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Bath city centre has no shortage of restaurants to offer, but many of them close between 2.30pm and 6pm. We had to catch a train just after 6.30pm and realised that we would have to settle for a chain restaurant that stayed open throughout the afternoon. My younger son had taken his girlfriend to Ask a few weeks before and recommended it. I had never been to Ask as we don't have one locally, so I was all in favour of trying somewhere new.
When we arrived at 4.30pm that Saturday the place was fairly quiet and as there were three of us we were shown to a table that was intended for four. Before I had even had chance to sit down the waitress was handing out menus but warning us that several things were not available. These included all the main course specials, salmon and ciabatta. I was a little peeved about the salmon, but I presumed they had had a busy lunchtime and had run out.
The waitress was soon back to take our drinks order and I asked for a Fruitiser. She went off to check and came back to regretfully inform me that that was not available either. Not a good start. My elder son and I ordered Appletiser (£1.95 each) whilst my younger son went for a Peroni Gran Riserva beer at £3.65 plus a glass of water. These were soon brought by a different waitress.
Turning to the food menu, I didn't want a starter, not wishing to spoil my appetite for the main course, but my sons decided to share the prosciutto and mozarella crostini at £4.65, which is served with fresh rocket salad and a balsamic glaze. We also ordered some marinated olives for £1.95. I noticed on the specials board that there was a king prawn starter that day for a whopping £7.95 as well as mushroom and marsala soup which was under five pounds.
The main course menu has sections for pizza (including calzone or folded pizza), salads, pasta and risotto as well as oven-baked dishes. My younger son had had a pizza on his previous visit and thoroughly enjoyed it but decided to try something different this time. He chose a Milanese oven dish, polpette al forno, made with penne pasta, beef meatballs, fire-roasted peppers, caramelised onions, chillies, garlic, pomodoro sauce and melted cheese (£8.25). My elder son is very partial to risotto and liked the sound of the vegetarian one made with cream and white wine, courgettes, caramelised leeks, peas, oven roasted tomatoes, artichoke and black olives (£8.95). Still lamenting the lack of salmon, I decided on ravioli burro e pesce, large ravioli parcels stuffed with crayfish, crab, smoked salmon and mascarpone cheese with a white wine, spring onion and dill sauce topped with fresh rocket (£9.25).
The starters arrived promptly and the crostini certainly looked very appetising, although I declined the offer of a taste. The green olives (of which there were eight, along with a couple of black ones) were huge: the biggest I've seen. The taste of them definitely lived up to expectations. When we had finished it was only a short wait until the main courses were served. The ravioli and risotto were served in round dishes whereas the pasta came in an oval-shaped oven dish. Grated parmesan and black pepper were offered, and the parmesan was a very generous serving if you did not ask the waitress to stop grating. The main-course portions were not overly large and anyone with a big appetite might want to order a side salad, but we all felt that our main dishes were just enough. My elder son said that his risotto was the best he had ever tasted, and I know he's sampled a good few. My younger son can be quite a fussy eater but he had no complaints, polishing off every last mouthful. I was equally happy with my ravioli, which had plenty of dill and sliced spring onions in evidence on top. The ravioli itself was just the right consistency and there was plenty of filling which tasted delicious. I was satisfied that I'd managed to get some salmon after all.
Perhaps the fact that we were celebrating my younger son's birthday a few days early encouraged us to ask for the dessert menu. It was a different waitress again by this time, and she explained that they were short of particular things that day because they had not had a food delivery for some reason. She said it would actually be easier to tell us what was on the dessert menu rather than what was not available. We had a choice between profiteroles, two flavours of ice cream, a tempting chocolate pudding with an orange sauce centre (on the specials board), chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream or lemon and mascarpone cheesecake. Two of us decided that the cheesecake, at £4.95, was the slightly lighter option and one ordered the chocolate cake (£4.75).
It was about 5.30pm by this time and the restaurant was filling up quite quickly. There was a slightly longer wait for the desserts to arrive, but we were happy to have a bit of a break after our main courses. The cake looked very indulgent, covered as it was in chocolate sauce with a scoop of ice cream to the side. The verdict was favourable except that the sauce could have been a little warmer to contrast with the ice cream. We did feel we had made a good choice with the cheesecake, which had a gorgeous lemon flavour and was topped with flaked almonds. We certainly felt full by that time and did not order coffee as we needed to make our way back to the station.
By 6pm the restaurant was almost completely full. My son said that on the previous occasion they had arrived about 8.30pm, again on a Saturday, without a reservation and had been asked to come back in an hour. (They had drinks at the Pig and Fiddle just across the road whilst waiting). Ask is obviously a popular place, serving good food at reasonable prices in very pleasant surroundings. One thing that did strike me was that the tables were not too close together in the area where we were seated, so it was possible to have a conversation without feeling that others could hear or being aware of conversations at nearby tables. The music was not so loud as to be intrusive either.
The décor is mostly white with arty vases on windowsills and the occasional abstract painting. The bar is a contrasting black, and bottles of wine are displayed in profusion. Potted palms dotted here and there provide more privacy between neighbouring tables. Lighting is provided by spotlights on a frame in the ceiling, and these were lowered quite a bit at around 6pm. One reservation I have is that the toilets are situated in the basement down two flights of stairs.
Ask does have a special children's menu and there were several young children there when we arrived. One tiny one, however, escaped and was playing with the chain in the middle of the two sides of the large specials easel; if mum hadn't come to the rescue fast enough, he could have pulled the whole thing over and perhaps been squashed in the middle. Not a pleasant thought.
Our bill came to £55.25, so you could say £20 a head after adding a tip. That seems very good value since my sons almost had three courses each, bearing in mind that they shared a starter.
I came away feeling that I wished there were an Ask restaurant in Portsmouth. (My nearest would be Chichester or Petersfield.) The waitresses were polite and friendly, the food was enjoyed by all three of us without a single complaint, we liked the place itself and felt that prices were very fair. Had there been a food delivery that day, we would have had even more choice on the menu. I am sure that I shall be returning to Ask when I have an opportunity, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Italian food.
Ask Restaurant The Royal York Hotel George Street Bath BA1 2AF