Encouraged by her daughter, Katherine MacAlister enjoys a family-friendly meal at Ask Italian, and finds it ticks most of the boxes

It was my daughter’s choice. Panto, pizza, home. She had even decided what she was going to eat before I told her where we were going – garlic bread, a massive margherita and some sticky toffee pudding apparently. No surprises there then.

So we booked into Ask, a George Street Italian stalwart (join the queue) that looked like it ticked all the right boxes, which has been recently revamped with a refreshingly bright and upbeat interior.

The funky decor makes it a fun place to visit and although we arrived keen and early for lunch at 11.45am, by noon the place was rammed, mainly with families.

But that’s where the novelty ended. Because from there on in, the food was as predictable as the throwing of the pantomime sweets.

Yes there were tweaks, the garlic bread came as a rectangular pizza base on a board, there were some new starters and the pizzas came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but basically, underneath the trappings, it was the same Roman in a new toga.

Which is fine, because if people want pizza and garlic bread, give them pizza and garlic bread. That was certainly why we were there. But offering the ‘old favourites’ under the guise ‘classics’ only served to remind us how far Italian restaurants have moved on from the days of dry black olives, soft, mushy artichokes and bland cloggy cheese.

The kids didn’t notice, of course. They were too busy avoiding their mug of carrots and cucumber to nick our garlic bread, to notice such inanities.

We also tried the new melanzane al forno (£5.45) – tender aubergine slices layered with rich tomato and béchamel sauces and mozzarella, topped with breadcrumbs and baked until golden – which came sizzling in a tiny cast iron dish, but a tad too chewy and lacking the silky smoothness I expected.

The Verdure £9.75 (artichokes, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, Fontal cheese and olives dressed with rocket leaves) was utterly unmemorable. Why serve Fontal cheese on any pizza. It just sits there like a gloopy mess? In stark contrast the fresh light rips of buffalo mozzarella on my daughter’s pizza taunted me and I had massive food envy.

Her margherita con bufala £10.55 had been taken from the Prima pizza menu, (stone baked with longer, crispy bases, featuring specially selected toppings.) and far superior. The linguine carbonara – crispy pancetta in a rich creamy sauce with Pecorino, mascarpone and Grana Padano cheeses – was another success, the crunchy bacon cubes a great contrast to the richness of the sauce.

The kids then moved on to the chocolate pizza dessert – kiddie heaven – topped with chocolate and hazelnut spread and strawberries and then decorated themselves with mini marshmallows and sprinkles, which was so exciting they forgot all about their sticky toffee pudding penchant.

The others had the new fruity ice lolly which was more gritty frozen ice than a tropical dream, but with a starter, main, dessert and a babyccino for £6.75, they couldn’t complain.

But, hey, Ask is a chain and it’s not pretending to be anything else and if you are looking for a family friendly, no surprises, reliable meal, the staff are amazing and the kids loved it.

As for me, I’m now officially pizza’d out. It’s my New Year’s resolution to avoid them at all cost for the near future.

Let’s see how long I last.

Ask Italian is at 5 George Street, Oxford OX1 2AT