Paul Fulford on Ask Italian on New Street, Birmingham

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It's hard to imagine that Italians would recognise the food at Ask as anything authentic.

Ask Italian on New Street, Birmingham

Ask, 56 New St, Birmingham B2 4DU. Tel 0121 643 1212.

It's hard to imagine that Italians would recognise the food at Ask as anything authentic.

It's the sort of dull menu you see at so-called Italian restaurants the length and breadth of Britain, with none of the regional or seasonal variety that makes eating out in Italy such a great pleasure.

There are sharing boards and bruschetta and calamari and pasta and risotto and all the usual suspects.

Nor does the decor of this recently-opened branch in the heart of Birmingham have any rustic charm, being rather clinical and over-lit.

And yet I'm going to largely end my criticisms at this point for I quite enjoyed the food I ate on a chilly post-Christmas evening when a trip to the sales had proven fruitless and I was feeling a touch glum.

The sharing plate I had with my wife was generous in size and of fair quality.

Buffalo mozzarella was soothing and soft, the goats' cheese gentle rather than pungent.

There were grilled peppers and marinated aubergines and courgettes to add a little vegetal sweetness and a tomato and rocket salad that added verdancy.

I liked, too, slices of crisp fried bread which tasted of good olive oil.

I think the platter would have benefited from something sharp - such as a scattering of capers, for instance.

Or maybe some lemony artichoke hearts to perk the taste buds.

Nevertheless, it was a starter than both Lynn and I happily scoffed whilst drinking a bottle of reasonably-priced Primitivo.

Bolognese, lasagne and the shared starter at Ask Italian on New Street, Birmingham

Now, however, back to the negative for we waited for our main courses... and waited... and waited.

Eventually we attracted the interest of a passing waitress and, after apologies and a further delay, they arrived.

The bolognese sauce that I'd ordered in the dim and distant past was a decent rendition of a classic - well balanced, sweet, savoury and rich with tomatoes.

It came with fettucine rather than spaghetti - a good thing because the ribbons better hold the sauce than strands of spaghetti.

And well done to the kitchen - an open plan affair - for serving the pasta al dente.

Lynn, meanwhile, was enjoying a large serving of lasagne that looked and smelled good.

Oh that the restaurant had run to a bowl of complimentary bread with which to mop up the sauce that remained in our bowls - but this, being a chain restaurant, no doubt avoids anything that encroaches on its profit margins.

Neither of us had appetite for dessert so finished off a carafe of Primitivo rashly ordered because we'd waited so long for our main courses that we'd necked back the original bottle.

Service throughout the meal was friendly in a hey-guys-how-you-doing sort of way, but didn't always seem to be terribly efficient.

That said, the place was busy with weary shoppers and retail workers on the Saturday evening we ate there.

Let's not make any huge claims for Ask. It seems to me a chain restaurant that offers decent quality food at a reasonable price to people in need of refuelling rather than a place in which to linger long enthusing over the cuisine.

As such, it fills a gap in the market for us tired shoppers in need of sustenance.

Fact File

Expect to pay... Around £25 a head.

The bargain deal... £9.15 vegetable panini.

Vegetarians would like... Rigatoni con zuchine e pesto.

Meat lovers would devour... Pork belly porchetta.

Child friendly/ disabled friendly.

Three places for shoppers

Balcony: A smart champagne bar and cafe in Selfridges offering decent food. Selfridges, Bullring, Birmingham.

Cafe Opus: Small sister of Opus in the city centre, this place offers unfussy, high quality food at a great price. Ikon, Ooozells Sq, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS.

Adams: Want a treat? Clever, tasty Michelin starred food here. 21a Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5QP.

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