ASK Italian officially opened in Horsham this week with a celebrity ribbon cutting at its new landmark location on the corner of East Street and the Carfax.
London’s Park Lane chef Theo Randlall and the chairman of Horsham District Council Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater) jointly did the honours on Tuesday lunchtime in front of a small crowd of passers-by treated with flutes of Prosecco sparkling wine.
Theo, who also inspires many of the items of the restaurant chain’s menu, enthused about the food, staff and décor at the 126th ASK Italian to open for business in the UK.
However, coming to Horsham has proved more of a challenge than setting up elsewhere, as the group’s operations director Steve Holmes explained.
“We were originally planning to open 12 months ago but it had been delayed but for the right reasons,” he said, hinting at the reams of asbestos removed from the listed King’s Head hotel where during its renovation original inscribed plasterwork was found dating back to the C16th – now available to see upstairs opposite the toilets.
Inside ASK has a fresh and contemporary feel, but many original features have been retained, such the grand oak staircase which was more prominent in the former open plan layout when the historic building served as a hotel and later a tea rooms.
Mrs Vickers reminisced to the County Times about nostalgic moments spent in both these previous incarnations, saying: “This is very exciting for me. I had my wedding reception here in 1979, it was lovely, and I remember the hotel as it was then and it is fantastic to see it reopen as a restaurant today.
“I used to bring my children to the tea rooms when they were young and this is going to be a fantastic asset to Horsham.”
The chairman added that it holds a ‘really important position here in Horsham’, buttressing what will now increasingly be known as ‘Eat’ Street, as opposed to East Street.
Inside, some elements of the design are very innovative, even ‘New York style’ according to chef Randall commenting on the tables upstairs overlooking the kitchen which is open to the downstairs diners too.
Other aspects of the look are more unique to the restaurant’s setting with an ancient tale of folklore revolving around the last dragon in England being slain near Horsham being represented by a wooden sculpture upstairs and a theme of nightingales flying through the interior.
The new eatery has generated 30 jobs, all of which apart from the head chef and manager have been filled by local people – but not just anyone.
Operations director Steve Holmes was keen to talk about their approach to recruitment where they are proud to have thrown the rule book out, instead looking for people who are ‘cheeky and interesting’.
Serving us was Jake Graffy from Storrington who was, despite the intense start to day one’s trading as punters poured in off the street encouraged by free Prosecco, very friendly, confident but with a certain sparkle in the eye.
He congratulated our ‘excellent’ choice of starter, a delicious special of fresh asparagus wrapped in smoked prosiutto, baked and topped with toasted Italian breadcrumbs, grated Grana Padano cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (£5.95).
The courses that followed did not disappoint, including a delicious braised lamb shoulder served on an almost sweet pudding like creamy rich risotto, that perfectly offset the hearty flavour of the meat infused with notes of sage and rosemary (£14.95).
Needless to say the ASK menu stocks a full compliment of pastas and pizzas, many benefiting from the personal influence of Theo Randall.
The new ASK Italian will now serve as the gatekeeper restaurant establishment to Horsham’s new and completed restaurant quarter, its privileged position offering it the first refusal of potential diners browsing all that’s available around ‘Eat’ Street.