Frankie, my dear...

Another week, another chain launching a new set of menus, this time "New York Italian Restaurant and Bar", Frankie and Benny's.  I have to admit that in my student days I had a bit of a soft spot for F&B.  It was close to my university and the local cinema plus it did cocktails - so cosmopolitan (sometimes literally).  Since leaving uni however I haven't returned - there were so many other new and exciting places to visit in the big city and suddenly a pizza chain didn't quite hit the spot any more.

Entering the bar at the Cardiff Bay branch, it was like stepping back in time.  Everything was exactly the same, the bar and kitchen were in the same place. Even the tables were laid out the same as I remember from their valleys branch!  The only perceptible difference I could fathom (apart from being 25 min down the A470) was that they didn't have the "teach yourself Italian" CD on in the loos any longer (More's the pity!).

The menu itself is still a mix of Italian-American dishes - ribs and wings nestled up against pasta and pizza, with a large dollop of BBQ sauce thrown into the mix.  As there were four of us dining we decided the greediest easiest thing to do would be to get some starters to share, opting for the Big Sample Platter (£13.95) plus some cheesy bacon chips (£3.95) and pigs in blankets (£3.95).

Big Sample Platter [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The sample platter was a hit with all of us - garlic bread, BBQ wings, chicken bites, onion rings and potato skins with added bread sticks and celery to dip in the accompanying sauces.  This is a real family sharing dish and whilst the quality wasn't amazing it was certainly better than I've eaten elsewhere for similar prices.  The stand-outs components?  The cheese and bacon skins were the perfect size and packed with flavour whilst the chicken bites were wonderfully moist.

Cheese & bacon chips - not sure bacon should be that colour! [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
The other sides were a little more hit and miss.  Whilst the cheesy chips were crisp and the cheese sauce rather tasty in a dirty, late-night kebab kind of way, the pigs in blankets were comprised almost entirely of salt.  I'm pretty sure that a drink from the Dead Sea wouldn't leave me quite as parched! 

Pigs in Blankets - officially saltier than the Dead Sea! [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
Moving on to mains and this is where everything started going completely wrong.  One of our party ordered the Half and Half pizza (£13.95) with "New Yorker" and "BBQ Chicken" on each half.  The New Yorker is advertised as being "Fully loaded with strips of tender chicken breast, bacon and pepper cheese sauce on our tomato topped base with melted mozzarella and a cooling bruschetta mix." All fine except our companion has a severe allergy to onion and sadly "cooling bruschetta mix" is apparently code for "big pile of onions".  We made our server aware of this and, after a quick word with the chef, they offered to remove the offending half and re-cook a separate pizza leaving off the offending ingredient.  This would have been fantastic customer service by Frankie and Benny's had they then not tried to charge us for two pizzas at the end of the meal. I understand that they weren't to know but if they intended to charge us double they should have made this clear to us.  On pointing out this error to our server he muttered something about "audit" purposes and then issued a new receipt omitting the second pizza.

The New Yorker deep-filled calzone (£10.45) was, conversely, a bit of a hit.  A light, thin dough  stuffed with spicy pepperoni, ham, bacon, mushrooms and mozzarella in a thick and rich tomato sauce.  Not quite as good as mamma used to make but certainly a good effort.

New York Burger [Photo: Cardiff Bites]

Ordering from the special set menu (£10.95 for two courses), one diner opted for the New York Burger (can you see a theme with the names?) topped with BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayo and bacon.  This was served lukewarm and the meat was overcooked and cardboardy.

BBQ Chicken and Ribs [Photo: Cardiff Bites]
My dish of BBQ Chicken and Ribs was a similar story - overcooked and lukewarm.  The chicken skin was crisp and juicy but the inside of the bird was dry and tasteless.  The marinade on the ribs was delicious but, as with the burger and the chicken, these were overcooked and dry. 

On to desserts (SD card ran out of memory so no pics sadly!) and we played it safe.  The sundaes - Cookies and Cream Explosion and the East Coast (£5.25 each) were okay.  East Coast (Toffee and chocolate ice cream layered with chocolate covered honeycomb, mini marshmallows and chocolate malt balls, topped with chocolate sauce and cream) was perfectly acceptable but if I'm honest, a little dull.  Also "malt balls" (malteasers to you or I) in ice cream freeze rock hard and are quite hard to eat!  Cookies and Cream Explosion scored plus points for having big chunks of chocolate cookie but was let down by an overpowering red berry sauce.

The Fruit Cocktail (again from the special set menu) turned out to be chopped apple and melon with a blob of ice cream on top.  The fruit was nice enough but where were the  grapes, kiwi, pineapple and orange advertised?  A real disappointment and should have been removed from the menu for the night.

Lastly, the most American of puds outside a baked cheesecake - Cinnamon Waffle Crunch (£4.75).  The promise of a "warm cinnamon waffle topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, lashings of toffee crunch pieces and toffee sauce" had us all salivating but sadly warm it was not.  Instead of a freshly cooked waffle we were served a stone-cold piece of cardboardy batter.  Being realistic we'd have even taken a freshly microwaved waffle over this!

Okay so the food isn't great, so who exactly eats at F&B?  The answer lies in the balloons and endless repetition of "Congratulations" by Cliff Richard - family birthday parties.  In our time there (approximately 2 hours) we witnessed 3 celebrations and I'm guessing on a Saturday night there're many, many more. 

Would I go back?  Probably not.  Like late night drunkenness the night before a big exam and toast eaten from a bowl because you ran out of clean plates - F&B is one I'm consigning to me student days.  At least until I have a kid's party to organise.

In the interests of full disclosure, this meal was sponsored by Bright PR who sent us a £50 voucher towards the cost of the meal. The total came to approx £93 and we paid the difference.  We also booked directly rather than through Bright PR and so were "mystery diners" on the night.


Richard M said…
Just so you know, "cheesy chips" are actually called Cheesefries in the US.
It's a pretty common side, especially in school/university cafeterias. :)
mark said…
I went to Frankie and Bennie's in Ipswich once. Never again. The first Calzone they brought out was frozen in the middle They apologised and said they'd bring another. It must have been only 5 minutes' later that the replacement came out. I asked them if they always microwaved them, and the waiter tried to assure me that it hadn't been microwaved (although he couldn't explain how they'd managed to get it so hot in the middle when the outside was only lukewarm). Anyway on paying I said I don't think I'll come back if they microwave their calzone. The guy explained that they had to microwave it, otherwise it will burn on the outside due to the amount of defrosting/cooking required...whatever...wish so many decent Italian places around I don't see the point in going somewhere that doesn't cook stuff fresh.
Anonymous said…
I ate at a F&Bs last summer for a hen party - prior to that it had probably been about 15 years since my last visit! It's good for that sort of celebration, but not much else - I can recall commenting on seeing the menu that I found it hard to believe they could do that many things well! Sad to hear they no longer have the Italian CDs playing in the loos - that was always noteworthy!

Hannah @ Love to Dine
Thanks Richard. Not sure how they stack up against the genuine article but they were certainly the best I've had in Cardiff.
The menu is still HUGE. There's a breakfast menu (I know!), lunch, specials, main, kids and dessert menu - all with a dazzling array of dishes on offer. Sadly none stood out as exemplary.
Scott said…
I have only ever been to F&B's twice and both times at Cardiff Bay. I've yet to be served food there that has been as hot as it should and therefore refuse to go back!

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