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Ask - Why do I keep eating here?
Member Name: mjc121
Date: 15/03/11, updated on 16/03/11 (81 review reads)
Advantages: friendly staff
Disadvantages: over priced, food only bog standard basic quality
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.
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