ITALIAN chain restaurants are tumbling like dominoes. Among the fallen in York are Strada and Jamie’s, while Carluccio’s and Prezzo have had closures across the UK.

But one chain still standing is ASK Italian, which has been sitting very prettily in York’s Assembly Rooms for 20 years.

There were three of us – old friends who met 17 years ago when our children were born – and we were out for a catch-up.

We’d caught a movie at City Screen and wanted to eat somewhere nearby. It was Thursday evening, unseasonally cold and wet – three reasons why the city seemed dead and most of the restaurants we passed were quiet or even empty.

So we were pleased to discover ASK was neither of the two. Situated inside York’s Georgian Assembly Rooms, this has to be one of the grandest locations for a pizza and pasta restaurant in the country.

The high ceilings act as an amplifier, so it is noisy and perhaps not ideal for an intimate, romantic dinner if that is what you want.

Our waiter was friendly, attentive and swift to give us a complimentary drink: a shot of a light-coloured liquid.

Our excitement that it was a fancy Italian liqueur was short lived when our waiter told us it was lemonade, then proceeded to knock over one of the glasses.

Happily, there were no such accidents when he brought our drinks order and the sharing platter we chose as a starter: antipasto fritto (£12.95).

This had an array of mini snacks, many of which had been fried in a light batter. We tucked into baked mushrooms with cheese, calamari, chicken goujons, dough sticks and zucchini fritte (courgette fries, a first for us!). It all came with two dips: spicy tomato and garlic mayonnaise. We cleared the plateful, but the items were fairly mediocre. The mushrooms were watery and the calamari was cut so thin that the main taste was batter rather than squid.

But it wasn’t long before our tastebuds were happy again. Our main courses were all really good.

New on the pizza menu was the vegetarian two egg fiorentina (£12.50, add £1.95 for ham).

Arriving on a long wooden tray it looked inviting: a thin, crispy oblong base, topped with tomatoes, cheese and spinach and two just-set eggs staring out from the middle like a pair of eyes.

It won firm praise from my friend, who cut it up neatly and folded the pieces over to eat like a sandwich.

There is a good selection of dishes on the menu besides the obvious pizza and pasta, with options for vegans and vegetarians and there is a special menu if you have allergens.

If you are counting the calories, there are lighter pizza and pasta options with fewer than 550 calories per dish. My friend picked the light carbonara with asparagus and pancetta (£11.95) which came with a side salad.

This was listed as another new item on the menu, and was another winner. The helping was small, but my friend said it was big on flavour.

The thick ribbons of pasta were coated in a three-cheese velvety sauce with a blanket of crispy, salty pancetta placed on top.

The rainbow salad was pretty to look at and fresh and crisp too.

My choice was more traditional, a bolognese (£13.75) made with slow-cooked beef brisket in a decadently rich sauce oozing with flavours of tomato, garlic and red wine. With a pile of freshly grated Parmesan on top, this was a very satisfying dish, matching the weather and my mood which was demanding comfort food. The pasta was tagliatelle and cooked so it still had a bite.

We were given dessert menus, then abandoned by our waiter (why does that seem to happen a lot in restaurants?).

Other staff began clearing up and wiping tables down, so we grabbed one of them to order a dessert to share and tea to finish.

And we were glad we did. The Chocolate Etna (£6.95) is labelled as “most loved” on the menu, and you can see why. Like one of those Russian dolls, there is a dark chocolate shell containing a hot chocolate fondant which has a scoop of vanilla gelato inside.

If that wasn’t yummy enough, the waiter pours a hot toffee sauce over it all at the table and it all begins to melt into a delicious, sweet and sticky goo of chocolate, caramel and cream. Superb!

We finished off with a hot drink each and liked how our mint tea came in a white ceramic teapot.

Just before we asked for the bill, I checked online to see if there were any discount vouchers available for ASK and was delighted to find one giving 25 per cent off our food bill (saving us £14.54).

It took the total to £61.21 for the three of us which was super value for what had been in the main a decent dinner with a five-star pudding.

ASK Italian, Grand Assembly Rooms, Blake Street, York 
Phone 01904 637254

FOOD: Tasty 3.5/5
AMBIENCE: Noisy 2.5/5
SERVICE: Mostly good 3/5
VALUE: Good 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals are paid for by The Press