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New restaurant concepts are EVERYWHERE these days. It doesn’t seem to be enough to just sit down on an actual chair, at an actual table, and eat fish and chips off an actual plate.

No, now it’s cocktails served in suspiciously medical-looking containers, as glass bulbs full of mushy pea mist swing from the ceiling, while tiny shopping trolleys full of chips careen across ceramic counters, and a deconstructed cod gurns desperately from an ethically sourced, hand-varnished piece of repurposed driftwood.

Diners haplessly try to spear gyoza in pitch black darkness, confusedly bash drinks out of wooden cups in frozen ice cafes, or accidentally fling samphire into murky waters while floating on the Thames in a hot tub boat slash organic vegan takeaway.

Basically, restaurant concepts in London are out of control. They’re numerous, they’re over the top and most of them are totally naff.

Formidably successful Italian restaurant chain Vapiano is an exception to this. Mainly because they’ve come up with an original and exciting concept, but managed to keep it simple and unpretentious.

Despite its menu of pizzas, pastas and crisp wines, Vapiano started in Germany in 2002. Which is obvious as soon as you see how slick and efficient the whole operation actually is.

Upon entry, diners are handed a card with a £50 limit – you can of course spend more if you like, but with Vapiano’s unexpectedly reasonable prices, that’s unlikely. Then, in a school canteen-style set up, you peruse a variety of counters, select what you what, pay for it, and it’s whipped up right in front of you.

There are few things as aesthetically pleasing (or as hunger inducing) as seeing an entire antipasti platter sliced and dolloped into existence by a dextrous Italian chef, before your very eyes.

Even more impressively, even dishes like pasta are made fresh to order. Possibly Vapiano’s one downfall is that Italian food, in all its gooey deliciousness, is not necessarily known for being quick to make. Far from being a ready-in-seconds sushi sprint, some of the dishes can take up to twenty minutes to put together, and if you’ve got a miniscule millenial attention span like me, it can be a bit frustrating.

But it’s worth it for some of the best non-Italian Italian food around. Made in a German chain restaurant, in the heart of London, it tastes how classic, authentic Italian food should taste – creamy, indulgent, salty, delicious. The sort of food that puts you to sleep as soon you’ve finished it.

Vapiano is somehow simultaneously cool and comforting, competent but calm. And god knows, with London’s restaurant scene looking increasingly like a Damien Hirst exhibit, a bit of cool, competent, comforting calm is exactly what we need.

Vapiano has branches in Southwark, Soho and Great Portland Street. More info here.

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