Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Don't ASK

Oftentimes, when reviewing places to eat, I have a tendency to ramble on, just a bit.

If the food is good, I'll wax endlessly about the succulence of the crispy fat and the opulent richness of the sauce, and if it's bad you won't be able to stop me banging on about the ropey quality of the beef and how the pastry tasted of margarine and poor peoples kitchens.

This review, however, I should be able to motor through in just a few short paragraphs because the food was so absolutely, utterly unmemorable.

Don't go there

ASK Italian is a chain that's been around for a fair few years, and it's bland. Really, bland. Driving to a Garden Centre in a Nissan Sunny on a Bank Holiday bland.

I hadn't eaten in an ASK for several years until the other day, but wasn't entirely sure why. They seem quite popular'n'shit. Doing well for themselves, got lots of locations...

Now I've concluded that the reason I haven't been eating in Ask is because I actually make informed decisions about the places I go to, whereas the only people eating here are automatrons, programmed to frequent these places on their Friday night subroutines simply because of their location betwixt Lloyds No. 1 and Liquid.

Did I have my tastebuds surgically removed that day?
The Arancini starter was just a waste of both money and risotto - dry, chewy balls without the nice adhesion of really gooey mozzarella that you'd expect. In a word, bland. Driving home from the Garden Centre in that same Nissan Sunny having utterly wasted your Bank Holiday bland!

The pizzas, even from the special section of the menu, with sourdough, 'premium' cheeses and extra toppings, were dull, tasteless and so underseasoned that if I did ask a real Italian their opinion, they would've likely flounced out in operatic disgust.

For fucks sake, I chose the most expensive option (about 15 quid) that was meant to contain spicy charcuterie meats and chilli oil. Called 'Firenza' or something equally exotic, but it had no more going for it than the vegetarian option, both of which were weighed down with stodgy dough and bland cheese.

Obviously it was all served on wooden boards, to try and introduce something vaguely quirky and interesting to the experience. Except that IT'S NOT FUCKING 2009. Wooden boards are standard kit these days, and if anything, a bit passé, rather than quirky.

Warm beer

They served me a Peroni Doppio Malto at room temperature. Not pleasant. There wasn't even a big fuck-off pepper mill available to sprinkle a smidge of flavour onto things.

Ask was so dull I couldn't be bothered to take any more pictures
All bland. All boring. All overpriced.

Tiramisu = Supermarkety. Coffee = standard machine espresso. Amaretto = Amaretto out of an Amaretto bottle.

The tastiest thing to pass my lips was a cool can of San Pellegrino Limonade, which I could've fucking bought anywhere for less than half the price.

So, my advice is, if you see an ASK restaurant, walk on by, no matter how hungry you are. You can do better. They only seem to exist in places where there are better options available anyway.

Think of it as a poor relation of Pizza Express (of which there will often be a branch in the same complex, and who are owned by the same people) but at least 30% more expensive, and you have absolutely no good reason ever to visit a branch.


Where to find it...

ASK Italian have around 120 branches nationwide.
This one happened to be in Basingstoke.


  1. Yawn indeed. I have tried the food there too and it was very bland


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