The Italian Kitchen

February 2, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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I walk past the Italian Kitchen at least twice a day, on my way to and from work, and every time I ask myself “why haven’t I eaten there yet?” After a few months of making mental notes to pop into the Italian Kitchen, I finally ended up in the Ecclesall Road restaurant by accident, after spending longer than I’d intended in the Nursery Tavern (whoops), and getting a case of the beer munchies. Nipping across the road and filling up on yummy Italian food seemed like the perfect way to finish off the evening.

Despite it being a rainy, mid-week night, the Italian Kitchen was surprisingly busy. This eatery has a very cosy vibe, with a preference for low lighting and dark furnishings, which is very welcoming – especially on a rainy and windy January night! We scored a window seat, so we could watch the pedestrians getting blown around Ecclesall Road while we settled down with our wine, and perused the menu. The menu is typical for an Italian restaurant; that means pizza, pasta, risotto, and steak. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary here, and the prices are pretty average for this kind of food. So far, so good.

Still hung up on the previous week’s Loch Fyne treat, I couldn’t resist the lure of the fish dishes, and opted for the Linguini Marinara (9.95), which promised a trio of seafood: mussels, prawns, and squid. It pretty much goes without saying that the seafood couldn’t compete with Loch Fyne (which specialises in seafood and is more expensive, after all) but I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of seafood the Italian Kitchen piled onto my plate.

All too often a seafood-pasta dish turns out to be four mussels-in-their-shells, strategically positioned on top of a pile of pasta, with a handful of prawns and calamari rings thrown in (if you’re lucky!) Not so at the Italian Kitchen; every forkful of linguine brought with it a generous helping of seafood. Even when I reached the bottom of my pasta, there was a pile of stray seafood still sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I don’t think I’ve ever been treated to so much seafood in a pasta dish before. Other restaurants, take note!

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The seafood was nicely cooked and not in the least bit rubbery, and it had a hum of garlic going on, although I wouldn’t have minded a hotter kick (a bit of chilli in the tomato sauce would have sealed the deal for me). But overall, a tasty, generous dish that’s filling and good value for money.

Once again, it was all about the seafood, as my dinner date ordered a Marinara Pizza (9.95) of prawns, mussels, and squid, with some garlic to season. The Italian Kitchen didn’t disappoint, delivering a pizza piled high with seafood, which left us debating which was the better option for seafood lovers – pizza, or pasta? If you’re a fish fan, you can’t really go wrong. Pizza or pasta, the Italian Kitchen make sure you get your fill.

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With two seafood-packed meals for just under 20, we reluctantly left the warmth of the Italian Kitchen, for the cold and rain of Eccy Road, feeling like we’d enjoyed a great meal, at a great price. A generous portion of tasty Italian grub at reasonable prices in comfortable surroundings – what’s not to like?

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BB’s

November 6, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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As someone who enjoys both a tipple and a meal out, a restaurant with a BYOB policy is my idea of heaven. While these places may be far and few between, there are a couple in Sheffield, and even one that’s smack bang in the middle of the city centre.

Squeezed between The Old House and Fusion on Devonshire Street, BB’s may look pokey from the outside, but inside it’s a two-storey warren of tables that’s always absolutely buzzing with enthusiastic customers. And, depending on preference for atmosphere, herein lies a possible deal-breaker: BB’s is a noisy, boisterous, knocking-elbows-with-your-neighbour sort of place. If you aren’t seated next to the door, this cosy Italian can get incredibly stuffy, and if you’re seated near one of the many birthday or hen parties that pile into BB’s every Friday and Saturday night, then things can get rowdy.

This was definitely the case when we visited over the weekend. We were seated next to the door, and so got a good idea of the crowd BB’s attracts: basically an endless stream of people clutching wine bottles in one hand and gift-bags/hen party favours in the other. We were actually seated next to one of the hen parties, and halfway through our meal they cracked out the pink whistles and fluffy head boppers (not to mention an inflatable – but the less said about that the better!)

You’ll either see the noise, rowdiness, and flaming Sambuca shots that are dolled out to birthday girls and boys, as part of BB’s charm – or good reason to never, ever frequent the place. Personally, I love the atmosphere but just be aware that if you’re after a peaceful evening, then this place isn’t for you.

One of the great things about BB’s, is that it’s graced with some of the friendliest, most genuine waiters and waitresses you’re ever likely to encounter. Greeting regulars with hugs, and finding the time to get to know non-regulars like us, they’re also very eager to please. At the end of our meal, we inquired about BB’s selection of after-dinner liqueur coffees, only to be assured that they’d whip us up whatever we fancied. This is the sort of fantastic, second-to-none customer service that turns first-time diners into loyal regulars.

But, before the after-dinner drinks came the dinner itself. Seated next to the hen party and with the BYOB wine already flowing, it was time to size up the menu. BB’s menu is all about serving up traditional Italian dishes, but with plenty of variations on these old favourites. There’s a whopping nine variations on steak, six chicken dishes, and all the usual pasta dishes are present and accounted for: spaghetti, lasagna, tagliatelle, gnocchi and penne pasta.

BB’s also has a large selections of hot and cold starters, so we decided to kick off the dining experience with a portion of bruschetta (£6.20) When the starter arrived, I immediately regretted opting to share one plate. The bruschetta dish was two slabs of lightly-toasted bread piled high with heavily-seasoned, juicy beef tomato chunks and fat cubes of gooey cheese.

Maybe a little peppery for some people’s tastes, but as a lover of strong flavours, I found the heavy-handed seasoning absolutely delicious. The bread had absorbed just the right amount of fiery seasoning and tomato juice, turning it a little soft without being at all soggy. The staff offered us oil and balsamic vinegar, but the bruschetta was so good that no further seasoning was necessary. Highly recommended, just don’t make the same mistake I did – be sure to order a portion all to yourself!

Next, was a main meal of Pescatore pizza (£9.00) a mixed seafood pizza, featuring olives and love-them-or-hate-them anchovies. Although the pizza only had a couple of toppings per slice, the focus was on quality rather than quantity: full squid rings, and entire mussels and prawns. The anchovies had been shredded and carefully spread across the pizza, so the taste was never overpowering. In fact, the sharp, tangy anchovies perfectly complimented BB’s choice of cheese. The cooking process had also infused the surrounding pizza with some of the anchovy oil, which was somehow even more delicious than the anchovies themselves.

For myself, it was a Tagliatelle Al Salmone (£8.75) that, after too many dodgy homemade pasta bakes, reminded me just how amazing pasta can actually be.

The tagliatelle ribbons were perfectly cooked and tasted like fresh, homemade pasta. Doused in a surprisingly light cream-based sauce and heaped with fresh coriander, it hardly needed the smoked salmon. This was fortunate, because the salmon in my smoked salmon dish clearly wasn’t smoked, as was stated on the menu. What I ended up with was flakes of cooked salmon and, although tasty enough, it lacked the strength of flavour you get with smoked salmon.

Full marks for the delicious pasta and tasty sauce, but the dish was sorely missing a standout flavour to bring it all together.

Although we hadn’t planned on dessert, the waitress cheekily brought us the dessert menu anyway. On top of the usual pies, chocolate puds and ice creams, BB’s serve fruit sorbets in hollowed out coconut shells, oranges and lemons. Vowing to give these intriguing-sounding desserts a whirl next time, we opted for the aforementioned liqueur coffees.

With the whole bar to choose from, we ordered a Bailey’s coffee and a brandy coffee (£4.00 each) BB’s aren’t stingy with the measures, the brandy coffee in particular contained so much brandy that it completely changed the colour of the drink. My Bailey’s coffee was deceptively coffee-coloured, but still packed a stomach-warming punch. However, this hot brew was oddly finished off with a chilled layer of foamed milk, which made my first sip a bit of a nasty surprise. That minor niggle aside, the liqueur coffees were delicious, piping-hot boozy goodness and the perfect way to end the meal.

Without wine bumping up the bill, BB’s is value for money, and serves up homely Italian cuisine in authentic surroundings. The lively atmosphere (especially on Friday and Saturday nights) makes BB’s feel more like a night out than dinner. A fun, friendly, pocket-friendly evening complete with some very traditional Italian grub.

Same time again next week, BB’s?

Bloo 88

September 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Cocktail Bar, Restaurants | Leave a comment
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I was a regular fixture in Rise’s beer garden in my uni days, perfecting the art of making a glass of house white last all afternoon, so I was surprised to discover that Bloo 88 wasn’t next door to Rise as I’d previously assumed, but had actually replaced my old haunt on West Street. But is it a change for the better?

First impressions are that the place has undergone a major overhaul: the interior is now all exposed brickwork and rustic tables, but the old open pizza oven is still smoking away in the corner. On the Saturday afternoon we visited, the number of reserved tables caught us off guard. If you’re planning to pop in on a Friday or Saturday evening, you need to book in advance to guarantee a seat. We hadn’t booked, but luckily still managed to score a table, where we immediately launched into the cocktail menu in search of refreshment after the arduous trek here (and by arduous trek I mean the walk from The Wig and Pen around the corner…..)

Cocktail connoisseurs will find all the old favourites at Bloo 88: Mojitos, Cosmos, Mai Tais and Martinis, but there are a few unusual options too, including a Vanilla Laika (named after the first dog in space, apparently!) and a Brazil-inspired Passion Fruit Batida. The cocktails are fairly priced, with quite a few coming in at a reasonable £4.95, with the added promise of two cocktails for £7 if you visit during happy hour.

We settled on a Bramble (£4.95) and a Godfather Sour (£4.95.) Despite being cheaper than many other Sheffield cocktail bars, Bloo 88’s concoctions did not disappoint. My Bramble was sweet and fruity, without being in the least bit sickly, and packed a boozy punch. The garnishings put the city’s more expensive cocktail bars to shame, as mine arrived topped with a juicy blackberry and a fresh black cherry. This sealed the deal and had me running back to the bar for a second serving of Bramble goodness (got to get my five a day!)

Not to be outdone, the Godfather Sour was served in a funky little jar, topped with a whole raspberry and plenty of crushed ice. It tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Expectations high after our lavish, alcohol appetizers, we turned our attention to the food menu. Bloo 88’s speciality is pizza, which doesn’t sound particularly exciting at first, but rest assured even their ‘classic’ pizzas feature unusual toppings like baked egg and pine nuts. If you’re feeling adventurous, Bloo 88 have some speciality pizzas too, including the intriguing ‘Shanghai Surprise’ topped with shredded duck, spring onions and hoisin sauce, or you can throw caution to the wind and build your own pizza from an impressive list of ingredients.

Starved, greed got the better of us and we opted for two twelve inch pizzas – the Mediterranean (£8.95) and Brunch (£8.95.) Our food arrived quickly and, to our delight, we saw that Bloo 88’s presentation skills aren’t restricted to cocktails. Instead of arranging thinly-sliced toppings evenly across the base, Bloo 88 scatter thick, chunky toppings, and then seem to cook them wherever they fall. This gives the pizzas a very homemade, rustic appearance.

Biting into my first slice, I discovered a generous wedge of melt-in-the-mouth, warm goat’s cheese – a perfect pizza, from the very first bite.

As well as goat’s cheese, the Mediterranean toppings included cherry tomatoes which had that delicious, lightly-grilled tang, spinach, roasted garlic and slabs of portobello mushroom. I’d wolfed down half of this scrumptious pizza before it even occurred to me to try adding some sauces. It turned out Bloo 88 did have plenty of sauces to compliment their pizzas, but they were tucked away on a trolley in the corner, along with the cutlery and napkins. The staff hadn’t asked whether we wanted any sauces with our meals (or cutlery and napkins, either) and hadn’t even told us about the trolley. After the bar staff pointed me in the right direction, I returned to the table armed with sauces and cutlery, but this should have been pointed out to us earlier.

After experimenting with a few sauces, I can definitely recommend a few splashes of the Tabasco for hot-heads like myself. Bloo 88’s thin base and fiery Tabasco is a match made in heaven. The rest of the pizza disappeared in no time.

But it wasn’t all about the veggie pizza; the intriguing-sounding ‘Brunch’ pizza turned out to be a bumper meat-feast of parma ham and italian sausage, with the same perfectly-cooked cherry tomatoes and mushroom wedges, but with a baked egg in the centre giving this pizza a real ‘wow’ factor.

Although our reviewer initially complained about the lack of runny yolk, once they’d chowed down on a calorific forkful of baked egg, cheese and pizza base, they quickly changed their mind and started raving about the egg instead. The parma ham had the crispiness and crunch of bacon (and who doesn’t love that?) and the italian sausage delivered a hit of salty flavour. Another massive thumbs up for Bloo 88’s grub.

Stuffed from twelve inches of pizza goodness, we asked for the bill only to discover that classic pizzas are 2 for 1 all day, every day – what more could you want? It’s difficult to pick fault with Bloo 88 – the surroundings are welcoming and rustic, the cocktails are delicious and presented with flair, and the pizzas are cheap, delicious and guaranteed to leave you scanning the menu, plotting what you’ll order on your next visit (Florentina and New Yorker pizzas, in case you’re interested.) The staff could be a bit more attentive and check whether you’ll be needing anything else with your meal but really, fetching your own Tabasco is a small price to pay when the pizza is this good.

If you love pizza or cocktails, then Bloo 88 is your new favourite haunt. The loss of Rise wasn’t such a big deal after all.

Highly recommended.

Revolution

August 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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Located in the snazzy West One Plaza, Revolution may make you think of vodka shots (in thirty homemade flavours, no less) rather than food, but one look at the menu shows Revolution have some serious food ambitions. Sunblushed tomato, asparagus and pea linguine, summer mezze board platters, and plenty of pricey tapas – no bargain beer and a burger deals here! So, keeping an open mind, we headed to Revolution for a midweek treat (and a few midweek voddies, of course!)

Inside, Revolution Sheffield is an aircraft hanger of a place, with floor-to-ceiling windows, shiny wooden surfaces, oceans of room between the assorted tables and booths, and an ultra-modern bar of LED lights and glittering booze-bottles. Decor-wise, it feels like a trendy nightclub – not your usual venue for a spot of supper. Keeping an open mind, we settled into a booth and ordered a round of mojitos (£6.50) which tasted too much of soda water, but we ploughed ahead, slurped down our cocktails and ordered some tapas to start: homemade potato wedges with dips (£4.95.)

The chunky potato wedges arrived with the skins on, just the way we like them, but the accompanying sour cream dip was strangely runny and tasteless – disappointing. Thankfully, Revolution redeemed themselves with the sweet chilli dip, which had a fierce kick. As a spice fan, I scrubbed the sweet chilli bowl clean, but if you can’t take the heat you might find the sweet chilli dip a painful ordeal.

Appetites duly piqued, we wasted no time ordering our mains, which arrived in double-quick time. My Salmon and King Prawn Linguine (£8.95) looked promising, as I was presented with a bowl full of linguine and creamy sauce, topped with a generous portion of smoked salmon.

The white sauce was refreshingly light without skimping on taste and, mixed up with a forkful of linguine and assorted veg (firm asparagus, fiery rocket and peas to be precise) it was delicious. The smoked salmon was the highlight for me, delivering a hit of seriously strong, salty deliciousness, but I was disappointed by how overcooked the king prawns were.

On the whole, a flavour-packed dish of perfectly-cooked veggies, a light but tasty sauce, and plenty of seafood, although at £8.95 Revolution are definitely being cheeky with their prices. To put it into perspective, my linguine was roughly the same price as a vegetarian pasta dish or Spaghetti Ragu at Strada.

Since we were in a vodka bar, we just had to sample Revolution’s special vodka glaze, and ordered the intriguing Revolution Vodka Pizza (£7.95). This thin and crispy pizza wasn’t mean with the toppings: chorizo, goat’s cheese and mozzarella with sweet chilli peppers, fresh rocket and the aforementioned vodka-glazed chicken, finished off with a drizzle of tart balsamic vinegar. Thin pizzas are easy to overcook, but the Revolution staff avoided this pitfall and sent out a perfect thin and crispy pizza. The vinegar drizzle in particular was a clever touch, giving the pizza extra bite.

Which brings us neatly onto the bill, and our major issue with Revolution – the price. Not only is the food expensive, but the steep booze prices bump up the bill even further. Even if you stick to pints all night, expect to feel the pinch. The surroundings are top-notch and the food is tasty with a few quirky options on the menu and quality ingredients used throughout, but there’s no escaping the fact that Revolution feels like the sort of place you’d pop into for a bite to eat on a whim, rather than somewhere you’d book in advance and look forward to – and the prices don’t reflect that. Good food, modern surroundings, but ultimately, the cheque was a bit of a stinger!

Ego

July 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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Ego’s postman may deliver to ‘88 Surrey Street’ but to make this easy, Ego is essentially a restaurant built into the Winter Gardens. Ego has a unique location and it makes the most of it, with plenty of glass walls offering fantastic views of the tropical plants inside the Winter Gardens.

The interior continues the plant-life theme: the mirrors in the bar area are embossed with a stylised branch print and there’s a very artistic silver tree with copper leaves in the dining area. The restaurant is strictly open plan, with no cubbyholes for those after an intimate meal, but this is part of Ego’s charm, which is all about glass walls and open spaces, and giving everyone a chance to admire the fantastic view. With its exposed faux-rustic beams, artistic decor and shiny glass at every turn, Ego certainly creates an impact.

We were escorted to a table in the corner of the spacious dining room and were immediately brought a jug of ice water, complete with very swanky, blue-tinged water glasses. So far, so good. The menu may have a Mediterranean twist, but there’s dedicated Pizza and Pasta sections so even fussy eaters should find something to their liking. To kick off the evening, we ordered an appetizer of Hummus and Pitta Bread, which came in at a purse-friendly £2.95. When our budget appetizer arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find there was more than enough to go around. This generous pot of tasty hummus and pile of warm pitta bread is the perfect, value for money pre-dinner nibble. A nice change from the usual bread-and-olive-oil starter, and highly recommended for a party.

After gobbling up the hummus and bread, expectations were high. Could the mains live up to the starter? Our eyes lit up the second we spied the first main meal, a 14 inch Gamberetti pizza (£10.95) Not only was the pizza hanging off the plate (always a good sign!) but it was completely coated in king prawns, green chilies, prosciutto and vibrant rocket. Quite possibly the best-looking pizza we’ve ever clapped eyes on.

Restaurant pizzas can be on the salty side, and we did have our reservations about king prawns on a pizza, but Ego’s offering was the perfect balance of tongue-scalding chilies, salty prosciutto, meaty prawns and peppery rocket, mixed up with a rich tomato sauce and presented on a thin, crispy base. If you’re a pizza lover, then you owe it to yourself to try Ego’s Gamberetti – just do it on an empty stomach, because this is a real waistband-stretcher!

Always up for some seafood, I opted for the White Crab Risotto (£10.95), a brick of perfectly-cooked vialone rice, fiery red chillies, cooling chives and sharp lemon. It was an interesting mix of flavours that was overshadowed by the lashings of parmesan; not only were there flakes on top, but the cheese had melted down into the rice, taking the edge off the lemon, chilli and chives, and making this a seriously stodgy risotto. Very tasty and filling, and packed with big chunks of delicious crab, but a lighter touch with the cheese would have given the other flavours a chance to come through (not to mention left me room for dessert!)

Washed down with a crisp bottle of Marche Bianc (£14.95) and two diet cokes (£2.25 each) we were left completely stuffed, and won over by Ego’s classy ambiance and view.

However, as we finished up paying our bill something strange happened. Throughout the meal the staff had been shifting tables around ready for the arrival of a large party next to us. This party arrived and squeezed into their allotted seats, but then an extra few party-goers arrived and, much to our surprise, two of the late arrivals sat down on the edge of our table, without so much as an explanation or an apology. Cue an awkward few minutes while we waited for our change, before we made a speedy – and rather confused! – exit.

We were loitering outside Ego debating where to go for a nightcap when the manager rushed after us, apologising profusely and explaining that the extra people hadn’t made reservations, and they certainly hadn’t been told by the staff to sit at our table. We were really impressed that the manager had taken the time to apologise, especially since we were already off the premises and the awkward situation was in no way the staff’s fault. More restaurants should take a leaf out of Ego’s book and we’d like to thank the staff for being so conscientious!

All in all, Ego’s food is on par with the other fine city centre restaurants – expect cuisine in the style of the Leopold Square crew, but in a far more striking setting. This is a restaurant that’s out to impress with its decor and views, and can hold its own with the food, too. We left Ego absolutely stuffed and feeling that, for a bottle of wine, two meals and a starter in such a lavish, city centre setting, we’d got our money’s worth.

ASK

June 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Remember that heatwave/summer we had last week, before the Curse of the Bank Holiday kicked in and plunged us back into 24-7 drizzle? During one of those rare evenings where you don’t need waterproofs just to go into town, we headed out in search of that old classic: italian grub. Sheffield has no shortage of fine italian restaurants, and in the end we settled on ASK.

Located on Cambridge Street, ASK has some stiff competition from Leopold Square – so how does it stack up against neighbours Zizzi and Strada? Well, unlike the Leopold Square crew, ASK lacks outdoor space, which is only going to be a problem during nice weather. Unfortunately, this was one of the 5 days a year where being outdoors doesn’t require full winter gear. Even though the ASK staff had thrown all the windows open, it was still a few degrees above comfortable inside.

Temperature gripes aside, ASK’s big, gleaming open plan interior has a cafeteria feel to it, that doesn’t set the ‘italian restaurant’ mood. Thankfully, ASK makes up for this when it comes to its eye for detail: the wine comes in stylish, gleaming glass carafes and the water jugs have polo-style hand-holes set into the glass.

Still a little too warm for comfort, we downed glasses of water while examining the menu. ASK serves the usual crowd-pleasing mix of pasta dishes, pizzas and seafood, all mixed up with plenty of those italian staples: cheese, tomato and herbs. We ordered our meals and switched from water to a carafe of white wine (£10.15 for the chardonnay) while we waited for our food to arrive.

First to appear was a helping of risotto gamberoni (£12.45). The risotto sauce was creamy and layered with tomatoes, prawns and refreshing shredded courgette. The courgettes and rings of red chili were perfect additions; the freshness of the courgette and the fiery kick of the chilis prevented the thick sauce from becoming overpowering.

Despite some interesting flavours thanks to the chili and the courgette, I was wondering why a rice dish demanded such a hefty price tag – until I tucked into the single shell-on king prawn that came with the risotto. The king prawn meat was as fresh and tangy as sushi, and cooked to juicy perfection. Although I only managed to scrape a few forkfuls of prawn meat from the shell, the price tag suddenly made sense. If I’d been served a plateful of nothing but those king prawns, I’d have gone home raving about ASK.

Also shipped to our table, was a Stromboli pizza (£8.95) The pizza arrived rustic-style, on a chopping board with an extra helping of chilis, as requested. Despite the sprinkling of chili peppers, the pizza still lacked a kick and there were complaints of it being too salty.

Finally, we were treated to the ravioli marittimo (£10.35). The pasta parcels were jam packed with a creamy mish-mash of seafood: crayfish, crab and salmon, to be precise. Like the rest of our ASK meals, the portion sizes seemed disappointing at first glance, but it’s the sheer richness of the food that leaves you stuffed. Topped with a herby tomato sauce and a few prawns, the ravioli completely finished our reviewer off.

However, we had one major gripe with ASK, and that’s how quickly the food arrived. While speediness is usually a good thing for rumbling tums, it meant we’d ordered and finished our food in under twenty minutes. Paying nearly £13 for a risotto that’s ready in ten minutes leaves you feeling cheated.

To stretch out our evening, we felt compelled to order a round of hot drinks and some puddings. Just like the carafes and quirky water jugs, our lattes (£2.15 each) arrived in style. Served in neat glass mugs with silver handles and white saucers, the presentation was faultless. Meanwhile, the honeycomb cheesecake hit the spot, although at £5.25 it was rather pricey for just one slice.

Our experience at ASK was a bit of a mixed bag. They certainly know their way around seafood, but the prices are a bit on the steep side, especially for food that arrives in under ten minutes. If you want to make an evening out of ASK, be prepared to shell out for plenty of extras. We were left stuffed, but with the nagging feeling that our evening out was over too quickly.

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