160/162 Victoria Street
Mon - Thu: 11:30 to 23:00
Fri - Sat: 11:30 to 12:00
Sun: 11:30 to 22:00
- - -
As the austere period bites into chains of eateries profit margins, well, when I say bites, feast is a better synonym in today's climate; a taste of reality stimulates my tear-duct a watery response. Regrettably, Ask Italian Victoria is closing on September 28th 2012. The Italian Victoria is in her final weeks; obviously due to customers not entering her to justify an existence or of value. Nevertheless, it is refreshing she isn't doing a culinary closing down sale, or opening after 12 pm on a Saturday to get as much trade in as possible, like a last gasp effort to show her competitive spirit and mustard in times of hardship - unlike the retail trade, whereby the consumer vulture feasts on the carcass of the dead stock and staff are left mentally and physically exhausted only to be rewarded via the career prospects of a dole queue. I have admiration for the culinary dignity of their demise. They have grace in recognising a death-knell and as professionals, they choreograph their exit with a pleasant gallantry wave to stomach heavy regulars; and Ask Italian Victoria is no different. However, I do feel a deeper sense of moroseness when a restaurant closes, especially when you've parked your derriere on a sturdy block chair which could eventually be chopped up to make 'Jenga blocks'. Oh well, life is only a game after-all.
Losing the Ask Italian outlet in Victoria London barely will make a ripple considering Ask Italian has over 130 restaurants across Britain - But it does 'ask' questions if the branded food-chain has had it's day? As far as I'm concerned most people enjoy Italian food, the culinary delights isn't determined by seasonal trends that are clear-cut, 'winter' or 'summer' food. And Ask tends to customise their menus according to the temperature outside similarly to the world of fashion - with autumn on the cusp - a harvest menu is vibrantly colourful which is what you expect from the Italians. Rather tempting for a meat-ball fiend, who has 'Subway'd' his way through a minefield of them. Instead I had a taste for something lighter, not necessarily armed with a farinaceous insulation, due to having already got one from two winters' ago; I opted for the sunny Risotto for lunch.
Unlike the panel caves of 'Zizi's' - Ask Italian in Victoria is spacious, bright, clean, and airy. Too the extent an olive tree wouldn't look out of its natural habitat. The glazed front decorated by an orange type of spaghetti text compliments the sweet-shop corporate identity of the signage. The swirl finishes continues on inside, traits of a semi-Rococo inspiration interior locked into the post-modern dining experience. Large panelled mirrored walls on white made the confident more confident and the coy cower into their dining positions. If there was a statement of any sort it was 'Horta's' stairwell; an architecture historian dream or despair - leading up into a nearly empty room of carefully arranged chairs and tables, accessorised with tubular oil decanters.
I'm a funghi
On my own at my throne, I was used as a prop to entice those who luncheon - like an animated manikin at a table not that the hungry paid any interest, immune to the pizza scent wafting into Victoria Street. The waiter plonked down the tap water dressed with a neat lemon slice and proceeded to skittle off to preen his attire for impending customers. Several minutes later he emerged armed up to his elbow with a risotto and side order of crusty garlic bread medallions - Identical breaded twins in fact, cut to a precision I could only marvel. The thyme didn't need any introductions its aromatic flavour snaked up from the risotto as if it had seen too many 1980's 'Hey Bisto!' adverts - then came the wild mushrooms and sweet butternut squash, once the fontal cheese and crème fraiche got disturbed, the combination was a treat, autumn food in late summer. By the sound of my cutlery and plate clattering, there was no real need to ask whether I was enjoying my lunch - it was blatantly obvious I was - although, it did give the waiter something to do. And being in an establishment called 'Ask' - I guess it comes naturally to ask. The staff worked on auto-pilot, they asked the right question, and they plonked you in the right seat, and managed to give you the right food. Not a lot to ask - apart from a smile from time to thyme.
The garlic bread was lightly oiled and sufficiently garlic tasting, and the risotto tasted better than it appeared. Not that you can blame the 'Ask' chef for its appearance, I wasn't expecting a gravity defying cube of rice, cemented together by fontal cheese, crème fraiche, with wild mushrooms plastered on the exterior, and garnishes of thyme sitting on the top, decorated as a maze. I abhor tweezers when it comes to food décor; it's not as if you eat it in its presentational state and it plops out of your derriere as a risotto cube is it? Art should always have a longevity period of at least several days, not several minutes. Remarkably enough I was adequately full after it, I thanked my lucky stars again that I didn't opt for the meatier option - partly because my gastric juices are not use to the culinary decadence of anything too grandiose or rich in quantity before the hours of seven pm. Having learnt by past experiences of heavier luncheons the terms 'useless' and 'lethargic' is a fair assessment of my afternoon state. A crisp twenty pound note covered my fees and that included a small tip. Location wise, the Italian is very well situated for businesses and commuters for the trains and tube. A great resting place to replenish the liquids and re-fuel - the menu is fine and the ambiance seemed perfect for an early afternoon. In all honesty I enjoyed the conservatory styled airiness the most and I assume that alone eats up the profits. Sixteen days of trading and counting - one good thing, food is a business that'll never die - We all got to eat.
Last week, I was on a recent shopping trip in Shrewsbury with four other friends. We wanted someone nice to have a lunch and so came up with the idea of going to the Ask Italian Restaurant. I had never been there before, although had always thought that it looked nice inside from what I saw when passing.
The Ask restaurant in Shrewsbury is located at 23 High Street. When on the main high street, turn left and it is a 30 second walk from there and so very easy to find and get to.
We went there are around 11:30am and they told us that they were not open until 12 and to come back then; which we did. The restaurant at 12 o clock was not very busy; it did get a little busier as the time went on, as a few tables came in, but it was not crowded or exceptionally busy, which I thought was quite strange, as it is usually jam packed full when I pass.
~ * Table For Five Please * ~
On arrival, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff who showed us to our table. When we arrived, as my friends and I had split up to go to different shops, my friend and I were the first two arrive and yet it wasn't a problem for us to wait at the table of 5 for the rest of the group to arrive - we hadn't booked either. So this was good, as in some restaurants, if you haven't booked you have to wait for all members of the party to arrive before they will give you a table. So this was good.
~ * Menus * ~
There was a drinks menu available; although we didn't look at this as we all decided we would have coca cola and my one friend had a strawberry milkshake. The drinks order was taken at the table. When the drinks were delivered to our table, the waitress then took our food order.
There were a couple of menus to choose from; an a la carte menu and a set menu. We all made our minds up that as we were starving we would go straight for the mains. Being a vegetarian, I noticed that there wasn't a huge selection available for vegetarians. I love vegetable lasagne and was hoping that they have it on their menu but they only had the 'meaty' version. Vegetarian dishes were clearly labelled with a 'v' symbol, which made it easy identifying which dishes I could have. Whilst I did find something I really enjoyed, I did feel that my options were slightly limited, especially when you consider the fact that there are hundreds of vegetarian pasta recipes.
In the end I chose a 'linguine' dish: which had new charlotte potatoes, French beans, pesto and cream in it. It was lovely; really nice and there were plenty of potatoes and French beans; they were cooked al dente too which made them seem really crunchy and fresh. I have to admit, I did find it difficult to eat as it is like spaghetti.
My friends ordered; chicken ceaser salads, pizzas and spaghetti bolognaise and they all thoroughly enjoyed their meals.
We all agreed that the portions were large and so we definitely got good value for money. We were so full that we didn't have any room for any pudding which was a shame.
Our food arrived within around 15 minutes which I thought was excellent, especially as there were 5 of us. Our food arrived all at the same time which I thought was great. The waitress then offered us pepper and cheese - I had cheese which she put on for us all.
~ * Service * ~
The service was good; very efficient and friendly whilst at the table. We wanted to pay for our meals separately and I got the impression that the staff were a little annoyed at this - yet they sorted it out very quickly.
~ * Extra Information, Tips and Points * ~
The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 11:45am - 11:30pm.
You can book online which looks convenient and easy to do. I have never actually booked a table here using their 'book online' tool on their website , but it looks exactly the same as the book online tools I have used for other restaurants (Prezzos etc)and so I imagine it would be exactly the same.
You can get many good deals, I.e. print out coupons online and so its always worth taking a discount voucher if it means saving a few pounds. I have seen ones online such as spend over £20 and get £5 off.
You can see the chefs cooking behind the counter which I think is cool. From what I could see there were enough chefs there and I think that is why our meals were quickly prepared and to an excellent standard.
My friend who ordered a pizza and a ceasar salad (and she's very skinny!!) was to full to finish the pizza and the waitress asked her if she would like to put it in a pizza box to take home which I thought was a nice added touch.
There is only one toilet of which is disabled. As the toilet is in the restaurant, in-between the bar and kitchen I would imagine that you would be in the way if there was a queue. If you needed the loo you would probably have to sit and watch the toilet waiting for it to be unoccupied before getting up to go. I found the toilet wasn't that clean either!! I thought that this was quite bad considering the restaurant had only just opened when we arrived.
People of all ages were dining in the restaurant, from our group of 18-32 year olds, a table with a couple of older children and younger children, people in their 30's and 40's and people in their 60's and 70's. So there is definitely something for everyone here.
I found it a bit confusing trying to determine how formal the restaurant was; it looks smart inside and the customers look smartly dressed. Yet the service is quite informal; staff are dressed in t-shirts etc. I would have thought that they would have a smarter uniform.
It would have been nice to have a little music playing in the background, just to create a nicer atmosphere. All we could hear were other people talking.
We didn't have a window table and were located in the centre of the restaurant, although we still had a good view of the market square which was interesting as we could 'people watch' whilst eating lunch.
I can see on their website that you can buy gift vouchers. I think that this is lovely and so may consider this for Christmas presents this year, as I enjoyed my experience so much.
All in all I would definitely recommend this restaurant. It is great that it is open all day as it means that you can pop in for a nice lunch whilst shopping. Next time, I would like to try going there for dinner to see what the restaurant is like at night.
Thanks for reading!
Xdonzx / xd-o-n-z-x
Location: Leamington Spa
I've been to Ask restaurants quite a few times now, but as all my experiences at the different locations of the restaurants have been pretty much the same I've decided to review my most recent visit to Ask which was around 4 weeks ago.
Me and my boyfriend decided to visit Leamington Spa for an overnight stay, the hotel which we stayed in unfortunately had their restaurant closed for the weekend due to a refurbishment so we visited the towns Ask restaurant on a Friday night at approximately 6.30pm. For those of you who don't know of Ask, it's a Italian restaurant.
Upon entering the restaurant I noticed that it was very clean, quite spacious and that there wasn't too many people situated in the restaurant, certainly enough diners to keep the restaurant ticking over nicely for that time of an evening but still enough room to sit where we wished, which personally I feel more at ease and not rushed.
We were greeted by a friendly waitress, English wasn't her first language as at times I found her quite difficult to understand but she was extremely smiley and very approachable. Once seated we were given a menu each and the waitress took our drinks order and then gave us some time to look at the menu. We opted for soft drinks and each had a coke which were priced at £2.20 each .
We didn't order a starter simply as neither of us wanted anything too heavy as after our visit to the restaurant we were going straight to the local bars. I wanted to order a Lasagne but unfortunately there wasn't any available, a little disappointing but there were plenty of other options on the menu to choose from.
We decided to order a Spaghetti Bolognese each, which on the menu is described as a classic spaghetti with tomato and minced beef Bolognese sauce, finished with a dash of red wine. This dish was priced at £8.75 each. We also ordered Garlic bread to share which is priced at £3.85 and Rustic chips with a Garlic mayonnaise dip to also share which is priced at £3.05.
We didn't have to wait too long for our food to arrive, approximately 20 minutes or so which I'm more than happy enough with as I like to know that my food is properly cooked. What I noticed first was the size of the Garlic bread, it was huge and came on a generous sized adult plate already cut for us, it was extremely tasty and I managed to eat a good portion of this. My spaghetti Bolognese was lovely, extremely filling though and I didn't end up finishing my dish. I only ate a few of the chips, I wasn't that keen to be honest and just didn't like the taste, the garlic mayonnaise was definitely more tastier so I used this for my garlic bread dip. Overall the size of the dishes were of a generous size. There were several condiments on the table so we could just help ourselves.
My boyfriend also enjoyed his meal, eating far more than me but he did comment that his spaghetti Bolognese didn't contain too much meat which was the downside for his dish.
All in all I enjoyed my dining experience at the Ask restaurant, our bill came to £28.80 which I feel is reasonable for a restaurant chain and of course we left a tip for the wonderful service we received.
My rating for the Ask Restaurant is 4/5 stars, I'll definitely be visiting again.
I have been to the Ask restaurant in Watford three times over the past year and I have never been all that impressed with it. Then again being of Italian abstraction any Italian restaurant would have to work hard to impress me so perhaps my standards are too high. The reason for my most recent visit was because I had met up with a friend for our monthly catch up and complain about our jobs session. As it was his turn to pay he chose to go here. The restaurant is on a side road off the main shopping street in the town centre. There is little parking in the immediate area but there are quite a few car parks close by.
The restaurant was surprisingly empty for the time of day being 6:45 but as it was on a Monday I suppose it was to be expected as it is a slow day for most restaurants. There is a small seated area where you can wait for the rest of your dinner party to arrive or if the restaurant is busy wait for an available table.
The kitchen area in the restaurant can be clearly seen from the dining area. Now I prefer this in a restaurant as the chefs are in full so you can see what is going on. This I have used in some places to pick up the odd cooking tip. Also you can see the food coming to the pass and the waitresses get it to your table more quickly
Appearance, cleanliness and the staff
The restaurant is a standard size and the tables are well spaced so that you are able to have private conversations during your meal. The floor was clean and the kitchen area was also tidy and clean plates were brought out at regular intervals to the pass area. The toilets in the restaurant were easy to get to and were virtually spotless. I could complain about the limescale on the taps but that is getting a bit too fussy.
The tables are double covered although the top one was a fairly thick paper table cloth. I know this is easier to deal with than constantly changing cloth ones but I'm still not a fan of them. There were also no mats to protect the tables from hot dishes but this appears to be becoming the norm these days.
I know it is getting petty saying this but paper napkins are fine in a pub or something like a little chef but from a place apparently trying to be a middle of the price scale restaurant I would have expected cloth ones.
Most of the staff were friendly and polite and the waitress who served us gave us enough time to decide on the menu and was efficient in getting the food, once cooked, from the kitchen area to our table. One other waitress, however, was less polite. We were asked if we wanted chili oil by the first waitress only for the other one to bring it bang it on the table and walk off.
Ordering and the food
My friend and I were taken to a table quite quickly and presented with the menu and the specials board. A few minutes later our drinks order was taken. It was only now we were told that the menu would be changing shortly and so several things were not available. This included the dish I was going to go for (leg of duck in a red wine sauce) so we asked for more time with the menu. The drinks we ordered did arrive quickly although I object to paying in the region of £2 for a small bottle of cola. Our food order was then taken and the starters arrived in good time and you were offered the usual fresh black pepper and depending on what you order fresh grated parmesan as well
My choice was the Bruschetta whilst my friend went for the stuffed mushrooms. The bruschetta was clearly made with fresh tomatoes and there was a good balance of the tomato, basil and garlic within the dish. However, for me the chef had been a little heavy handed with the olive oil as it did taste slightly greasy. Also the portion size was what I would have described as a child's portion still it tasted ok. My friend's initial complaint was the 'lashings of mozzarella' stipulated on the menu appeared to be absent. Although he did say that they tasted good and the portion size was larger than my starter so I think he did slightly better than me on this one. When his started arrived you could hear it sizzling and he was warned that the dish was very hot.
Following this the main course arrived. Unusually for me I went for a pizza whilst my friend went for a heated panini served with chips. My pizza (the versuvio) looked slightly anaemic and there was a distinct lack of pepperoni slices on it and virtually no tomato sauce on the base yet it had masses of cheese on it with a few bits of red pepper and the odd slice of red chili. Frankly it looked like a slightly tarted up cheese on toast. It was a good size however (I estimate about 9") and the base was a thin crust one. Well it frankly taste how it looked, like cheese on toast. The chili on the top did give it a slight kick as did the chili flakes in the base. However, the base was rather too soggy for my liking. The odd bit of pepperoni did help to liven it up but only just. The chili oil I was given to drizzle on my pizza lacked any real punch and just added to the greasiness of it. Mt friend was as equally unimpressed with his main. The panini was more bread then filling although it was served on focaccia bread which did gain a few brownie points. The chips were the standard frozen bought in bulk from the local cash and carry and the few stray bits of rocket on the plate were apparently the best bit.
Now with both of us being unimpressed with our mains we decided to give dessert a miss. Well the look of the dessert menu looked like all of them were bought in serve from the freezer type deserts. In other words mass produced chemically ruined gastronomic horrors. For me a 'bought in' dessert is just about acceptable when it comes to ice cream but I do expect the other desserts to be made in house - or is that just asking too much?
We did, however, both ask for a regular coffee, as it's hard to get this wrong. Oooops spoke too soon. I don't know what they had done to the coffee but it smelt and tasted burnt. Now that could just be because I drink it black, but no my friend also had the same opinion. Not even a cup of instant would have been this bad and I have had some fairly awful instant coffees in my time whilst I was at uni.
As the menu is apparently changing some of the dishes we had may no longer be available.
Summary and final opinion
I have to ask myself why I keep going back here when I know the food isn't up to much. This time it is because my friend wanted to go there more than anything else. The restaurant is clean and the staff are friendly (well most of them) but the quality of the food, in my opinion is sadly lacking. I doubt I will be returning again as I have given it a few goes and the standard of the food has always been no better than basic. For the two of us the meal cost around £40 which for what we had and the standard of the food was in my view overpriced. I don't think I will be making another return visit even when they do change the menu.
~*~ Ask! ~*~
Ask restaurants are 'the leading name in the UK casual dining market', according to their website. They have over 100 restaurants scattered across the UK, so there is bound to be one near you somewhere! Ask are an Italian restaurant that serve a variety of pizza and pasta dishes, amongst many other favourites!
~*~ The menu ~*~
Let's start with the most obvious shall we? On the menu you will find something to suit everyone. Starters include cod and pancetta fishcake, bruschetta, garlic breads and olives, to name a few. On the menu are a variety of salads (although why someone would go to a restaurant and order a salad is beyond me!) and then more traditional Italian meals.
Pasta dishes include spaghettis, raviolis and penne's and cater for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. The vast selection of pizza's, including a fresh egg and spinach, king prawn, tuna and anchovy and many more well known varieties. Also on the menu are burgers, chicken breast, risotto, salmon and beef dishes.
~*~ The prices ~*~
To give you an idea of the prices I've taken a few samples from the menu:
Garlic bread - £3.75
Bruschetta - £4.45
Calamari starter - £4.95
Penne del Giardino - vegetarian pasta dish - £8.25
Salmon with butter beans, new potatoes - £11.95
ASK burger with sides - £9.95
Margerita pizza - £6.25
Chocolate cake - £4.95
Selection of ice cream - £3.75
Very good prices, definitely not one that's going to break the bank!
~*~ The food quality ~*~
I have eaten in this restaurant a number of times at locations across the UK including in Manchester and London, and each time have been satisfied with the quality of food. Ok, so don't expect five star quality food, but it is satisfactory and definitely good enough quality for the price range.
I highly recommend the bruschetta starter which is marinated tomatoes, onions and basil with olive oil on toasted bread which really starts a meal off nicely. For a main, the last time I went I tried the salmon which was really fresh and natural tasting, definitely a good choice especially for those dieters out there! My other half had the burger last time and was very satisfied with it, and he can be a fussy one food wise! As for pizzas, the one I mentioned earlier with the egg and spinach is surprisingly good. I'm not usually very adventurous with food but was recommended this by a friend and have had two since!
As far as desserts go, the one and only dessert I will recommend is the chocolate nemesis - a gorgeous chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream - absolutely gorgeous, but again not for those calorie counters out there!
~*~ Offers ~*~
This restaurant always seems to have some sort of offer going on. Those on at the moment include a 3 course set weekend menu for just £12.95. This menu includes starters of a garlic bread, mushroom dish or salad, main of a variety of pizza and pasta dishes (including vegetarian options) and dessert of ice cream or apple rustica. Very good value, this deal can be found via: http://www.askweekendmenu.co.uk/
Also avaliable as an offer is the opportunity to eat for £1 (main meal only) when any other main meal is purchased. This offer can be found via: http://www.askrestaurant-offers.co.uk/
~*~ The verdict ~*~
A very nice little restaurant chain, ideal for a quick lunch or a nice dinner. Not the best restaurant you will ever visit and I doubt you'll be raving to your friends about it afterwards, but all the same a nice little place to go for an evening out. It is very similar to Italian restaurant chain Bella Italia, so if you like that then definitely worth giving this one a go!
This is a review of Ask! restaurants, who are an Italian chain. My friend and I visited Ask at Castleford Xscape (a shopping outlet, indoor ski arena and cinema). It was the first time I have ever eaten at an Ask!restaurant.
***Cram 'em in***
The side of the restaurant is mainly glass windows so you get a good view of the inside and can see how busy it is etc. we hadn't booked but were immediately shown to a table. My first observation was that the tables were all crammed in and in very close proximity to each other.
***Seating and placing the order***
Our table was a cosy table for two with a chair and a settee on the back wall. Both were comfy. A waiter arrived with menus immediately and took our drinks order.
There was a lot of choice on this menu, every sort of Italian meal you desire in fact with lots of lovely-sounding desserts to pick from too.
We shared a starter, an assorted antipasti, which came with a small bowl of olives (with pits), 4 x pieces of garlic bread, 2 x sundried tomatoes, 2 x mozarella on a piece of lettice and 2 x butterfly (cut and spread out) prawns and a dip.
For our main meal my friend had a pizza, thin crust and fresh looking with lots of chilli on it. I don't know what it tasted like but it looked really nice. I had a goat's cheese calzone (vegetarian) which was a decent size and tasted great.
For two diet cokes, a glass of red wine, our shared starter, a pizza and a calzone it came to just under £37. We got some discount vouchers with our bill to use next time as well.
It was a bit more expensive than we'd usually pay for an Italian chain eg. Pizza Hut but I have to say the food was nicer, well presented, hot and tasted fresh. The staff were polite and attentive, I would eat there again, it felt special - don't know if it was because it was my first time eating there though!
Oddly enough, I had not heard of the ASK chain of restaurants until my husband suggested we pop into one for a meal last weekend after a mammoth shopping expedition around town.
From the outside I thought we may need a reservation as they look like restaurants- I was assured you can just walk in and we were met by a friendly waitress who politely showed us to some seats and asked us what drinks we would like. They have a licensed bar so you can order wine or alcoholic beverages as well as soft drinks.
The menu is reasonably priced- between £9 and £14 for a main and £3-5 for a dessert. They will also bring you a whiskey in a warm glass after your meal or a coffee if you like. We didn't have to wait long after ordering our food and the meals were freshly cooked, authentic italian tasting cuisine. I had the spaghetti bolognese which arrived in a large plate/bowl and was pleased with the generous portion and the waitress bringing over a pepper mill and a large block of parmesan to grate on my food.
I found the meals are served minus any side salad/ trimmings so it is all about the dish you have ordered. I did not get garlic bread thrown in for instance. The deserts were also divine- as I had gotten so carried away with the main course (the do starters too- I decided not to have a starter this time) I could not finish my ice cream desert... which was just rich and lush and homemade.
The interior of the restaurants is clean and rustic- lots of wood and white walls.
Overall, two of us managed to dine out for around £30 which is great. I would definitely recommend popping into a local Ask restaurant.
Ask is one of my favourite restaurants. I am a huge Italian fan (also liking Pizza hut, Pizza Express and Prezzo) so this sort of thing is right up my street. Ask restaurants can be found in most towns as they are a chain of restaurants.
The atmosphere of their restaruants is always quite buzzy. The tables are quite close together and they have an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs cooking away should you so choose. All the restaurants I have been to tend not to separate the tables into sections and thus it is generally like one big hall. This means it can get very noisy and on some occasions I have found it difficult to hear what the other person has been saying. Along with the fact that all the dish names are in Italian I am surprised that there aren't more incidents of the wrong dish turning up for the customer. It always seems quite popular especially with the younger crown and it is never quiet.
The restaurants are always quite pleasant to be in and tend to go for a rustic theme with those straw like chairs and plants and so on. The washroom facilities have varied according to the restaurant. They do not play background music. The staff have always been friendly so far although we were forgotten on a recent visit but she was very apologetic about it.
The menu is divided into starters, mains, desserts and drinks as in most restaurants. The starters menu offers things like garlic bread, olives, soups, mushrooms and so on. I don't offer have a starter as the mains tend to be filling. I once tried the ciabatta bread before with a friend and although it was okay I felt it was over-priced considering what it was.
The mains menu is the best bit I think. It is divided into pizzas and calzone, salads, pastas and risottos, and stone oven baked dishes. The pizzas I have tried before and are all syled in the traditional thin based Italian way. They have a mix of varieties ranging from the classsics like margherita or ham and mushroom to some more unusual flavours like the Fiorentina which is spinach, olive and egg which I tried and liked. Sometimes I have found their pizzas a little tough though and have had to really use a lot for force with the knife to cut it which got tiring after a while and is quite off-putting when you feel you really need a saw. So I would say the pizzas are a mixed bag. The other dish I love is the Penne Al Pollo Della Casa which is chicken breast, mushrooms (which I ask not to be added as I detest them) and pasta in a creamy sauce with white wine and a chese topping. This is always absolutely fantastic and the flavours blend so well together and even though it is a very filling dish I never ever leave any of it. I could eat it every day.
The desert menu I have only tried twice as the mains tend to leave me feeling stuffed full. I have tried the ice-cream which was nothing special and could have been out of the fridge at home and the apple pie which I had heard was amazing but didn't live up to the claim.
Prices are as you'd expect from a restaurant like this. Starters are about £4 on average, and the main dishes vary from £7 to £12, though about £8.50 is an average price. The deserts are about £5 each. Drinks which range from juices to soft drinks and coffees are about £2 each with a glass of wine at £3.
It is worth bearing in mind that they also do a takeaway menu which offers quite a few pizzas at a competitively priced £5.95 no matter the flavour, some of the pastas at £7.45 and salads at £7.95. I have not tried this but the pizzas cetainly sound good value though my favourite dish is sadly not available as a takeaway. Furthermore, they often have a voucher available whereby you can get a second main free which I often make use of. This can be obtained by going to the website. To sum up a good restaurant with a lovely mains menu but a bit let down by the starters and desserts.
Ask! are a nationwide chain of Italian restaurants, I have eaten at several but my review mainly focuses on the one in Shrewsbury. They serve predominantly pizza and pasta, although salad and I believe risotto is also available. Starters and desserts come in at around £5 each and the mains range from about £8 to £10, so the price is quite reasonable, however, a glass of wine will also set you back about £5 so that can bump it up. There is a good selection of dishes and drinks to choose from, I've been several times and never had the same main course twice and they've all been very nice.
A group of 4 of us went to the Shrewsbury branch tonight, the service was good and the food came quickly and was piping hot. Between us we had a pizza, a calzone, penne with meatballs and an Italian stew; all were delicious and all arrived at the same time (this sounds fairly basic but I've been to a few restaurants where we've had our food in dribs and drabs!). The portion sizes are substantial but we still found room for desserts and coffee (tiramisu, cheesecake and chocolate cake), and these were also very tasty. The staff are friendly and efficient, the only thing I would really pick up on is that we seemed to wait for a while for the bill, especially as the restaurant was quiet.
In summary I would say it's good food at a good price, it's also quite conveniently in the centre of Shrewsbury.
I have visited a few ask restaurants around the country and have always them very good. I am a big fan of Italian so that helps, obviously if you are not a fan of pasta or pizza the ASK is probably not the place for you. They are great restaurants for all occasions be it work meals, family occasion or just you and your partner. The service has always been ok, although when they are busy you can wait a bit longer sometimes although it is not that bad. The variety of dishes is great, their pizzas are one of my favourites as you can add different toppings to make your own. They are reasonable priced but make sure you look out for the 2 for 1 offer, this usually allows a free main course when you buy another one, the offer usually runs from Sunday to Thursday. Infact they are running the promotion at the moment, you can find the voucher at http://www.askrestaurantoffers.co.uk/ .
Ask is fast becoming one of those High Street staples like Costa and Starbucks. Somewhere which offers a decent enough meal, in pleasant surroundings, but which can be a little identikit in terms of the food offered.
Ask was recommended to me by a friend, so I decided to give it a whirl. Although this review mainly looks at the Durham, since they are a national chain, they are pretty interchangeable in terms of price, atmosphere and menu.
Ask provides a pleasant enough environment in which to eat. Built in a recently revamped part of the city, it has a nice, light airy feel to it. A high roof and glass "walls" give the interior a feeling of space and whilst there are lots of tables packed into this space, it doesn't feel cramped. Although it can obviously get noisy when busy, this very much depends on the time of day you visit. One of the times we ate there was shortly before Christmas, when there were several "work dos" in. Even then, although noisy, we didn't feel that it impacted on us in a negative way.
Once inside, we were actually asked where we would like to sit, rather than just being herded to where they thought we should go, which was a nice change. As soon as we were seated, the waitress immediately fetched us some drinks and brought the menus, and the service was pretty speedy all night. True, this might partly have been because one of our visits was in very early evening and there were more staff than customers, but on other, busier occasions, the service has still been pretty fast and efficient.
Mrs SWSt and I chose our starters and they arrived very quickly - within 5-10 minutes of ordering (again, you do have to wait longer if they are busy, but never so long that you start gnawing on the table). They were well presented and tasted very nice. The main complaint was that they were a little on the small side. In particular, one of the specials was advertised as Stuffed Peppers - note the plural. When it arrived, it wasn't even one whole pepper - it was half a pepper, surrounded by a load of salad to make the dish look bigger than it actually was! Considering this was one of the more expensive starters (at £6) it didn't represent great value for money and I could easily have eaten more.
After our starters had been demolished (which didn't take long, given their diminutive size), our main courses quickly brought out. Happily, the portions this time were bigger and represented better value for money. Mrs SWSt had some kind of pasta-y thing (don't ask me, I can't eat pasta), which she said was very tasty, piping hot and actually tasted of whatever it was supposed to taste of. I had a hot pizza containing chilli and pepperoni, which I had ordered with some trepidation. Normally, when restaurants advertise something as "hot", they cater for the average taste, so are usually what I would consider "mild". If something is said to contain chilli, you're lucky to spot a tiny fleck of the mystic creature on your plate. Happily, this one lived up to its billing. It was generously scattered with both pepperoni and red chilli and, whilst it wasn't hot enough to burn your mouth off, it did give a pleasant tingling sensation on the lips.
Since we were hungry (must have been that small starter), we decided to treat ourselves to a dessert. These were a reasonable size, offering OK value for money, whilst not over-facing you with a dishful of stodge. They were also not too sweet, which is a common problem for those of us with more savoury tastebuds.
Bizarrely, having been so attentive for most of the evening, the waitresses suddenly all vanished when it was time to pay (and it was still quiet in the restaurant, so they weren't all busy). They seemed completely uninterested in bringing the bill! When we finally managed to ask someone for it, she was gone ages; so long, in fact, that we thought she must be preparing a handwritten, illuminated bill on highest quality parched vellum (disappointingly, it wasn't). OK, so we weren't in a hurry and the delay didn't really matter. Had we been dashing to catch a train or going to the nearby theatre, though, it would have been a nuisance. Aside from anything else, no-one likes to be kept waiting for no real reason.
There was then a further delay when we didn't endear ourselves to the staff of Ask. We had a voucher entitling us to one free main course (we had mentioned this when we came in and were told to present it when PAYING our bill). The bill (finally) arrived and we mentioned the voucher again. At this, the waitress rolled her eyes, gave an audible sigh and trudged off to produce a second recalculated bill. Clearly, we had been BAD CUSTOMERS and she was making sure we knew it! Again, we had to wait while the parched vellum was carefully inscribed before we could pay and make our escape. We probably had to wait longer for our bill than any of the food we ordered, which seemed strange to me. You'd have thought that once it was clear we weren't going to spend any more money, they'd have been anxious to get rid of us but apparently not.
Overall, Ask provided a nice enough environment in which to eat. The food we had is not going to challenge the Gordon Ramseys of this world, but it was of sufficient quality for a chain restaurant. It is, however, quite expensive. Main courses and sweets represent reasonable-ish value for money, although they are still more expensive than other, similar places. Starters on the other hand are very expensive when you compare what you pay with what you get. Even with a main course free, our bill was slightly more expensive than if we'd gone out for a similar meal elsewhere without a voucher.
Ask is not somewhere I'd like to go on a regular basis. As an occasional thing I enjoyed it and it would be a safe bet if you find yourself in a strange town, unsure of the quality of the independent eateries. At the end of the day, though, it's a chain which has mass-produced food. The food we had was perfectly acceptable, the service quick and the atmosphere and surroundings pleasant, but it's never going to be top of my list of dining experiences, and it's telling to note that I've only been back once since.
A safe choice, if not necessarily the best choice.
© Copyright SWSt 2009
I have been to a few ASK restaurants Newcastle, London (Gloucester Road) , Lancaster and Bristol and the restaurants have always been quiet. This surprised me as I have been always been at peak times on a Friday and Saturday night!!
My favourite starter has to be the stuffed mushrooms. Served in the oven baked dish they obviously are hot but the taste is fantastic and is great value for money at £4.95. My favourite pasta dish is the chicken, asparagus and pine nut penne pasta. At £8.25 its excellent value for money.
Service is efficient and staff are friendly, ensuring that you have water or when you need a drinks top over they notice. This could be because the restaurant has never been mega busy when I have dined their though.
The wine is also excellent. The Sauvignon Blanc for £13.95 is lovely you can get cheaper bottles but this is one of the best on the menu!
Good value for money but even better as they have started offering 2 for 1 deals. A simple menu but ASK offer very good food. You need to ASK.... When can I next go there?
This is my favourite chain Italian resturant. I have now been to branches in Winchester, Sheffield and Leeds (although the Leeds branch has gone now).
Firstly the Winchester branch. It is in one of the oldest buildings in Winchester, the staff say it is haunted! Especially the private room you can request for large groups. Its like sitting in an old tudor type house, even the furniture in that room is different and more old. Spooky.
The rest of the resturant fixtures and furniture are quite modern which works well against the oldfashioned building. Theres an upstairs which has a lot of character though thats where the toilets are so you get a lot of people walking through.
They have a small area where you can wait with a few sofas. Not quite big enough when they are really busy.
This is one of the most popular resturants in Winchester, if you want to come her on thursday/friday/saturday then you have to book otherwise you wont get in.
Their menu is quite varied with salads, starters, pizza, pasta, oven baked pasta and puddings.
The best thing to order in my opinion is the goats cheese bruschetta for starters, mushroom pasta (top of pasta section), and the chocolate cake with icecream for dessert.
This is a vegetarian choice but my sister loves the Gorgonzolla and chicken pasta but she also loves the chocolate cake. It comes with really tasty icecream and is a bit melted and gooey.
The drinks arent too expensive with a bottle of house wine costing around £10. Soft drinks like coke are around £1.50
The staff in the Winchester branch are always pleasant and friendly. I must have been there about 40 times now in my life there, its always my resturant of choice when going out for an Italian at home.
It always has a good chatty atmosphere and is family friendly providing high chairs and child sized portions.
The branch in Sheffield is much the same but in more of an open spaced feel.
It was packed on a wednesday night and we were lucky to get a table without booking.
The food was exactly the same much as I had hoped and we were sat near the chefs who had an opened kitchen. It was fun to hear them cooking and made our entertainment for the evening.
The staff were very friendly and made us feel welcome. We didnt have to wait long for the food at all and the bill wasnt too bad for 3 people it was £44 including soft drinks, main meals and 3 puddings!
I cant wait to go there again on wednesday when I visit my sister.
Having spotted a "two main courses for the price of one" voucher on Money Saving Expert, dining at Ask was a no-brainer when we planned to celebrate my birthday recently. I'd never before dined at any Ask outlet, so I was very keen to give them a whirl, and the discount voucher certainly helped tip the balance.
For those of you unfamiliar with the group, Ask are a chain of Italian restaurants. Their emphasis is on informal dining in contemporary, yet trendy looking surroundings. The group has 115 different city centre outlets dotted throughout the UK, a large percentage of which are located in listed buildings or places of local interest. For example, the restaurant in Chichester (where we dined) is located in a large white Georgian looking building. Ask restaurants tend to be located in heart of city centres, thus making them a popular choice with shoppers, families, business luncheons or the just plain hungry.
All Ask outlets offer a broad range of Italian dishes including pizza, pasta and salads. Their emphasis is on using freshly cooked food and ingredients wherever possible, and all served in stylish yet comfortable surroundings. The outlets do look very chic, but they're suitable for any dining occasion. You won't be frowned upon if you turn up in jeans, nor will you feel awkward if you're wearing a suit. Their aim to be the perfect place for a quick shoppers snack, a post board meeting repast, a family blow out or a romantic dinner for two.
~~~ DÉCOR & AMBIANCE ~~~
Ask prefer to find a listed or quirky looking building and then put their own stamp on it inside. The décor inside their outlets tends to be modern - almost stark. The walls are plain, the floors tiled (or wooden) and the lighting subtle yet modernistic; all in all, it screams contemporary minimalism.
Most of the furniture is black, which serves to emphasis the sparkling chrome finish of the open plan kitchen and bar areas. The Chichester outlet is housed in large Georgian looking building with huge picture windows. I found it strange that none of these huge windows had any blinds or curtains above them. Whilst I understand that Ask are going to want passers-by to be able to look in and be tempted in for visit, it did make the room seem a little undressed.
Nonetheless, the room was well decorated with lots of different sized tables and chairs dotted about the room. I particularly liked the long dark brown sofa style seating along the far wall - ideal for a large party or group to make a night of it.
The tables and chairs themselves are plain black/dark brown, which makes an excellent backdrop for the sparkling glassware and linen that adorns each table. I particularly liked the single brightly coloured Gerberas placed in a vase on each table. A nice floral accent.
Despite the minimalistic décor, the place was lively, friendly and buzzing. The hum of contented diners, clinking of glasses and cutlery was completed by a James Morrison album playing in the background.
~~~ MENU ~~~
Like all good Italian restaurants, the Ask menu has four distinct areas to it. You have your choice of antipasti (starters), salads, mains (including pasta, risottos and pizza) and finally your desserts. There is a mind boggling selection under each heading, with plenty to choose from. And if that wasn't enough, there is always a blackboard listing daily specials if you manage to get bored of the main menu.....
When I was first greeted with their menu, I found it particularly hard to make my mind up, as there was far too much choice. The appertisers sounded particularly tasty with choices ranging from bruschetta (grilled ciabatta bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper and various different toppings), crostini (thinly sliced, grilled and crispy white bread drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and various toppings), the ubiquitous garlic bread and various luscious sounding salads.
Main courses offer the usual Italian range of pizza and pasta dishes, as well as a couple of risotto and insalata choices. All the pizzas are hand made with fresh ingredients and then stone baked. There are around 10-15 different choices ranging from the better known Four Seasons to a more unusual sounding Fiorentina (spinach, egg, cheese and olives) and the plain old Margherita (mozzarella and tomato). If you're after something a little different Ask offer a couple of Calzone choices - which is basically a folded pizza baked in the oven, topped with garlic butter and melted cheese and containing some kind of filling.
If pasta is more your thing, then Ask offer a choice of 10-15 different dishes. There are the old favourites such as Spaghetti alla Bolognese, Ravioli and Lasagne to more innovative choices such as Penne al Pollo Gorgonzola (chicken and spinach in a Gorgonzola sauce) or Ravioli Burro e Pesce (crayfish, crab and salmon in a white wine and dill sauce). I was recommended to try the Spaghetti e Polpette (a Milanese dish of beef meatballs served in spicy tomato sauce) but decided to settle on something a little less fiery.
Lighter meals are served in the form of insalatas (Chef's salad, Caesar Salad and a couple of others are amongst your choices here). And if that's not enough choice for you, there are also daily specials on the blackboard.
If you've still got room, their desserts selection is to die for. Old Italian favourites such as Tiramisu, Sorbetti and Ice Cream jostle alongside other mouth watering options such Profiteroles, Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding and lemon and Mascarpone Cheesecake.
~~~ STARTERS ~~~
Despite being very tempted by the Gamberi al Forno (king prawns in marinated tomato, basil and chilli sauce), I decided to go for one of my favourite soups, Minestrone. It didn't disappoint as it was extremely thick and very tomatey. It came served with a goodly selection of beans, spaghetti and herbs in the tomato base. It was also came garnished with a nice crispy ciabatta crouton. It was, however, not all that hot, which didn't really bother me as I can't eat or drink anything that's too warm. However, I'd say that most people like their soup served piping hot and this was more on the lukewarm side of things.
My partner partook of the Funghi Ripieni al Forno (mushrooms stuffed with spinach, pancetta, cheese, garlic and breadcrumbs). They came served with some mixed salad leaves and a nice, creamy garlic mayonnaise. He pronounced them delicious, and the tiny bit I managed to extract from him confirmed this.
Starters range in price from around the £4.00 mark (soup) up to £6.00 (seafood).
~~~ MAIN COURSES ~~~
Onto the main courses, and I really did change my mind several times before I settled on my final selection. There was such a lot of choice and it all sounded very temping. I was waylaid by a tasting sounding Spaghetti Gamberi e Rucola (king prawns marinated in caper butter, white wine and tomato sauce), but in the end I made my choice from their daily specials board and ordered a Penne Pasta served with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and rocket. Initially it looked like a very mean portion of salmon. However, this may have been because smoked salmon tends to shrivel and clump together once it's heated; once I'd dug deeper into my pasta, I discovered a goodly portion of fish hiding underneath. The pasta was nicely al dente and there was a generous portion of parmesan grated over the top. The slight spiciness of rocket lifted the dish from being too bland. However, I did find the crème fraiche sauce a little on the sickly side and it did leave an unpleasant coating on my tongue and teeth.
My partner plumped for the Fusilli con Pollo al Forno (chicken, broccoli and courgette in a cheese sauce topped with pesto, cheese and breadcrumbs). It was a very colourful looking dish and came with a generous topping of melted cheese. It was very tasty, but we both thought that the portion was rather on the mean side. For nearly £9.00, we rather expected more on our plates.
All in all we found the main courses to be the most disappointing aspect of our meal. The portions were quite small and rather over-priced. Most Ask pasta dishes cost between £8.00 to £10.00, and that's all you get. £8.00 to £10.00 for a bowl of pasta seems a little too excessive to my mind. Serving them with a side salad, a bread basket or a few vegetables wouldn't go amiss. At these sort of prices, I rather expect more on my plate.
Pizzas also fall in the £8 to £10 mark, as do the salads.
~~~ DESSERTS ~~~
Thanks to the rather mean portions of our main courses, we had room for dessert on this occasion. It's extremely rare that I partake of a pudding when I eat out, as I'm usually more than replete with a starter and main course. On this occasion I still felt a little hungry (and it was my birthday), so I decided to hang the expense and have a look at the desserts menu.
Once again, there was a mouth-watering array of choices on offer. I was tempted by the Semi Freddo Profiteroles with Hot Chocolate Sauce, which were filled with ice-cream rather than cream. However, I spied someone struggling to eat them at a nearby table so I passed. They weren't small dainty looking profiteroles but quite large choux buns, and I didn't think my appetite could do justice to them this time around. Definitely one to try if I ever go back though.
I instead plumped for a Torta di Mele, which sounded like an Italian version of one of my French favourites tart tatin (baked apple tart). It did look very appetising when it arrived but the pastry rather overwhelmed the apple and the almonds in that you could only taste pastry and no fruit or nut flavours. The dryness of the pastry was nicely counteracted by a creamy vanilla ice-cream - a very nice accompaniment.
My partner choose a Honeycomb Cheesecake, which was very creamy and rich and nicely studded with chocolate and honeycomb pieces throughout.
Dessert prices tend to fall in the £4.75 to £5.25 mark with ice-creams and sorbets being a little more reasonably priced.
~~~ DRINKS ~~~
Ask offer a full selection of both soft and alcoholic beverages, a lot of which, not surprisingly, have an Italian origination. From the wine menu you can have Frascati, Valpolicella and Chianti as well as choices from other wine producing countries.
Beers wise you're limited to bottled Peroni lager - on offer at a wincingly expensive £5.95 for a 66cl bottle (or £3.20 for 33cl).
Soft drinks choices range from an Italian San Pellegrino mineral water through to usual Schweppes range of soft drinks of Coca Cola et al.
If you want to round your meal off with tea or coffee (we didn't bother as we decided to have ours at home), then there is a full selection to choose from - lattes, mochas, espressos, cappuccinos and so on.
~~~ SERVICE ~~~
On the whole we found the service to be attentive and very friendly. Indeed, all our waiting staff was very smiley and quick to respond to any requests. We were offered generous portions of freshly grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper with both our starters and main courses - both of which are a welcome touch.
The only jarring note to the service was the manager himself, who was rather abrupt in manner and not very friendly. He "welcomed" us with a bark, enquiring as to whether we had booked. Despite affirmations to the positive that we had booked, this did not seem to cheer him up in the slightest. Indeed, the only time he managed to treat us with any degree of civility was when he presented the bill to us, when he made a half-hearted attempt to ingratiate himself to us......probably in the hope of a tip. Sadly his sucking up was short-lived, as he resorted to his former surliness when his credit card machine played up. Obviously it was our fault that his bank was not responding to his chip and pin gizmo....at least that's the impression he gave. All in all he was quite scary and not a good advert for Ask.
~~~ RECOMMENDATION ~~~
Being part of a large chain, we were half expecting average cuisine and average service at Ask. On the whole we found the service to be friendly and efficient at the Chichester branch (stroppy manager aside). Food wise I'd say that if you're a fan of Italian cuisine, then the menu at Ask really does offer something for everyone. We were very impressed with our starters and desserts on the evening.
However, in my opinion Ask fell down somewhat with their main courses, which were small of portion and high of price. If they could address their main courses, they'd be onto a winning formula. They seriously need to consider reducing their prices down to the £6 or £7 mark if they're just going to present their clientele with a simple plate of pasta. If they want to continue charging £9 or £10 per dish, they need to ramp up their portions, or better still, serve the dishes with accompaniments. A salad or some ciabatta wouldn't break the bank, and it would go a long way towards increasing the perceived good VFM (good value for money) factor.
Our meal for two came to just under £45.00 (and that was with the two main courses for the price of one voucher we downloaded from Money Saving Expert**). I consider £45 for two three-course dinners (plus two beers and one soft drink) to be on the expensive side. Next time I'd rather go to Café Rouge and have a good plateful of French fayre for the same price, and not have to worry about small pasta portions!
Three stars from me; nice sounding menu, attentive service, but let down by the small portions and high prices of their main courses. Definitely recommended for their starters, desserts and pleasant restaurant ambiance and surroundings......but choose your main course wisely.
~~~ OTHER STUFF ~~~
Ask is owned by the Gondola Group Ltd, who also own the Zizzi chain and the Pizza Express group. Zizzi also offers an Italian menu (as does Pizza Express), but Zizzi cook all their dishes in a wood fired oven.
Ask Restaurants Ltd
2 Balcombe St
Tel: 0845 602 2704
Websites for Ask (and Zizzi) and can be found at:-
http://www.askcentral.co.uk or www.askrestaurants.com or www.gondolaholdings.com
* The websites display a full menu and a restaurant search facility. Making a reservation is recommended to avoid disappointment.
* Service is not included except for tables of eight or more when 10% will be added to your bill.
* All major credit cards are accepted
* Disabled access is easy in the Chichester outlet and there is even a specially designated disabled WC. I can't comment on the rest of the group, so a phone call in advance may be an idea. At Chichester, the non-disabled WC's are located up a steep flight of stairs, down a corridor and turn left. Rather a trek I'm afraid - I thought I was going to end up in Narnia!
* Vegetarians are well catered for with the menu displaying a clear "V" beside suitable dishes.
** If you're fond of eating out do have a look at www.moneysavingexpert.com as they often have discount vouchers on offer. There are currently deals available at Café Rouge, Zizzi, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Ask and loads of others. If you find the site hard to navigate and a little bit busy go direct to http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/deals/cheap-restaurant-deals
I have ate ASK on a few occasions in both Rugby and Peterborough. I will say straight away the service in rugby is touch and go some days its amazing over days they make silly mistakes. The ask in peterborough was fantastic and was in a stunning building and had a great garden area for alfresco eating as well.
I have had all types of meals at ask but my favouret is the goats cheese salad, the flavours of the salad, the ciabata, the goats cheese and the onion chutney are divine!!
I also really like the carbonara that they do, it is very creamy and not at all bland like some carbonaras are.
They now do a childrens menu which is great as previously you had to order half portions of the adult portions, and thats when they seemed to make the mistakes! Although if your child is under 5 and you are having a pasta dish, you get more than enough to feed your children too in one portion and therefore I would just recomend asking for a extra bowl.