52 Upper Street
Tel: 020 7226 8728
When I was a child growing up there was a TV personality and quizmaster called Robert Robinson. He chaired a quiz programme popular in the sixties through to the eighties. The format required two teams, each consisting of four members from a single family, two adults and two teenagers. They were asked a series of general knowledge questions, some of them for the whole family and other for the children only. It had the most impossible questions even for the children. I don’t think I ever managed to get a single one right. That TV show was called Ask The Family.
Those two words ‘Ask’ and ‘Family’ put fear into the viewing public in those days, but moving away from my own childhood inadequacies (and those of my peers) these days they go very well together. As a family we visited the new flagship branch of the national chain, Ask Italian in Islington. I was very pleasantly surprised.
To begin with Ask Italian is not a pizza restaurant. It sells pizzas, but a lot more besides. There is a kids’ menu at £6.25 for three courses that A went for straightaway. He had vegetable crudités with garlic bread sticks and a spicy dip, a pepperoni pizza, which was long and thin based. We opted for some breads and nibbles that were lovely, including some excellent olives (that A tucked into with gusto as well, I am proud that my eight year old loves olives).
They offer a few starter specials not on the main menu. I chose a fantastic cheese soufflé that came in a small bowl with cream and spinach. This I would order again, really creamy and with a light texture. M had panzerottini, a collection of little dough balls stuffed with cheese, chilli or pepperoni. They come with a tasty dip of virgin olive oil and balsamic that you can mix yourself. We tried to order some zucchine fritte but were told they had sold out. A testament to their popularity I guess. X was playing it cool with an insalata caprese, which was fresh and zinged with flavors of basil and Mozzarella.
The staff are worth mentioning, Alex our main waitress (we had two) was there when we needed her and didn’t fuss or crowd us. Plates were removed promptly and everything explained well. Our other waitress Sally had been ‘parachuted’ in from another branch, as they were particularly busy this week, I watched her work the room making sure everybody was happy with their food and drink. The Ask Italian site is part of the Islington Design Centre so they get a great variety of delegates, especially at lunchtimes. This week it was philatelists putting their stamp on the place. Who would have thought that they would have strong desire for courgettes, I presume it was them that ate all the zucchine fritte?
The mains were just as good as the starters. M’s baked rigatoni with meatballs and green chillis, topped with Mozzarella was really good, spicy, meaty and filling. It came with a small salad. X chose calzone cacciatore as he’d never experienced a folded pizza before. This had chicken, pancetta, mushrooms, peppers and olives. It had a dainty shape with a small neat folded crust around the curved side and looked like a child’s drawing of the moon. It was robust in taste and had plenty of filling, often a let down with calzone. I think I ordered the best though, a pork belly porchetta in herby red wine sauce sitting on roasted new potatoes. This was extremely good and moreish. The full rich taste of the slow cooking process was pronounced giving the meat a velvet texture. This is a must have dish if you go. Hearty and warming there was nothing wrong with it except I ate it too quickly. If you choose it savour every mouthful.
The restaurant has been refitted and presents itself as modern Italian with bowls of chillis and fruit here and there as well as cooking paraphernalia. The look is not unlike Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants but I think offers better value for money. Most of the starters are around £5 and the mains range between £7 – £14.
Desserts were on their way in no time. A had as part of his kid’s meal a choice of three. He opted for strawberry meringue stack that came with a vanilla gelato and fresh strawberries. He wasn’t too keen on the hazelnuts aspect but really enjoyed the rest of it. He also enjoyed a babychinos, warm frothy milk dusted with chocolate. X won best order with a brilliant Italian cheesecake with mango sorbet. M was more that content with calzone di mele, an apple/cinnamon combination with sultanas wrapped up like a folded pizza and scoop of gelato on the side. My lemon tart was as the menu suggested ‘silky smooth’ and very tart. Just how I like it.
Just to prove that he was cooler than all of us X ordered his usual Americano and M enjoyed a hot fresh mint infusion. A had a strawberry milkshake that left him with a pink moustache and much for us to laugh about.
It is very hard to find anything to be critical about at Ask. We all enjoyed the meal, the staff are lovely and the seating (a large banquette in our case) was delightfully comfortable. It doesn’t take a brain box child or a professor parent to realize that visiting Ask is a good idea for all the family, just ask those stamp collectors.