Scotsman Review
Our criteria 
  • Ambience - It's important that a restaurant is inviting. We rate the decor, comfort and atmosphere.
  • Drink - Is the wine or cocktail list as exciting as the food, or does it fall short? Same goes for soft drinks. 
  • Food - We judge dishes on flavour, but also use of produce, cooking skill and presentation
  • Service - The staff and pace of a meal can make or break a meal out.
  • Value - From the food on the plate to service and surroundings, we check that you get what you're paying for.
June 20, 2015

ASK Italian, Edinburgh, restaurant review

ASK Italian offers decent quality grub like any decent chain restaurant should but fails to provide anything truly exciting, finds Gaby Soutar

Absolutely Splendid Kittens, Australian Super Kangaroo, Arrows Sometimes Kill, Antelopes Sparingly Kissed, Advanced Spaghetti Knitting….

At last, I tracked down the truth on Wikipedia – Authentic Sicilian Kitchen. Bo-ring. It’s either that or the initials of the founders of this chain – Adam and Samuel Kaye, who established it in 2003.

With around 120 branches in the UK, it’s just opened its first Edinburgh restaurant on the tramlined Shandwick Place, in the former premises of Clarks shoes. It’s now owned by the private equity investor behind Zizzi, which is sort of the poor man’s Pizza Express.

ASK Italian might be described as the rich man’s Pizza Express, as the menu is a bit fancier. Probably because top chef Theo Randall “helps” (that seems to be the extent of his involvement, according to its website) with designing the menu.

Before I get on with complaining about the food, I have to mention the waiting staff. They are beyond lovely – helpful, enthusiastic, joy filled. Maybe they are robots. If they are, I want one.

While toasting the prosecco drought with a glass of the dry stuff (£5), the waitingbots brought us nibbles of frog green “Nocerella olives from Sicily” (£2.95), as well as piccanti almonds (£2.95), which were supposed to be dusted with chilli oil and crushed chillies, but weren’t.

Instead, they were very hot temperature-wise, like magma in nut form. If I were flexible enough, I would’ve run my tongue under the cold tap in the bathroom.

ASK Italian, Edinburgh

ASK Italian, Edinburgh

I couldn’t really taste the billed goats cheese in the Sicilian arancini (£5.45), but, apart from that, these large globules of tightly packed and sticky risotto with specks of grey mushroom weren’t bad. The fritto misto (£6.25) was woefully unseasoned, but featured a decent mix of bits encased in slightly soggy tempura – a couple of confused-looking whitebait, courgette chips, Ringo-sized squid rings and sweet peppers, with chopped chilli and mint on the top and a ramekin of gloopily textured chilli-infused mayonnaise on the side.

Pizza and pasta make up the bulk of the menu, so we went for the rump steak tagliata (£13.25) pizza and the arogosta e gamberoni (£14.95). The tea towel-sized rectangular pizza had a great sourdough base – thin, crispy and dusted with flour – and its toppings were good, if underseasoned.

As well as hunks of not too gristly medium-rare steak, there were mushrooms, rocket, chopped chillies, salsa verde and a pot pourri-like dusting of dry herbs. Vibrant and generous, but something definitive was missing. Salt? Lemon? It was like there was a ghost ingredient and we need to hold a seance so we could feel its presence.

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My fresh egg pasta was equally fair in its ratio of ingredients, with plenty of pale yellow and al-dente streamers of pasta, lobster and king prawn nodules in a sweet tomatoey sugo, with a boggle-eyed whole king prawn on top, like a cormorant on a rock. Overall, it was a bit of a one note number, but fine.

The chocolate sharing board (£9.95) featured the brown stuff in three guises – a triangle of chocolate and almond cake, which had the saliva-stealing texture of silica gel, two scoops of excellent gelato and some OK, if slightly dry, vanilla ice-cream packed knobbly profiteroles. We scoffed half of these offerings.

This place is in the same bracket as Pizza Express, Carluccio’s or Jamie’s Italian, and definitely more interesting than Zizzi. It’s decent quality grub, but, like Oliver’s chain, dishes often don’t live up to the menu’s effusively descriptive sales pitch.

I suppose it could’ve been worse. If this place had been called Advanced Spaghetti Knitting, our expectations would’ve been impossible to meet (I would especially have liked to see my king prawn in a pasta roll neck and bobble hat).

It’s decent quality grub, but dishes often don’t live up to the descriptive sales pitch

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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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