Express & Star

Food review: Enjoy a quality meal and great atmosphere at chain that feels like home

One of the great culinary pleasures to me is a good meal from a quality Italian restaurant.

The restaurant is not hard to find, with a very defined frontage

It’s an experience that can be filled with spice, colour and rich flavour, full of olive oil, cultured cold meats, soft and tasty pasta and crispy pizzas.

It’s one of those experiences that many restaurants have tried to make work, but only a few have made it a success and become known for the quality of their food, service and all-round experience.

ASK Italian is a chain which has achieved this, with 65 restaurants across the country, all with their own unique experience and tastes.

One of the newest restaurants can be found at the Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Brierley Hill, based on the upper mall near the Asda supermarket.

It's a colourful, vivid and nice place to spend some time with family and friends

Upon entering the upper mall, you can’t miss the restaurant, with the blue and gold signage and eight semi-circle hoops on the roof which gave it the look of a restaurant in the middle of Rome or Milan.

You can hear the chatter of diners as you enter, as well as hearing the sounds of music in the background, a mixture of modern music and some classical Italian music.

You also get a chance to take in the decorations, with funky mosaics on the wall and wooden beams in the guise of a gazebo above, many of which were wrapped in vines and leaves.

A huge piece of mozzarella cheese sits atop the burrata caprese

The seating is spread out to allow people to be able to pass by without bumping into their fellow diners, with a mixture of padded leather seating for each table.

On the occasion I attended the restaurant, I was given a sample menu to try a few different flavours for starters, main and dessert, with all the other attendant flavours I’d previously mentioned being included.

The starters, which all came together, were a nice mixture of cold and warm dishes, including an antipasti selection of salami and ham with a few cheeses and bread, Burrata Caprese, which is a salad dish with a large helping of mozzarella cheese, 'Nduja & cheese dough bites with a tangy tomato sauce and Zucchini Fritti.

The mozzarella was creamy, thick and tasty

Suffice to say, it was a nice way to start the meal, with the meats fresh and tasty and mixing well with the orangey cheese and the focaccia bread on the side and the mozzarella mixing well as it was creamy and kept well (mozzarella can sometimes be a bit rubbery).

The dough balls were a nice touch, mixing well with the tomato sauce

The dough balls were a nice touch as well, melting in the mouth with a good texture and a bit spicy, particularly when dipped in the tomato sauce, and the Zucchini Fritti were a lovely touch, served in a tin can like chips and with a garlic sauce on the side that added to the flavour. I don’t usually like Zucchini, but it works when deep fried.

They look like fries and are tasty and crisp pieces of zucchini

ASK Italian also provide a fine range of drinks, from soft drinks with a bit of fizz to both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, ranging from Martinis to Mojitos, beers from the Peroni range and, as you would expect from an Italian restaurant, a top notch wine list full of Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc.

As I was driving, I decided to give one of the non-alcoholic cocktails a try, so asked for and got a Strawberry Blossom Spritz, made from Everleaf Mountain, lemonade and a strawberry garnish.

It was very bright, but the Strawberry Blossom Spritz was also very refreshing

Bright pink it may have been, but refreshing, it certainly was, as was its counterpart the Pink Grapefruit Spritz, which was just as vivid in colour.

I was given a choice for my main course, with Tagliatelle and Pappardelle pasta dishes on offer alongside Caprina Prima and Fiery Calabria Prima pizzas.

Top marks for artistic endeavour for the fiery calabria prima pizza

Feeling in a mood for some spice, I ordered the Fiery Calabria Prima pizza, which arrived on a wooden board and in flat-bread form with Nduja sausage meat, pepperoni, mozzarella and ricotta cheese on a tomato base, topped with breadcrumbs and finished with a drizzle of honey.

It smelled rich and was, indeed, a very rich flavour, but it was delicious from the first bite, if a little tough at times to cut into.

The meats glisten atop the pizza with the goats cheese

Despite this small issue, it contained all the different flavours of the meats, mixing well with the tangy tomato base and creamy goats cheese and had a bit of a kick to it. Nothing too much for me as I like spice, but some people might find it a bit hot to handle.

The quality of the meal was matched by the ambience in the restaurant, with families and friends enjoying conversations, while waiters and waitresses kept up the chatter and the DJ in the corner played a wide range of tunes without playing too loud for people to be able to hear themselves think.

You get a lot for your money with the Grande Momenti board

A good meal deserved a good dessert and the selection that came out was exactly that, with a nice range of sweet treats being provided.

It’s what Ask Italian call Grande Momenti and consists of tasters of the classic tiramisu, gooey chocolate brownie, Italian biscuits, two scoops of the raspberry sorbet, salted caramel panna cotta and Amarena cherries & mascarpone.

The pannacotta was tangy and full of flavour

It was a plate full of flavour, with the sorbet acting as a nice palate cleanser, the tiramisu being as rich and striking in flavour as you would expect, the brownie being just tasty and chocolatey and really nice, while the biscuits were a crunchy change of pace.

The tiramisu was suitably bitter and creamy

Where the dessert really worked was with the panna cotta and the mascarpone, with both being very sharp to the taste buds, zinging with tangy flavour and virtually glowing in the light.

The raspberry sorbet acted as a nice palate cleanser

It didn’t seem like a lot, but it was very filling and a nice way to end the proceedings, as was the espresso I had to finish (well, when in Italy).

The mascarpone was a lovely touch, zinging with flavour

It’s a chain restaurant, but one which makes its own mark on how it presents itself, something it does very well with the decorations, the furnishings, the music and, most importantly, the food, which stands up to the best Italian restaurants for the flavour and range available. 8/10

Sample Menu:


'Nduja & cheese dough bites - £8.50

Antipasti Classico - £14.95

Burrata Caprese - £6.95

Main Course

Fettuccine Bolognese - £13.75

Salami Misti - £15.95

Fiery Calabria Prima Pizza - £16.50


Chocolate Etna - £7.25

Grande Momenti - £19.50

Biscoff Cheesecake - £6.95

ASK Italian, The Merry Hill Centre, Dudley, Brierley Hill, U99A DY5 1SP