I’ve only ever eaten at a Frankie & Benny’s once before, and that was as an early morning breakfast option at Gatwick Airport before jetting off on holiday. It wasn’t a venue we specifically chose – rather it was the best of a very limited number of options. I can’t say the meal was particularly memorable.
Fast forward a good few years, and an email from the F&B PR team appears in my inbox, offering me a £50 voucher to spend at a Bristol branch of my choice. We accepted (hindsight is a wonderful thing…), and headed over there on a warm Friday night for dinner…
The self-styled “New York Italian Restaurant & Bar” has multiple branches across the country, all offering American dishes with an Italian twist. Think pizzas, pasta dishes, dough sticks and grills, with a new “lighter” menu now available for those who can’t cope with the large portions and hefty amounts of cheese and other not-particularly-healthy ingredients. The menu’s overwhelmingly large, and we spent a good 15 minutes looking through it before we made our decisions!
The first thing that we noticed on entering the Cabot Circus branch, situated on the top floor, was the heat. Ceiling fans dotted throughout the restaurant (but sadly not above our table) did nothing to alter the temperature, and we hurriedly ordered our soft drinks and jug of tap water to try and make ourselves a little more comfortable. Sadly, these took a while to arrive – and only turned up after prompting our waiter after about a 10 minute wait.
Although aware of the hefty portion sizes, we decided to share a couple of starters (we’d have never got through the £50 voucher otherwise!) in the form of the Frankie’s calamari (£5.95) and the “Dough sticks, dough balls and hot cheese” (£5.95).
As expected, the portions were huge. Disappointingly, we’d asked for the menu option that included both dough balls AND dough sticks…but instead received a plate with three dough sticks on it.
No complaints about the quality of the dough sticks, they were light and airy and perfectly tasty, it just would have been nice to have got what we asked for. The “hot cheese” dip was…interesting: reminiscent of a melted-down-version of those plasticky “cheese” slices you get on top of cheap burgers.
The Frankie’s Calamari were served as an equally large portion! These were possibly a little too well-cooked for our liking, but nicely seasoned with salt and black pepper – giving the dish a bit of a kick. The Neapolitan sauce (tomato and herb-based) was a novel accompaniment.
The fun and games began when we got to the main courses. I ordered the Oven Baked Chicken Parmigiana (£13.95), described on the menu as “A succulent chicken breast coated in garlic and herb breadcrumbs. Topped with ham, melted mozzarella and Mamma’s Neapolitan sauce. Served on a bed of Neapolitan spaghetti with corn on the cob and your choice of house fries, salad or a jacket.”
On ordering, the assumption was made by our server that I’d be having it with chips (I guess most people do), and I blame the heat for the fact that I just nodded my head rather than ordering a salad. As you’ll see in a bit, though, the side salad probably wouldn’t have been much healthier.
It was a massive plate of food. The chicken breast wasn’t quite as moist as I’d been led to expect, and the breadcrumbs were thick and a little overpowering. The thin slice of processed ham on top was a bit redundant: smothered with cheese (apparently Mozzarella, but it didn’t look or taste like it) and more of the Neapolitan sauce, it couldn’t really be tasted.
The spaghetti was cooked al dente but unseasoned, and topped with more of the same sauce. The chips were nice, actually. I still have no idea why you’d have chips AND pasta on the same plate as standard, though…
Having thought she’d ordered the BBQ ribs (£14.95 for a full rack – which she didn’t really want but they don’t do smaller portions), my friend was slightly confused to have a plate featuring both chicken AND half a rack of ribs set down in front of her. It turned out that her order had been misinterpreted, and she’d been served the “BBQ Chicken & Ribs” option from the menu instead.
When he realised the mistake, our server was very apologetic and offered to replace the chicken with the remaining half rack of ribs, but due to the overwhelming heat in the restaurant, we didn’t want to wait any longer than we had to. She demolished the ribs and the sweetcorn quickly (despite the liberal and slightly sickly application of BBQ sauce)…it was a shame, though, that the side salad was drenched with a rich, creamy dressing – meaning that her attempt to order a healthy side was somewhat foiled. It would have been good if they’d made it clear on the menu that the salad is dressed in this way, so people can decide whether to order with or without the dressing.
We were far too full for dessert, so when our nowhere-near-empty plates were removed, we asked for the bill. To F&B’s credit, the full cost of my friend’s main course was knocked off the total by way of apology, leaving our total bill (two starters, one main, two soft drinks) at around the £30 mark.
Not our sort of place, we decided, but if you’re keen on visiting, it’s worth checking their website before you go. There’s always a range of offers available, including free coffee refills, £5 breakfasts, a very reasonably priced Specials menu at 2 courses for £10,95, and more. I’ve read reviews from families with children, saying that the chain is good at catering for kids, with colouring packs and the like. The children’s portions look equally enormous, though.
I doubt we’ll be back. An interesting experience, but not one I’m keen to repeat anytime soon.
Please note – we were sent a £50 voucher by the PR firm working with Frankie & Benny’s, which we used in order to write this review. The voucher was handed over at the end of the meal, so the F&B Cabot Circus staff had no idea who were are before we paid. Neither Frankie & Benny’s nor their PR firm saw this review before it was posted, and my opinions were no way swayed by the fact that this meal was received free of charge.
Find Frankie & Benny’s – Cabot Circus on the Bristol Bites Directory…