Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published October 26th 2013
American Diner With Italian Roots
Franke & Benny's, Kingston
There is something very welcoming about a restaurant named after the owners; just saying, 'Hey I'm going to Frankie & Benny's for dinner' sounds like you have been invited to a friend's house. And that is just how it feels when you arrive at the Italian New York Restaurant & Bar. Balloons at the door, snug low lighting, smiling photos on the wall, and crayons at the table for children to colour with; it is a very family friendly environment. It reminds me a bit of the Italian puppet family in those Dolmio pasta sauce adverts.
Frankie & Benny's is a fusion of Italian and American culture. The Italian kitchen is framed by brick arches, reminiscent of stone baked pizza ovens, while the seating booths are very much in theme with American diners of the 1950s. The setting is completed by easy listening music and a mock up poster advertising Frank Sinatra singing on Friday nights.
A waiter took us to our table and presented several menus for us to peruse through. Although we arrived at about three o'clock, I took a look at the breakfast menu, which is served until midday. Everything is at a set price of £5, and includes fry-ups, a triple stack of bacon and pancakes, egg benedict with muffins, as well as various side dishes.
The lunch menu is of equally good value. You can have a one main meal for £6.95, two courses for £9.45, or three courses for £10.95 The dinner menu is similar, but more extensive and more expensive because of the bigger portions. Examples for a starter include soft dough balls & dip, garlic bread, prawn cocktail, meatballs, and loaded potato skins with a choice of fillings.
The mains consist of pasta (including a unique black & blue cheese bake), pizza, hot dogs, burgers (including a vegetarian option), and wraps. There are also 'lighter options', which are meals of 650 calories or less. As this was our first time here, we spent a long time milling over the choices. Mum kept changing her mind between three different pastas, while I couldn't decide whether I wanted bacon potato skins or a chicken wrap. There were a number of chicken wraps to choose from, but I was a bit disappointed that they all came covered in breadcrumbs. It would have been nice to have the option of a plain version.
Just before the waiter arrived, Mum changed her mind one last time and went for a mushroom carbonara. It came in a traditional Italian ceramic bowl, but I couldn't help think that it looked like it was made of plastic. Appearances aside, she very much enjoyed the meal, which had mushrooms, smoked bacon, and was served with a creamy sauce, flavoured with herbs. Here we saw that the staff are attentive, but perhaps a little absent minded. Mum was asked if she would like black pepper or parmesan, to which she said yes to the cheese, and no to the pepper. The waiter sprinkled on both.
BBQ Chicken Wrap
I asked for a BBQ chicken wrap, which comes with coleslaw and a choice of fries or salad. The chicken, cheese, and red pepper filling was excellent, and despite my earlier complaint, the spices in the breadcrumbs, really enhanced the dish. The flour tortilla wrap, however, is another story. It was thick, tough, and chewy, and I ended up leaving most of it. What is actually surprising is that out of the whole meal, the side salad was best part: hopped tomatoes, red onion, spinach, rocket and lettuce was drizzled lavishly in a light, but creamy dressing. Absolutely beautiful.
The dessert menu is equally as extensive. The list includes staff favourites like brownies and chocolate fudge cake. There are also several of Eli's cheesecakes including pecan, tiramisu, vanilla, and banana. Lighter options are sorbet or a chocolate pancake, while the wickedly indulgent can go for and 'Amazing' sundae such as Strawberry Shortcake, Eton Mess, Yankee Doodle, or a giant Godfather for £8.25.
Cinnamon Waffles With Vanilla Ice Cream
I was tempted by what they described as their £5.25 'famous waffles', but to be honest, I don't think that claim can be justified. Considering the Italians are renowned for fantastic ice cream, Frankie & Benny's could not even compete with Ben & Jerry's. I don't know what all the flavours were like, but the vanilla tasted completely fake. Then came the cinnamon waffles, something Americans are supposed to specialise in. Waffles are meant to be light and feathery, but like the tortilla, it was as heavy as a hippo and as stodgy as suet. The taste was there, but the texture was all wrong. Just as the side salad had been the best thing in my main, the berry topping (which they very kindly swapped with the listed toffee sauce) was the star attraction here.
My experience with Frankie & Benny's left me with mixed feelings; I loved the atmosphere, décor, friendly staff, and the variety of choice, but the finished product is lacking. The food looks gourmet, but in the end, the quality is standard - that of a 1950s fast food diner.
If you are want a sophisticated night out, then this is probably not the place to go, but if you are looking for somewhere that you know the kids will enjoy, and still satisfy older parties, it works out as great value and good fun.