I've never been to Frankie & Benny's before, for various reasons one of which was that there wasn't a local branch near us in Cardiff Bay. Just a couple of years ago, one was opened about ten minutes from my house and yet I still hadn't been. I'm not sure why, I think it's because as a vegetarian I wasn't convinced that there would be anything on the menu for me.
However, when we were invited to review their new menus, I jumped at the chance to disspell my uneasiness about the American-Italian restaurant chain and decided to give it a go. Before we went, I checked the menu to ascertain if there are any vegetarian dishes (as I hate sitting at the table and discovering my choice is lasagne or salad) and was reassured to find a range of dishes, including penne, pizza, a burger and a wrap. Not a massive choice but enough for me to feel that I had a choice.
Before I go any further, I will declare now that this is a mixed-bag for a review: most of the actual food itself was ok, the service and hygiene was not.
We arrived at 12.30pm on Sunday for lunch and we'd already decided that we needed to have the three courses to be able to sample the menu properly. We were greeted by a happy and cheerful waitress who seated us at a corner table with a highchair for The Boy. And this was the first hygiene problem. I always carry Dettol wipes in my handbag, and thank God I do because this was the state of the highchair:
The entire seat was covered in ingrained food and dirt. I considered not even putting him in the highchair but decided to give it a wipe over myself and keep an eye on where he put his hands. The table also needed wiping down as it had sticky drink stains on it, and the menus had tomato ketchup and soft drink dried onto them. Two of the five forks were dirty. Mr. TheBoyandMe took The Boy to the toilet and told me that one of the door-locks was broken and the loo-seat wasn't attached. Great.
After 15 minutes, we were 'greeted' by our waiter and we gave our food order and then asked if we could have some drinks. I checked to see if they had a plastic beaker for toddlers (as they do in Pizza Express) or a paper cup with a lid (Pizza Hut) but was told it was just a glass so I asked him to leave it as I had a tippy-cup of water he could drink from. 9 minutes later he returned with the two soft drinks and the heavy glass of water which I hadn't wanted.
Left:Dough sticks, dough balls and hot cheese = £5.95
Right: 'Amazing skins' with melted goat's cheese & home-made bruschetta = £4.95
These arrived 23 minutes after we ordered them. As it goes, I was very happy with the doughballs and doughsticks and felt that they were good value for money, especially if used as a big sharing plate between people in the party. The 'Amazing skins' were pleasant enough but the potato was terribly fatty and they certainly weren't 'fully loaded' as in the description.
As soon as the starters were initially brought out, I asked the waiter to bring The Boy's main meal as soon as it was ready. This is actually good practise for restaurants when families are dining with young children, but it did seem an alien concept to the waiter. Nonetheless, The Boy's meal was brought out ten minutes after we finished the starters which was a full twenty minutes after it was asked for (more about his later) and ours came twenty-five minutes after we'd finished the starters.
Goat's Cheese & Caramelised Red Onion Hot Baked Wrap = £8.45
This was one of the more adventurous vegetarian meals on the menu and I was happy with the size of the portion, the imagination behind the concept and the quality of the food. The wrap was fresh and tasty, the filling plentiful, and the chips very tasty. The only thing I will say is that I felt that the onion was too overwhelming a flavour but that is probably a personal choice. This had a thumbs up from me.
A 'Deep-filled' New Yorker Calzone = £10.45
At this point I need to point out two things: I have never known my husband (in twelve years) to ever complain about a meal, and the product description for this is as follows; "Full to the brim with spicy pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms and mozzarella. All topped with Mamma’s rich Neapolitan tomato and herb sauce."
I think that it's clear from the photo that it is not 'full to the brim' at all: this 'deep-filled' calzone is as flat as pancake. Mr. TheBoyandMe said that the ham was heavily processed, the bacon was fatty, there was barely any cheese and the whole thing was greasy and bland. He's since explained to me that he orders a calzone as a measure of comparison in new restaurants because he knows what an Italian and an American-Italian calzone is like having tasted them in both countries (I did wonder why he has them so often) and is rarely disappointed. He was incredibly disappointed with this one and said that the filling wouldn't have been enough to cover a pizza had it not been folded. Not good enough for £10.45!
We finished our main at 1.55 and ordered desserts five minutes afterwards at 2pm.
'The Godfather' – a sharing sundae = £7.95
We decided to share a pudding and went for this 'mountain of brownies, crunchy chocolate malt balls, red berries and cream. Topped with ice cream, lashings of toffee and chocolate sauce and finished with toffee crunch.' Aside from the small amount of ice-cream and copious amounts of squirty cream, it didn't disappoint. It was very tasty, very filling and we would order it again with no problem.
However, it took 36 minutes for it to arrive.
Left: Pork sausage, mash & beans.
Right: Chocolate ice-cream sundae
I was impressed with the choice on the
kids' children's menu: spaghetti bolognese, hamburger, chicken strips, margherita pizza, fish fingers, chicken pasta or sausage. This younger menu costs just £3.95 and includes a main course, a dessert and refillable soft drinks. There is also the the option of a free side of vegetables, side salad or Heinz baked beans.
The sausage meat was quite poor quality and The Boy actually wouldn't eat it, which is rare for him and sausages. The mashed potato was 'smash'-style packet potatoes. The whole thing had been sat on the side for a while as the mashed potato had a skin on it, the plate was hot (a no-no for children) and the baked beans were drying around the side. The quantity was perfect for younger children, but the quality was far from ideal.
He had a single scoop of chocolate ice-cream for pudding with sauce on top and a separate pack of chocolate buttons. A perfectly sized dessert for a young child.
The activity pack contained a double-sided activity booklet for different ages, a jigsaw and a multi-coloured colouring pencil. It is one of the better packs I've seen and was well received.
Finally, 2 hours and 15 minutes after we were first seated I managed to pay the bill. At this point I decided to tell the manager about the highchair, rather than leaving it until this review is (possibly) passed on and countless other children being placed in the same seat. I showed him the dirty straps and seat and he was genuinely shocked. He apologised and tried to give an excuse, stopped because there is none and apologised again. He then sent over a waitress to clean it. I did intervene and tell her it actually needed taking apart and scrubbing as spray wasn't going to clean off months of built up dirt.
What was good?
- The hot bread sharing plate for starters
- The hot baked goat's cheese & caramelised onion wrap
- The portions and price of the younger children's menu
- The children's activity pack
- The sharing sundae
What was bad?
- The 'amazing skins'
- The 'deep-filled' calzone
- The cleanliness throughout the entire restaurant: table, menu, cutlery, toilets, highchairs. If that is what the front of house is like, what state are the kitchens in?
- The waiting period:
- 12.30 seated
- 12.45 order taken
- 12.54 drinks arrived
- 1.08 starters came and asked for The Boy's meal
- 1.21 end of starters
- 1.28 The Boy's main arrived
- 1.45 mains came
- 2.00 ordered ice-cream
- 2.20 waiting for ice-cream for 20 mins
- 2.36 ice-creams came
- 2.41 waiting for the bill
Is it good enough that it took 2 hours and 15 minutes to have a family meal? I don't think so. Not when actual eating time was 25-30 minutes, leaving 1 hour and 45 minutes as waiting time.
Will I go again? Unless there are serious improvements in service and cleanliness? No!
I was provided with a £50 voucher towards the cost of this meal. My opinion is honest and unbiased.