Although Petersfield in Hampshire is only a small town, it has its fair share of restaurants. Pizza Express was the first of the Italian chains to open there, but Ask now have a branch on the High Street. It is located in an old timber-frame building that used to house the Punch and Judy Tearoom in the 1960s. The interior has whitewashed walls and exposed beams, reminiscent of Prezzo in Chichester. The real log fire is a great attraction in winter. The glass door and the bar area give a more modern feel to the place. The bay windows have tiny panes of glass; there are wide windowsills that are crying out for a floral arrangement. Ask in Bath has some attractive flowers and plants, and there are silk flowers in the ladies’ toilet in Petersfield. Surely the main seating area deserves a few as well?
Starters or Antipasta on Ask’s menu go from Marinated Olives at £2.60 up to Prawns al Piccante at £6.10. A group of people could try a variety of starters by ordering the Antipasti Selezioni for £11.25. This includes a salad of oven-roasted tomato, baby mozzarella and green pesto as well as butterfly king prawns, marinated olives, stuffed mushrooms, garlic bread and a garlic mayo dip.
Mains, pizza and calzone, pasta and salads make up the next part of the menu. The Chef’s Salad at £9.45 is a veritable feast, with prosciutto, avocado, baby mozzarella, artichoke, egg, tomatoes, cucumber, black olives, peppers, red onion and mixed leaves. It is seasoned with lemon-infused oil. Pasta dishes range in price from £7.95 to £10.15, and they include three vegetarian dishes and three oven-baked dishes. There are seven choices under the heading ‘Mains’, such as Pollo Marsala at £11.25 which is roasted chicken in a mushroom and Marsala wine sauce served with green beans and chips or roasted new potatoes. It is a little surprising that there are no red meat dishes in this section, but there are choices to please those who love king prawns or salmon. Side dishes are mostly around £3 and include chips, ciabatta bread, green beans, mixed salad and rocket salad. A side of Caesar salad will set you back £4.05.
The pizza section includes the Estiva pizza, which is a rather unusual one. After being baked in the traditional way with tomato and mozzarella toppings, when it comes out of the oven, baby mozzarella, prosciutto and a layer of fresh rocket are added. £9.15. The toppings are generous and the base is definitely not stodgy. The baby mozzarella that is added after cooking just starts to melt. This pizza would be a good choice in summer with its combination of hot and cold ingredients.
An excellent choice of main dish for vegetarians is the Risotto Vegetariana with caramelised leeks, oven-roasted tomatoes, courgettes, peas, artichokes and black olives at £9.45. It is made with cream and white wine. Risotto is not a dish that is easy to present attractively, but what this particular one lacks in looks it makes up for in taste. The artichokes in particular are an unusual ingredient and make an excellent contrast to the taste of the oven-roasted tomatoes. The caramelised leeks are gorgeous too, and the olives full of flavour. The cream adds a richness to the overall flavour.
Desserts include Tiramisu at £4.95, Lemon Tart at £5.40 and Chocolate Nemesis at £5.40 – a rich hot chocolate pudding with a chocolate sauce centre, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Ice creams and sorbets are a little cheaper than the rest of the desserts, at £3.95. Ask also serves a variety of coffees, teas and hot chocolate, as well as a dessert wine.
A ten per cent service charge is added to the bill for groups of eight or more people, but this is optional. The service is polite and efficient but not overly friendly. Sitting close to the bar, at one point it was impossible not to hear the conversation between the head waiter and younger waiter. The younger one had asked about which kind of knife he should serve with a vegetarian pizza, and the answer he got was very abrupt and almost insulting. The senior waiter had spoken in an impolite way, which he certainly should not have done in earshot of clients.
Toilets are situated on the first floor, where there is an additional seating area. The ladies’ toilet was clean and well appointed. There were, however, only two cubicles and the light was not working in one of them. As the door reached right up to the ceiling there would have been complete darkness inside, so in fact only one toilet was usable at the time of my visit. There didn’t seem to be any sign of a disabled toilet on the ground floor. The nearest public conveniences are outside Waitrose’s car park a couple of hundred yards away, but there is a charge of 20p.
Ask in Petersfield is a good choice of restaurant, as the food is more than satisfactory and the menu offers plenty of interesting variety. Ask is one of the best Italian chain restaurants in terms of both food and surroundings. There seems to be a good choice of restaurants in Petersfield, including one or two very reputable but rather pricey ones, but if you enjoy Italian food and are looking for reasonable prices, then Ask is definitely worth a visit.
Opening times: Monday – Thursday 12 noon until 11pm; Friday and Saturday 12 noon until 11.30pm; Sunday 12 noon until 10pm.
19 High Street
Tel. 01730 231113