If you’re ever looking for a place to eat, relax and try something new in Manchester then I have just the place for you.
After undergoing quite the refurbishment, the imposing and original Edwardian beauty known as The Corn Exchange is located on Exchange Square, slap bang in the city centre. With neighbouring Selfridges, The Printworks and Arndale Centre you’d be hard to miss it.
Inside this unique building, a whole host of worldly restaurants can be found. Whether you fancy Brazilian, Mexican, Pan Asian, Vietnamese, Indian or Italian- you’re bound to find something to tickle your tastebuds.
A little while ago, we were invited to dine at Vapiano – an easy going and laid back Italian restaurant. But there’s something quite different about Vapiano – it’s a self-service style diner. Now, I know this sounds like something which can instantly turn prospective diners off. However I assure you, it’s not your usual ‘self-service’.
Upon entering Vapiano, we were given a card which acts a bit like a ticket to your meal. It’s pre-loaded with £50 and you simply present the card when ordering your food and drink. Then after your meal, you settle the bill at the reception before leaving. It’s an interesting concept and would work well for groups of friends.
Once upstairs and having settled on a scandi-style table decorated with plants and ‘mushroom’ lights, we trailed the menu with our bellies grumbling for some Italian goodness. We ordered a round of soft-drinks and checked out each of the food stations. Right in front of our eyes, we could see a whole array of dishes being created and served – from freshly prepared pasta to doughy pizzas.
But before we delved into the main course, we enjoyed an antipasti which came in the form of bruschetta. The bruschetta was made up with fresh and crunchy ciabatta bread, which was topped with a delicate mix of marinated, juicy tomatoes with a kick of garlic and then a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. It was a simple, yet delicious start to our meal.
Once we finished our bruschetta, we enjoyed some more drinks and decided to have a little break before our pasta and pizza. One thing which I really liked about the service at Vapiano was how attentive the staff were. We never felt rushed to hurry-along with our meal and it was a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere.
I enjoyed looking around the restaurant as it was decorated with in a scandinavian-theme with pale and wooden tables and benches, all topped with plants. Fresh produce including peppers, tomatoes and lemons were displayed – almost as if it were like a market. There were also a couple of beautiful trees standing tall on tables which is something I found totally ‘Instagrammable’! Another feature I loved was seeing lots of food and Manchester quotes written on the restaurant’s walls. It gave Vapiano a sense of place and it was a really welcoming feature – just like Manchester itself, I suppose!
Soon enough we were back on our feet, where we found ourselves waiting to place our orders. I couldn’t resist the fresh pasta and decided to order the tagliatelle gamberetti pasta (£10.25) with king prawns, tomatoes, lemon, garlic, spring onions all whipped up in a tomato sauce. After placing my order directly with the chef, I watched him bring my dish to life. If you’re anything like me and love pasta AND cooking then this was a part I really enjoyed. It was so interesting to see the chef cook up a storm – or rather MY storm – right in front of my eyes. Not only was I watching him work his magic, I learnt some new cooking skills too!
While I was waiting for my pasta, Bogdan opted for the barbeque chicken pizza (£9.95). Again, he was able to see the chef spin his pizza into the air, before topping it with succulent chicken, red onions, smoked cheese and a slathering of barbecue sauce. Even from the pasta station, I could see it looked like a pretty fun experience!
Once my pasta was prepared, I sat back at the table and I guess this is where things can go a bit wrong. Understandably, pizza does take a while to cook and it could leave you feeling a little disgruntled if everyone else begins tucking into their meals. I didn’t mind waiting to start my dinner however by the time the pizza was ready, my pasta had gone slightly cold. I think in the future, I would either order the same type of dish (i.e. pasta or pizza) or be prepared to order my dish slightly earlier/later to try and lessen the waiting time. As I said, this wasn’t a huge problem for me but a lesson to be learnt.
I enjoyed my pasta and found the king prawns to be big and juicy. The simple ingredients worked together very well and it was a very light and refreshing dish. One thing to mention about the pasta is how you can actually choose which type you’d like to add to your dish. I enjoyed the tagliatelle but found it went slightly mushy after waiting a while. I think next time I would order the fuseli pasta as it is one of my all time favourites! Bogdan thought the pizza was really good and had a sweet, yet smokey taste. Although I resisted having a slice, it did look pretty authentic and delicious! Next time I will definitely order a pizza – my mouth is already drooling at the thought!
Despite having bruschetta, pizza and pasta we still had room for dessert. I for one truly believe we have two stomachs and there’s always room in mine for a bit of pudding! We were a bit stumped about which dessert to order as they all looked and sounded amazing. In the end, Bogdan opted for the ‘Tirimisu della casa’ (£2.50 / £4.75) which was the right balance of bitter and sweet with the ever so creamy mascarpone and cocoa. I chose the ‘cioccolata bianca’ (£4.75) which was a blend of white chocolate and cream on a biscuit base, topped with a salted caramel sauce and honeycomb. It was a mix of creamy, crunchy and sweet deliciousness and I would order another three if I could!
Overall, Vapiano offered a great range of tasty and fresh Italian food in a pleasant environment. The staff were amongst the friendliest I have ever encountered in a restaurant and I felt instantly at home – I guess it’s the Italian hospitality! Whilst my pasta was delicious and I could really taste the fresh flavour, I don’t think I would order the same dish again. Next time I would totally opt, head over heels, for a pizza. I thought the experience was rather theatrical, in terms of being able to chat and watch in awe as the chefs worked up a feast in the kitchen. And although there’s a chance of feeling a bit let-down in terms of the timing of food, the desserts left a super sweet taste in our mouths.
If you’re after a fun lunch or dinner in Manchester, head down to The Corn Exchange and enjoy an Italian feast in Vapiano – with a twist!
Thank you to Vapiano for inviting us for dinner! As ever, all opinions are my own.