Remember back when I did a review of Pasty Presto, and I started by saying “I don’t really like Cornish pasties”, well… I don’t really like Italian food. I have a small appetite (which for a food blogger is quite bizarre), and sometimes it can be a bit rich for me and leave me feeling rough, so I tend to avoid it, but here I am, venturing into an Italian restaurant.
My dad and I were in Southport after he’d finished working out there, and due to the late hour we decided to go for a meal out. My dad was planning on spending about £10 on food, trying to find a 2 for 1 deal place, in Southport there is a dreadful looking pub with a 2 for £9 offer. Joy(!), thankfully I told my dad I would rather pay my half of the food bill, and go somewhere nicer, and then I spotted Ask Italian on the high street in Southport, and saw that they do a set menu, so my dad was quite happy with this decision.
As you walk up the steps, it’s a pretty grand and imposing building, known as The Old Bank, which my Google Fu skills lead me to believe, prior to being an Italian restaurant was a dreadful, soulless pub for chino wearing blights on society, who liked to drink fizzy yellow lager and letch over women, so, a vast improvement, then. As you enter the restaurant, it’s nicely laid out with an open kitchen at the back, and a bar on the left hand side. It was quite empty, as it was getting on in the evening (for British dining standards, on the continent, they would only just be getting ready to go out for a meal at 9pm), and we were waiting for a minute or two before we were spotted and shown to a table.
We sat at the table, and had a look through the set menu, which has been designed with celebrity chef, Theo Randall, although when I asked them, Ask Italian isn’t his chain of restaurants, he seems to just act on a consultancy basis for the chain. A blackboard listed all of the bespoke, made for Ask Italian, tableware you could buy, at frankly ludicrous prices… but it was pretty, I mean, look at my wine glass…
My first criticism is that it seemed to take a while to take our orders, there were only two other tables, who were both mid way through their meal, we put our menus down and did a lot of looking around for the waiters, in that very British “oh, I’m just admiring the restaurant, don’t mind me” kind of way. Orders were eventually taken, drinks arrived (Peroni for my dad and a gorgeous, rich & spicy Shiraz for me) and our first courses came not too long after.
We both started with the Prosciutto E Rucola, or as I like to think of it “posh ham salad,” but the prosciutto was soft salty sweet pigmeat, (and pigmeat is one of the main food groups, lets not forget), and the tomatoes had lots of flavour too. I gave mine a drizzle of the olive oil, and aged balsamic vinegar that was on the table… this brings me to one of my main gripes about Italian restaurants. Before you can eat your food, your waiter puts on his robe and ceremonial hat*, as he becomes THE PEPPER MILL GUARDIAN!
“Would you like pepper, sir?” he asks… yes I would, and then they bring out a 2 foot pepper mill, because pepper obviously tastes better when ground from something so phallic. He then keeps grinding pepper, until I tell him to stop. He would have kept grinding, I was in a world of my own thinking… “I want to eat my salad”, but there he was grinding away, until I realised he wasn’t going to stop until I said “thanks, that’s enough.” Another thing, why don’t they trust us with the pepper, short of stealing it, travelling back in time to an age where you could use pepper as currency. It’s madness, every other restaurant of every other cuisine trusts their customers with condiments, but never Italian restaurants.
After the starters, it was time for main courses. There was a short wait between courses, in fact, a bit too short, I felt a bit rushed in all honesty, but there was enough time for me to notice how cheesy the music playing was, and roll my eyes to my dad. I had the Cannelloni Con Ricotta E Spinachi, and was warned it was hot (this warning was then followed by an appearance of his alter ego, THE PEPPER GUARDIAN. What he didn’t stress was how hot. I mean, I’m talking “how on earth has the dish it’s been baked in not smolten down to liquid metal!?” kinds of hot, but once it cooled down to an edible temperature, it was nice enough. Flavours were good, and the pasta itself was deliciously silky, however, I think a bit more bechamel sauce would have been good, as it was a bit dry. Also, the less said about the side salad, the better. Just, boring, y’know? 4 lettuce leaves, bit of cucumber, bit of tomato, no dressing. Yawn.
My dad opted for the Prima Pizza Pollo Picante Con Pancetta, which he let me have a try of (he’s finally getting used to the idea that food bloggers will want to taste your food.) The flavours were very similar to the best pizza I have ever had, at Marco’s Italian Café in Hebden Bridge (seriously, go there, now!) Marco’s is authentic Italian pizza, made by an authentic Italian bloke, so I consider that high praise for Ask Italian indeed.
Remember when I said I have a small appetite? And you know what they say about dessert going to a separate part of the stomach, so there is always room. I wish this were true, as I struggled come dessert time. We both had the Chocolate Amore, a gooey chocolate cake served with a scoop of vanilla gelato. It was rich, gooey and super chocolatey, but I did have one question… is this supposed to be a warm cake, or a cold cake? Or was it that my cold cake, and scoop of ice cream was put on a very warm dish that made the thin wedge of it quite warm, and the thick end chilled. I was confused by this, but hey ho, it’s chocolate cake, and that’s never a bad thing. Until I hit the cake wall half way through. I had previously thought the cake wall was entirely mythical, but that isn’t the case. It exists, people! Still, it was delicious, what I could manage of it (my dad’s arm was twisted to finish it off for me, it took oh-so-much twisting(!) )
So, there we have it, I went out to eat food I don’t really care for, and really enjoyed it. It had faults, of course, but I would quite happily visit again, as the price was right, and despite feeling a touch rushed at times, had a good atmosphere, and on an afternoon with a few more people there, I think it would be nice to revisit!
3 courses, and a glass of delicious shiraz : £17.90
*Okay, so there were no robes or ceremonial hats, but I think there should be