to get there is by subway. First, take the subway to Cheongnyangni Station (Line 1) and depart from Exit 4. This will lead you outside and you will see the Lotte Department store and Cheongnyangni Station. Head up the escalators to Cheongyangni station and make a left. You will see more escalators and you need to head up those. Now, you should see a bunch of chains such as Toys R Us, California Pizza Kitchen as you glide up the escalators. You need to go to floor seven. The restaurant in beside the CGV theatre.
Service and Atmosphere: Let’s begin with the service. The service at Vapiano is minimal. Upon entry you receive a little debit card and a couple of menus. The hostess is the person that you will have the most conversation with. She’ll explain that once you are ready to order, you’ll need to bring your menu to the chef’s area and order. Then they will take your card, charge it and hand it back to you. They will also hand you a buzzer. Once that bad boy starts buzzing, head up the chef’s area and pick up your food. Now, this can be a little tedious. My biggest qualm with Vapiano is that they serve these microscopic glasses of water, and of course, they are all self service. So, by the end of your meal, you end up refilling your glass at least five or six times. This endless, back and forth from table to water station can be annoying if you’re in the midst of a good conversation or you’ve ordered a spicy meal.
The atmosphere is great. Vapiano has a large, open-spaced restaurant with a little bit of vegetation thrown in there to give you the sense you might be in Naples. They do grow some of their own herbs, and their pasta is made fresh. You can watch the chef in action and see your meal come to life. There is plenty of space, tables are spread out and the chairs and stools are comfortable. Vapiano is versatile in that all types of customers could visit and feel comfortable. I would feel comfortable taking my family, the wife or a group of friends to this dining establishment.
Food and Drink: After a long night of drinking last night during the Sam Hammington Food and Pub Crawl, today was a dry day. However, Vapiano has an extensive wine and beer list. They have a separate area dedicated to drinks, including soda, fresh juice, bottled water and of course beer and wine.
The food is of exceptional quality, and for the price, makes Vapiano an attractive place for people on all budgets. A small side note. One aspect of Vapiano that we really appreciate is that you can order food at your own pace. So many times in Korean restaurants, they bring your food out all at once, including appetizers, main courses and bread. Since you order when you feel like it, the diner has the option to pace out of the courses of the meal.
The Appetizer: Large Insalata Mista (Large Mixed Salad) – 10000KRW
I’m not an expert in Italian, but I’m pretty sure that means large mixed salad. In any case, that is what we received. The salad was a combination of cheese, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, mixed lettuce, carrots, chopped onions and zucchini, mixed with a nice balsamic dressing. There was a little too much dressing for my liking. Next time, I would probably just order it on the side. However, the rest of the salad was delightful. There was a nice balance of vegetables, not an overabundance of lettuce with a couple of veggies tossed in. A nice soft piece of bread on the side was useful in mopping up the extra dressing.
Pasta Pomodoro and Spinach – 10000KRW
The Pasta Pomodoro and Spinach was a simple, but tasty dish. The sauce was flavorful, with a nice hint of garlic and other spices, and the pasta was made fresh. The spinach was also fresh, and didn’t dominate the bowl. Unlike some chains, their food doesn’t taste manufactured and generic. This is the type of Italian I miss about home. At home, when you dine at a mom and pop Italian place, there is a sense of creativity and authenticity that you normally don’t find in the chains. Vapiano has a hint of that. The pasta selection was great. One aspect of Vapiano that is unique is that you get to chose your own pasta. They have seven types of pasta which are made fresh in-house.
Pizza Bruschetta – 15000KRW
The Bruschetta Pizza was a nice, light and flavorful pizza. The sauce was excellent. It had a little bit of garlic flavoring mixed with basil and possibly oregano. It was not overwhelming with spice, which is sometimes an unfortunately adaptation flaw when bringing western food to Korea. The ricola was fresh and the Italian cheese was tart. There was little grease and it was baked perfectly. Although I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes, I found that the herbed tomatoes really complimented the flavor of the cheese and sauce. A nice mix of flavors, and definitely a pleasant surprise.
Tiramisu Della Casa – 5,500 KRW
Always save room for dessert. We ordered the Tiramisu, and for 5,500KRW, it had some good flavor. It was not a big portion, it was presented in a small glass, but the flavor was delightful. The flavor of the expresso was not dominant, and the cheese was soft and flavorful. The chocolate cookie crumblings on top added some sweetness to the dessert. It was finished between the two of us, in a couple of bites. A nice Italian dessert to finish off the evening.
Value: The overall bill came to 40,500KRW. This included two main courses, an appetizer and a dessert. No wine or beer on this stop. A great value for fairly respectable Italian food in Seoul. Vapiano is one of our most consistently visited restaurants and is a great value for the quality of food that they serve.
Who Should Visit Vapiano: A great dining experience for couples, friends and families. A casual atmosphere, but still has an appeal of Italian fine dining.
Who Should Avoid Vapiano: Got bad knees and are thirsty? You might want to sit this one out because you are going to be moving a lot.