The move marks the first major overhaul for the chain, which was set up by Adam and Sam Kaye in 1993 and sold to Gondola Group in 2004, with all its restaurants being transformed from next year at a cost of £4m.
As well as the introduction of a more modern interior, featuring brighter colours and low-hanging lighting, and new staff uniforms, the relaunch will see the company form closer links with Italian suppliers and attempt to boost its all-round authenticity.
Ask has been consulting with chef Theo Randall, who has already developed several new dishes that have been launched across the chain. It is now trialling a second tranche of dishes, including risotto gamberoni, fettucine con verdu and a selection of new gelato, at 11 restaurants before it releases them nationwide in March.
Italian food and wine writer Carla Capalbo and Master of Wine Adrian Garforth have been working alongside Randall to create an all-Italian wine list, which is also on trial before its potential rollout in 2012.
“The move is to make the Ask brand more genuine,” said Randall “If you go back a few years Ask was a bit old and worn out and we wanted to create something completely new, fresh and cool.The competition is so great now that this has to be done."
As part of the changes the chain has introduced an Italian education scheme where all the company’s general managers are taught about the new ingredients and food and wine menus, and receive training to create a more Italian style of service.
“There is a culture of change at the company which is ongoing,” said Lizzie Perry, general manager at the Spring Street Ask in London’s Paddington, one of the chain’s 11 test sites
.“We will change our specials five times a year and staff learn about seasonal ingredients and what food Italians are eating when. Our service style now also reflects a cheeky Italian style to create a more relaxed atmosphere,” she adds.
Ask is the last of the Italian chains in Gondola’s portfolio to receive a makeover and follows the launch of revamped looks for Zizzi and Pizza Express earlier this year. The transformation will be at a rate of one a fortnight and is expected tobe completed by the end of 2015.