I REVIEWED Ask in Hagley Road, Birmingham, for yesterday's Sunday Mercury.
For anyone not fortunate enough to read this example of food writing wizardry, here's a brief summary: Service warm but restaurant temperature sub zero. Food filled a hole but didn't provide expected taste of Italy.
In contrast, I ate at the new Worcester branch of Pizza Express - a similar Italian-style chain - on Friday.
I ordered almost an identikit meal (so much for my pledge to try new foods in 2009) but the difference in quality was radical.
The restaurant itself is very pleasant. Like many Pizza Expresses, the interior is spacious and modern; its conversion from a collection of shops sympathetic.
It took a few tetchy minutes for staff to take our order, but once this had been done I was able to relax.
My oven-baked melanzane parmigiana was impeccable. Compared to the Ask version, this dish packed the tomatoey punch I so desired and was neither over peppered, or under seasoned. The layers of aubergine were tender and its mozzarella topping gorgeous and gooey.
The mixed salad fared better too; fresh and crisper with just enough creamy dressing.
My mum's giardinieria pizza also got rave reviews, although it was gobbled down so quickly I didn't get to sample any myself!
So, in this round of the battle of the Italian chains, Pizza Express, Worcester reigned supreme.
Worcester was also the location for a cracking curry at the Massalla Lounge in Broad Street - the contents of which will make my next review for the Sunday Mercury...
To see more Mercury restaurant reviews visit www.sundaymercury.net