A precious day off sees MICHELLE TOMPKINS hoping to be spotted eating and drinking at ASK Italian

ASK Italian

Regent Circus

Victoria Road, Swindon SN1 3DF

Tel: 01793 615381

Parking: in the nearby Regent Circus car park

Disabled access: Yes, via a lift

Our ratings:

Food: 9/10

Choice: 9/10

Décor: 10/10

Customer service: 9/10

Main course prices: from £7.94 to £14.95

TripAdvisor rating: 4/5

THERE’S something a little bit naughty about having a day off in the working week. The knowledge that everyone else is grafting over their PCs while you swan around at leisure makes it so much sweeter than your average Saturday or Sunday – a bit like bunking off, but with the headmaster’s permission.

Wherever I go on my occasional days off I always wonder how and why the other people I see came to be there. I mean, who actually goes to the cinema on a Thursday morning or does a restaurant lunch on a Tuesday? Retirees mostly, it seems, but you can always spot the ones who are revelling in some lieu time – they’re the ones with a slightly smug look on their face, a look that says ‘oh yeah, look at me… drinking wine on a school day. I hope Janet from accounts walks past on her lunch break. She’ll be well jel.”

Of course, the downside of weekday decadence is that very few people are free to join you. Lunch for one isn’t all that much fun, however much wine you drink. In this case, however, my other half had bunked off with me… sorry, booked a carefully-scheduled lieu day, arranged in consultation with his co-workers… and the pair of us were determined to use the free pass to maximum effect.

A long lie-in was followed by a long walk in anticipation of the long lunch ahead of us, with a trip to the cinema to round off the mufti day. And ASK Italian – one of the few chain restaurants that never feels too, well, chainy – was deemed the ideal spot.

We like ASK because its fresh, minimalist décor isn’t too stuffy, and the menu has some old favourites (carbonara £9.95, pepperoni pizza £11.95) for those days when you just want comfort food, but some more innovative dishes added in for when you’re feeling a bit more adventurous.

This (being a Thursday with no work… wahoo!) was an adventurous day, obvs, so we decided to try some of the newer dishes on the menu. Starters were pumpkin arancini (£5.95) for me and meatballs picante (£6.50) for him – both absolute winners.

My little rice balls arrived lined up neatly in their breadcrumb coats, with a chilli-laden pot of tomato sauce on the side to add some pep. The pork and beef meatballs had been baked in an earthenware dish on top of chunky Italian bread, and were topped off with mozzarella and crème fraiche. More of that fiery tomato sauce was bubbling around the edges invitingly. A great start.

I stuck with the veggie theme for my main course, ordering the purple basil pesto genovese (£12.25), quite possibly the prettiest dish ever laid before me. The tagliatelle, laced in a creamy sauce, was strewn with verdant green beans and pine nuts, with spoonfuls of beautiful pinky-purple pesto dolloped around the edges. The edible pansy on top completed the picture (although I nudged it aside…I’ve never got my head around the concept of flowers you can eat). You can choose to add chicken this dish for an extra £2, but it really doesn’t need it as it’s delicious without.

While I’d gone vegetarian, the meat feast continued across the table with sausage cannelloni (£11.95), another baked dish, this time with a sausage ragu stuffed inside the cannelloni tubes and a tomato and basil sauce poured over the top. To me, it looked quite heavy and remarkably similar to the meatball starter, but there were no complaints – he likes what he likes, I guess.

Puddings were off the agenda for fear of falling asleep through our film, but from a previous visit I can give the thumbs up to baked chocolate gnocchi (£5.75), while the blood orange and chocolate tart (£5.95) looked pretty special too.

In all this time, only two other tables had joined us for lunch, both undoubtedly pensioners and both of whom I saw again half an hour later when we took our seats in the cinema. The lunchtime dining market in Swindon is clearly a limited one

I kept my eye out for Adver colleagues wandering past, but they were obviously working far too hard to leave the office so I never did get the chance to raise a glass and gloat over my midweek good fortune.

We left feeling full and heady and giggling like schoolchildren. It was a great way to spend a day off, with only one downside - the ham sandwich I had for lunch the next day never seemed so dull.