Norwich: Ask Italian
We have no shortage of Italian restaurants, but Ask avoids the clich�s to deliver food that belies its ever expanding chain origins finds SIMON PARKIN.
Anyone who has dined out in London in the past five years will have spotted that Ask revivals Pizza Express for ubiquity in the pizza and pasta stakes.
But until recently its presence in this region had been so limited that you probably needed to ask who they were and what they were offering.
No more however. The breezy chain has moved into East Anglia in a big way with restaurants popping up in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, Colchester and beyond. It was only a matter of time until they came to Norwich.
There is no shortage of places serving broadly Italian fare in the city already, of course — the aforementioned Pizza Express, Zizzi, Bella Pasta and Carluccio's, and that's just the chains, without mentioning the soon to open Italian offering from Jamie Oliver.
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Then there are the numerous local restaurants — Pinocchio's, Umberto's Trattoria, Trattoria Rustica, Italia Nostra, Paolo's, well you get the idea.
There is no shortage of competition, so it's just as well that Italian, alongside American and Indian, is a cuisine that's been adopted as British.
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Ask sits amid rival restaurant chains on Chapelfield Plain, which is perhaps telling as the convenience suggests the target is shoppers, the lunchtime crowds and people looking for a bite to eat before heading off for a night out at the cinema or theatre.
The interior is light, modern and funky — bright colours, quirky d�cor features (grass-backed seating and giant light bulbs) — the result is not too dissimilar to being sat in a branch of Habitat (before they went bust).
Ask is a chain that wears its Italian theme lightly. They don't go in for the usual clich�s, giant pepper mills and all that. The only hint of that on our visit was some slightly cheesy Italian music in the background. However Italy is very much to the fore on the menu.
It's a decent menu too, offering starters such as bruschetta, calamari, garlic mushrooms and king prawns and even things like antipasto classico (�11.75), a sharing platter for two of buffalo mozzarella, smoked prosciutto, Milano and Finocchiona salami, chargrilled peppers, capers and olive tapenade, with fresh rosemary and sea salt bread.
After some deliberation we ordered starters of bruschetta (�4.95) and the garlic butter king prawns (�6.95). You can't really go wrong with the former and it was fresh and generous, while the prawns were well presented and packing plenty of garlic zip.
The main course choices include an extensive selection of pasta choices, including an above average number also suitable for vegetarians, and a more limited range of meat and fish dishes, including sea bass, chicken and king prawn casserole and a thyme-seasoned chicken supreme.
The pizza selection is split into the classic pizzas (mainly under a tenner) and Prima pizza, prepared the classic Roman way with longer, squarer crispy bases, piled high with specially toppings (all priced over �10).
We both opted for choices from this including the Prosciutto E Bufala (�11.25), topped with ripped buffalo mozzarella, smoked prosciutto, rocket and Calabrian oregano, and the Gamberetti E Zucchine (�10.95) with prawns, courgettes, creme fraiche, garlic and anchovies and capers.
Both were excellent, thin bases, not too crispy, not too doughy and a generous amount of fresh tasting topping — were our wooden serving boards (they also come with your own pizza slicer, yes they're that big) were completely clean afterwards.
We shared a dessert of chocolate nemesis (�5.40), which was as waistline busting as the name suggests. Coffees are free with dessert too — a nice bonus.
Ask is very much pitched at the everyday — I'm not sure you'd really go for a special occasion — but it offers a quality that's not mundane either.
t Open: Mon-Thurs 12pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-11.30pm, Sun 12pm-10pm
t Prices: Starters from �4.95, pizza from �6.95, pasta from �7.45, desserts from �4.95
t Vegetarian option: Lots
t Wheelchair access: Yes