Lucy and I dashed through the rain in Bournemouth on our way to the Ask restaurant to make our 5 five o clock reservations. Situated at Jacey House on the Landsdowne roundabout, from the outside the restaurant is the antithesis of the small, cosy Italian. Contemporary and bold the restaurant brandishes a large sign on the entrance. Through a mixture of hunger and cold my partner and I ran up the steps and through the glass doors into the well lit and comfortable waiting area by the entrance. Copies of DV8 (a local magazine depicting nightlife in Bournemouth) stacked under the sign-in desk speaks volumes for its metropolitan vibe and vibrant connections with the town.
We are immediately seated and are just as quickly offered drinks and nibbles (such as olives and bread) whilst we soak in the atmosphere. This is one of many return visits as a couple, and we have been part of a group on several occasions as well. The restaurant is open plan with a high ceiling and white walls. This can occasionally make a couple feel isolated and is more suited for larger groups and summer eating. The lack of intimacy may make a duo seek a cosier setting as the restaurant can fill quickly. However, it rarely feels crowded and the spacious airy atmosphere can be very inviting in the right situation. In other words, the restaurant is well suited for its setting, round the corner from the beach and perfect for summer meals with friends. Although most chain restaurants follow a theme, the Bournemouth branch of Ask is difficult to beat. The customer is immediately invited to feel welcome and the service is always exceptional with small touches making an overall difference which will be evident during the meal.
I decided to open my palate intentionally for this review as I normally have quite spicy options, especially when visiting Ask. Anyone feeling brave should ask for the Vesuvio pizza which will bring the most avid spice fan out in sweats. I am normally not a fan of Italian chains as they lose that individual identity that makes them unique, but Ask uses its extensive menu of over 25 main dishes and many starters and deserts to create many different flavours.
We decided to order dishes outside our normal preferences so as to remain neutral whilst also comparing the new tastes to that which we know and love. I admittedly sat back on a safe bet for the starter, ordering the Prosicutto and Mozzarella Crostini. When I speak of safe bets, I mean the Italian equivalents of ordering Chicken balls, egg fried rice and a curry sauce at a Chinese restaurant. Such examples are Bruschetta, Spaghetti Bolognese or Honeycomb cheesecake. One would hardly be exploring the wonders of cuisine when eating those would they? Unfortunately, several Italian chains fall prey to these on the menu as they are the comfort options that many diners need to ensure the restaurant is suitable for larger parties. Lucy was more courageous than I and ordered the Cod and Pancetta fishcake. As always fortune favours the brave and her fishcakes were exciting, light and the flavours combined to make a pleasant surprise. My Crostinis were a little less dramatic and the cheese was slightly rubbery. The consistent factor for the starters was the presentation which is always colourful, neat and separate for each dish. Not just visually but the plates and bowls themselves are often unique to the dish ordered. These are the touches that can make the difference and separates Ask from the generic nature of chain restaurants.
Seven minutes after taking our plates away (which you will find is the recommended standard of time to wait) the main courses were brought out. My partner had Terrina Mediterranea, which is described as a hearty casserole of chicken breast and king prawns baked in rich tomato sauce. This was served in a clay pot along with salad and bread. A winters dish for an Italian restaurant I think you will agree. Although the sauce overpowered the chicken, it had a variety of texture and lots of character to ensure the plate was left empty at the end. For myself, I had the pleasure of being served the Insalata di Pollo e Pancetta. This is of course is a salad which would not normally excite my palate under the best of circumstances so I was really testing the water. The salad itself was very flavoursome with spinach, avocado, cherry tomatoes and cos lettuce. The big leaves held the taste so that every bite was different. The chicken itself was of a subtle flavour which frustratingly left the palate wanting more, but the honey mustard dressing ensured that along with the tenderness of the meat, the whole dish went down easily.
We are not the biggest eaters and after much debate decided to finish off our meal by sharing a lemon tart for dessert. This was wonderfully light, and although we would have preferred a tart closer to room temperature to soften the textures, it was undoubtedly a delicious treat.
We eventually asked for the bill and as always we were content with the pricing which is reasonable considering the quality of meals. Ask also offer 2 for 1 on main meals from Monday to Thursday, and for food of this standard that is a good deal. We were not drinking alcohol and had two starters, two mains and shared a dessert which came to just over £40 which is very respectable.
Living in Bournemouth I have not had the opportunity to visit either of the Southampton branches, but know I would recommend a visit to the beach this summer. There is a different experience to be gained from every visit to this restaurant. This is helped by the diversity of tastes and colours on the menu and one is guaranteed a level of service and a welcoming ambience. The modern, lively atmosphere and youthful staff ensures that visitors and residents of Bournemouth can have a pleasurable dining experience in a cosmopolitan atmosphere every time they visit.