Newest Review: ... game after-all. Losing the Ask Italian outlet in Victoria London barely will make a ripple considering Ask Italian has over 130 restaurant... more
Ask! And you shall receive
Member Name: SWSt
Advantages: Nice enough food served in a pleasant enough environment
Disadvantages: Quite expensive, slow service getting the bill, nothing outstanding
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
Summary: A safe choice if you don't know where else to go