Homeward Bound: Ask, Hornchurch, Essex

For mother’s day this year, my sister and I decided to treat our mum to something a little bit different. Instead of the usual home-cooked dinner fare we usually rustle up, we opted instead to take her out for a swanky brunch, by-passing the usual cereals and porridge that normally clutters up the kitchen. After putting forward a few suitable venues, we finally settled on Italian chain Ask, who have a restaurant in the centre of Hornchurch which is a mere 15 minute drive from our homes. They have also only recently launched their brunch menu, with the selections not even posted on their website yet, so we thought it would be a crime not to investigate further, especially as we love their dinner menu.

Inside Ask

Inside Ask

Not massively large, Ask still has a fantastic vibe, although when we arrived at 11am, we were the only guests there. It didn’t feel eerie or weird however – our waiter chatting away with an endearing politeness made sure of that. We were tucked away in a corner table, so we had a full view of the empty restaurant, which has a very homey and comforting style of décor. Large light wooden tables are well placed so as to offer privacy and space yet still make the most of the room available, with some tables small squares, some long rectangles and there are even some big circular tables placed in the bay windows, ideal for family gatherings, decorated simply with a glass fish bowl shaped jar filled with red and yellow peppers. The walls were painted a chipping yellow-cream, with feature walls in burnt orange and maroon-plum, which matched the wooden floors and tables beautifully. On the far wall next to the small bar area is a brilliant black and white photograph of how Hornchurch high street used to look back in day, giving a wistful sense of nostalgia.

One of the nice things about Ask, is as soon as you enter the front doors you are confronted by views of the open kitchen, plates being plonked in front of you ready to be taken to the tables, the smells of rich Italian food wafting deliciously, making you feel incredibly pleased to be there.  On this occasion the irresistible scent of bubbly bacon paired with the pop of frying eggs had the same effect as an operatic chorus to my growling tummy. Once seated at our table, we started with some drinks and what better way to start the morning than with a freshly brewed coffee? While Jess opted for a black Americano, I can never resist the frothy lightness of a cappuccino.

Sweet treats

Sweet treats

Since it was mother’s day, we decided to go for a two course brunch. To be honest, the brunch menu was nowhere near as extensive or varied as we had imagined. It was really rather small, with all the savoury choices just seeming to be eggs cooked in a slightly different way or served with a small change in accompaniment. We were even provided with both the full lunch and dinner menu as well as a set menu to choose from even though it was still morning, and we actually had to ask for the brunch menu, to which the waiter seemed really rather surprised. Despite this initial disappointment in the options available, we were still determined to plough on through and try something new.

Whilst slurping my coffee, I settled on baked eggs for my brunch. The two eggs would be baked and served with prosciutto ham and red pepper in a bubbling tomato sauce – all flavours that I really enjoy so I thought the sound of this was amazing. Jess went for the same option, although mum went for something different with the poached eggs, served Italian style. We also decided to order some sweet treats that we could share between the three of us, and to be honest, they sounded right up my street so there was no way I was going to turn them down! We decided to pick the chocolate filled dough balls, served with chocolate sauce and then the sweet dough sticks, served with summer berries.

Baked eggs with red peppers

Baked eggs with red peppers

Expecting the normal savoury then sweet order of meals, we were surprised when our doughy nibbles arrived on the table first. The sticks looked nothing like I was expecting – they looked more like the incredibly thin Italian garlic bread you get that comes in a large circle, except that this was a lot crisper and had been cut into triangular shards for us to tuck in to. Despite the sticks not being what I signed up for, they were really delicious with a sugary sweet topping and a satisfying crunch to them. We dunked it in the chocolate sauce that was originally paired with the dough balls as they did need some form of sauce I think so that they wouldn’t be too dry but the bite of them worked really well with the soft strawberries, raspberries and blackberries that came with them. Even though we had asked for the sharing version of this dish, there were barely enough berries to go round so it would have been nicer to have a tad more fruit.

The chocolate dough balls were quite simply fantastic – I literally melted in my seat as I took one delightfully squidgy bite of the oven warm bready balls. The bread was toasty to the touch and beautifully soft, so it was heaven to eat, the bread a perfect base for the oozing chocolate sauce encased in the centre like a wonderful surprise. Smearing even more chocolate sauce from the side dish made this a chocaholic dream, so I loved every tantalising graze on these classic Italian foodie kisses. The portion size was ideal for an appetiser really as we shared these two dishes between the three of us, so it set the tone well for the main section of brunch.

Poached eggs

Poached eggs

When my main dish arrived, it was smaller than I was expecting, but this was no bad thing as I don’t suppose you eat as much for brunch as you would dinner. Presented on a natural wooden chopping board was a black bowl that housed my baked eggs, the smell of the soupy peppers and tomatoes smelt divine and I could wait to try some. It came with two small pieces of toasted bread wrapped in a paper napkin – if I’m honest, not really enough toast to do any decent mopping of my eggy goo. The baked eggs were nice – one of them was half dippy half hard yoked, and the second egg the yoke wasn’t dippy at all which was disappointing, but other than that I adored the combination of flavours, the textures and the consistency of the dish. The streaks of cooked prosciutto was delicious and paired with the strips of red pepper and baked egg whites, it was truly lovely to get stuck in to. It was fresh yet wholesome and also nice and filling. If I could have made any changes, I would have liked both of my eggs completely dippy and I would also have liked some more ciabatta style toast. Mum enjoyed her poached eggs sitting perkily atop a slab of bruschetta style toasted bread with rounds of juicy fresh tomatoes next to the wobbly eggs.

All in all it came to just over £30 for the three of us I believe, so not bad price wise at all for a two course brunch. The portion sizes were small, so if you only had one course and went a lot earlier in the day, then you would probably need a lunch as well depending on what you had but where we went late morning and had the two courses, it lasted us until dinner time. I can’t completely make my mind up whether it was worth it, or whether I would try it again, as the selection was really tiny to choose from and if you don’t like eggs, you’ll be in a bit of a tight corner. What I had, I enjoyed though, so I can’t say it all was all bad, especially as there was nothing left on any of our plates at the end of the meal!

Coffee time!

Coffee time!

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