The glorious new Corn Exchange is a real hotbed of new restaurant talent. We stopped off at Vapiano to have a peek inside, shelter from some unwelcome drizzle, and maybe taste a little sample of the menu too.
Vapiano is spread over two floors; with a balcony at the top, and a sort of patio area at the bottom, reaching out into the Corn Exchange’s central courtyard. For diners that want a more secluded spot, the belly of the restaurant on the ground floor offers cosy nooks and crannies away from any hubbub.
But what piqued our interest were the kitchen areas above. Since you order your dishes straight from here, this is the bustling nerve-centre of the place. So obviously we decided to sit as near as possible, to have a right good nosey at our food getting prepared.
Walking upstairs, we were greeted with a wall of greenery, and plenty of other vegetation as well. Do they farm their own basil amongst the diners? And are those olive trees growing through the tables? For a moment I felt myself transported to a rural Italian garden, but then I remembered what I was really here for: the grub.
We started off our evening with the piatto antipasti — a plate which included a generous selection of my cold meat favourites; chorizo, salami and prosciutto, which I ate with a side of warm crusty bread.
To balance out all that tasty swine, we followed up with the insalate caprese, a simple salad tossed together from spinach, rocket, tomato and creamy buffalo mozzarella.
So far, so delicious. But what about the warm dishes?
A good portion of the kitchen is devoted to pasta, where the chefs rustle the stuff up along with your sauce, made to order of course. I wanted to know how they made all the pasta, and lurking round the side of the restaurant we found this beast, a pasta making behemoth that would look a little imposing in most home kitchens:
The gamberetti con pappardelle — which, if my Italian serves me correctly, is ‘prawns with wiggly pasta’ was a real treat. I was lucky to get anywhere near it though, as my dining partner for the evening was jealously hoarding the dish away from my curious tongue.
But I did finally get a lick, and so I’ll give the sauce a special mention; a simple, rich tomato and spring onion blend, worked in around the curls of pappardelle, with the added chilli and garlic we ordered giving it that cheeky extra slice of fire.
I’m told there is another Vapiano in the south somewhere, where pasta dishes are the diner’s most popular choices. Here in Manchester though, pizza is king, and that’s how the next course went.
To keep things nice and spicy, we asked for the Diablo, featuring generous wedges of salami, along with onions, peppers, and those all important, sweat-inducing jalapeños. Those toppings all nestled nicely on top of Vapiano’s pizza dough, which, like the pasta, was crafted from scratch.
Regrettably I was unable to persuade any of the chefs to twirl the dough around above their head, but I got a few snaps of the pizza making process. I found out that the big pizza spade thing is called a ‘pizza peel’ in case you want to impress your friends, or buy one from Ikea.
At this point, a welcome thirst set in, and we turned to the drinks menu. The Vapiano iced tea, a delicate combination of white tea and elderflower mint, came highly recommended by my dinner guest. Conversely, I can thoroughly recommend drinking Italian lager, in all situations.
Then, a couple of prosecco-themed cocktails to sip on; a punchy aperol spritz, followed by a strawberry bellini, whipped up from the rather well stocked bar.
Finally, it was time for dessert. The crema di fragola, adorned with mint leaves, was a light, airy mascarpone cream brimming with strawberries, ensconced in a little highball glass. We shared it. A larger size was available, but we were full.
And with that (and a quick espresso macchiato) were were done. With no pressure on us to leave, we ended up sticking around quite late, chatting and lazily ordering those last few drinks. A truly wonderful way to while away a rainy evening.