21 for 21
…that’s what the invitation said. That number took me back to the day I turned twenty-one. When the palate was young and my taste buds were alive to every nuance of flavour and texture. Back then, when aromas teased one’s nostrils, they imprinted olfactory memories onto my grey cells to be drawn upon in later life.
It was a time when intense was the shade of every colour in the rainbow, even those less vivid like green and yellow hidden between blue and orange. When a sunset was grist to my writer’s mill and could, on one day move me to tears and on another to revel in the joy of being.
The food. The atmosphere. The experience of once again trying something for the first time that never ceases to awaken that surge of youthful adrenaline.
The magic began as soon as I walked into the restaurant at City Centre. I was greeted with a soft drink and a basket of little paper tickets from which I had to pick a dish. Lucky dip! I picked Reef & Beef and that was my signature dish for the meal. I was invited to taste all the other dishes as well.
But first, we took a tour and a ‘cut-your-own-pasta’ lesson. All the pasta used at Vapiano is fresh, homemade and hand cut. And if you should get some that’s got a slightly jagged not so smooth edge you can blame me and some of the other writers invited to the event, who were learning how to hand cut fettuccini. That’s something I’ve never tried before!
Next a tour of the compact, spotless, stainless steel kitchen. It incorporates chiller drawers for freshly prepped ingredients and toppings for pizza. Another shelf keeps a few rolls of just-kneaded dough handy. At which point the young chef pulled out a ball of dough, rolled it out and in the way of all classical pizza throwers tossed it up in the air, letting centripetal forces form the perfect circle for the base of the thin crust pizza. All Vapiano’s pizzas are typical Tuscan-Italian thin crust pizzas – the toppings? As varied as pizzas are today. Try the Hawaiian with pineapple – delicious!
Then I returned to my seat on a bench at a high table. And I discovered how a dish called Reef & Beef could awaken forgotten memories. The flavours courted each other reminding me of the flirtation of waves on a seashore, the tang in the air, and the beach reluctant to give up its sand to the encroaching froth. Somewhat like the flavours of shrimp and beef. The soft succulent pink salt taste of the shrimp – plunging one’s mind to mysterious depths, countered by the earthy firmness of the beef all complemented with wafer thin shavings of parmesan and a medley of vegetables to round out a complete dish.
Savouring 21 dishes is a bit confusing so, okay honestly I didn’t try all twenty-one. But, among the more memorable was a rotini pomodoro – the tomato sauce is made in house – and spaghettini in a creamy sauce. But, what was to-die-for were the berry salads! Utterly, absolutely take you on a profusion of luscious flavours all dancing incredibly well on the palate. Onions and spinach providing top notes to balance the sweet and tart strawberry flavours, with pine nuts for crunch and that final ‘mmmm’ that one’s reduced to when something’s so delicious you’re rendered speechless with pleasure. And then there was the one that got away… raspberry, blackberry, chicory and roquette; I wish I’d taken you home in my pocket!
If that wasn’t enough, there was a cheesecake in a glass that resulted in a final inarticulate expression of decadence.Thank you Obai & Hill and Vapiano, which really comes from an Italian proverb: “Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano”, which means, “If you have an easy-going and relaxed approach to life, you’ll live more healthily and longer”.
It must be true, for I felt I was twenty-one again!