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Address: 42 Silver Street / Leicester LE1 5ET

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      25.09.2011 17:39
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      Get there before the Tesco vouchers stop

      I adore eating out but since the UK doesn't quite match Colombia in terms of restaurant affordability, I have to be smart about it. That means it's not so much me making the decision of where to go...it's something that is instead dictated my offers and coupons and vouchers. Ask Italian are on Tesco Deals for a limited time, but there's not one in Manchester so when I was in Leicester recently, I decided that's where we should eat as unlike Bella Italia or Pizza Express or Cafe Rouge or wherever, I wouldn't easily be able to try it from my own home.

      We went on a Wednesday evening and arrived some time after 6.30pm. I thought as we approached that I might have misjudged things, and maybe it wouldn't already have a few post-work diners in, but it turned out it was simply a double fronted restaurant and at that early hour there was no one seated to the left of the entrance, but the area to the right had a few occupants. I was glad because though it was early and midweek, I didn't really want the two of us to be the only ones in there. The restaurant is modern and VERY well-lit - I was really struck by the brightness of it, and it didn't seem the place for a romantic, intimate date. Luckily I was with Big Sis, so the illumination was helpful for showing her photos on my camera of how the tenants trashed my house (a story for another day).

      We were shown to a table for two which is what we asked for, though a few nights later when I was eating at another place up in Manchester with a friend, we were allowed to choose a spot so could occupy a table for 4 and spread out a little. But it was fine, and not too crowded. I had my back to a fire door but we had room to manoeuvre and for me to dump my bag without it snagging on someone else's chair or tripping up the staff.

      We were given the main menu, though I'd already looked online. It is standard modern Italian fare with some yummy sounding twists, like a rosemary and sea salt bread topped with goat's cheese or an olive tapendade, or a linguine with pesto, potatoes and green beens. The menu is split up into pasta, pizza and mains which always makes me smile and feel quite restrained that I am 'only' ordering a pizza and not a proper main course. They mark vegetarian options clearly and I was reassured that they stated that the Grana Padano and Buffalo Mozzarella cheeses were not vegetarian (the former never is, the latter can be) but that these could be left off to make a dish suitable. So many places lazily assume all cheese is vegetarian though few are as bad as one in Lancashire which was recently busted for putting bacon in a so-called veggie option. Ask also mark their puddings (some people don't and it leaves you guessing) - what's more, every single one is veggie friendly, from the cheesecake to the chocolate nemesis.

      It was time to order drinks. The waitress was lovely but of indeterminable accent origins - perhaps Antipodean with a hint of Polish. The sort that makes it sound like she's asking if you want 'arse' with your diet coke. I did. And lemon too. The soft drinks come in glass bottles which everyone knows makes them taste better, and I don't object to paying over £2 for a coke when it's perfectly mixed (unlike some fountain versions where the syrup / water ratio is off). Even the Sprite came in glass which was unusual for the UK.

      We skipped the starters and went straight for the pizzas, ordering two different vegetarian ones. These took a respectable amount of time to arrive and my jaw dropped when I saw the size of them. Big Sis's Caprina was stretched and almost rectangular. It came with a liberal sprinkling of rocket on top, goat's cheese and mini tomatoes, with a delicious olive tapenade. It was served with a chilli oil, and came with a pizza cutter. My Pizza Vedure was the more traditional round, and bursting with artichoke, mushrooms, red peppers, Fontal cheese, black olives and rocket, quite a hilarious forest in fact. The pizzas were as described but different too, if that makes sense. The goat's cheese was tiny cubes, a bit like Feta, which made it less overwhelming than it can sometimes be when it's a big, gooey round. In comparison my artichoke was in quite large pieces which needed cutting up - luckily though I lacked my own pizza cutter, I had a knife and fork which sufficed. My olives appeared to be Kalamata not black, but since I love those I was hardly going to send it back. I've never knowingly had Fontal cheese, and I'm not sure it tasted much different to normal pizza cheese, but it was nice and there wasn't too much. I definitely felt like I was getting some of my 5 a day here, and that it wasn't loaded with unhealthy extras. Aside from the shape, I don't think there was much difference between the pizza bases, both were crispy and light without being greasy.

      Both pizzas tasted delicious with fresh, flavourful ingredients. I don't always love rocket, but this was perfect, peppery and soft, and it went well with the other toppings. As is often the case with pizzas with so many ingredients, mine was a bit hard to eat elegantly, so I carved it up and then used my fingers which, thanks to the fabulous illumination, was plain for everyone to see. Oh well. At least I was clearly enjoying it.

      The pizzas were very well presented with lots of colour and quite evenly topped. My only vaguely negative comment would be that they weren't boiling hot. They weren't undercooked or chilled, but we both felt we had to tuck in immediately lest they get too cold. Bid Sis's pizza was mainly topped out of the oven with tomatoes, cheese and rocket added then, while mine only had the rocket come on later but wasn't noticeably hotter. The restaurant wasn't full and the waitress wasn't rushed off her feet so I don't think they'd been sitting waiting to be brought to the table - I think it's just a result of the way they top them.

      Service was good - we were offered black pepper initially and checked up on once but otherwise left in peace. There were always staff around so it wouldn't have been hard to attract someone's attention if something was amiss.

      We pretty much cleared out plates though I might have left a couple of mouthfuls. We certainly didn't want puddings - in fact we walked the 45 minutes back and still could only squeeze in a few Hershey's Kisses - and I think if we'd gone for starters first we would have left much more of the mains, sorry, pizzas.

      I think the prices reflected the size of the pizzas and, perhaps, the fact that they do accept vouchers and have offers on - I've a sneaking suspicion various places have increased their prices to sort of compensate for this. The Caprina was £10.65, the Vedure £8.65 while the minimum spend for one would be £6.75 for a plain, basic pizza. Puddings are almost all over £5 with starters hovering just above or below that point too. You could easily spend £25 per head without evening breaking into the wine list, but you could eat for a lot less too.

      Our bill was something around the £23 mark with soft drinks. With £15 vouchers that just meant we needed a tenner to leave. I know there are places where two people could eat for a tenner anyway, but the quality and experience here was much nicer. Despite it being a chain, it's a proper restaurant with quality food and nice surroundings and can't be compared to the likes of Pizza Hut or Frankie and Benny's. Similar to Pizza Express (which also seems to have hiked its prices) I think we got a good deal but I'm not sure I'd want to pay £25 for two on a regular basis if I was using proper money not vouchers - though that goes for most places. They don't do a special 2 or 3 course semi-set menu at the moment which I think is fair enough (and you couldn't use vouchers with them anyway) but although the food was yummy, I would recommend sourcing some vouchers before you go as nothing tastes better than value for money.



      You can see the menu and prices here:

      http://www.askitalian.co.uk/#!/menus/main-menu

      This is a review specifically of our meal at the Leicester branch but I imagine it's reflective of the chain as a whole.

      42 Silver Street
      Leicester
      LE1 5ET
      Tel: 0116 251 3372

      Opening Times

      Mon - Thu: 12:00 to 23:00
      Fri - Sat: 12:00 to 23:30
      Sun: 12:00 to 22:00

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