Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2017

This year I have written 37 blog posts. In 2016 I wrote 28 posts.

In the Birdcage

The tenth most popular post on the blog was about the Pret A Manger Italian Chicken Salad I had in 2013. I have had it quite few times since.

Ninth place, was a reminder from 2013, that if I ever go to Frankie and Benny’s again, don’t order the pasta! I have never had pasta again at F&Bs.

The post as number eight was about Sainsbury’s Cooking Chorizo, Having used cooking chorizo from Tesco, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury, I much prefer using the chorizo from Tesco or Marks and Spencers.

The number seven post was from ten years ago, Pasta in Tomato Sauce. A recipe for a very quick and easy dish with a lovely piquant tomato sauce.

Pasta in Tomato Sauce

Sixth post was about the Wagamama Pork Ribs I had in 2011.

Post number five for last twelve months was Basil & pine nut margherite, a simple pasta recip.

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the fourth most read post on the blog.

The third most popular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers’ Pork Medallions.

Second most popular blog, having been top for two years was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

In at number one is Chilli Squid from Wagamama, climbing one place. This popular post was one of the many on the blog about squid, however it is now quite old being from 2011 and the visit was the same one that I had the ribs.

So popularity appears to be dependent on older posts being found via Google searches. Hopefully 2018 will see more posts and more people seeing those posts.

Birthday Bash with Benny (and Frankie)

I went out for a meal with the family, at Frankie and Benny’s to celebrate my birthday. I had thought about cooking a meal, or even going further afield, however as it was a school night we decided to go somewhere local.

As it was my birthday, I “joined” the F&B Birthday Club, which means that my meal was free, if another main course is purchased. Now I did think what that actually meant was that I had to buy one meal, and get one free, with the cheapest one being free. What it actually meant was that the meal that I chose would be the free one. So looking over the menu I decided on the rib eye steak.

Our succulent 8oz* 28 day aged rib eye steak is best cooked medium, served with a roasted tomato, flat mushrooms, onion rings and a fresh watercress garnish. Choose from house fries, salad or a jacket.

I felt slightly cheeky as this was the second most expensive item on the menu, only the Mixed Grill was more expensive, but I like a nice rib eye steak. I was secondly cheeky asking for half and half, fries and salad. When asked how I liked my steak, I said medium-rare.

The restaurant was quite busy, so the food took a little while to arrive, as I cut into my steak I was disappointed to find that it had been cooked well-done, as a result it was slightly tough and lacked flavour. Not too happy about that I called over a member of the waiting staff. I showed her the cut steak, and she was excellent about it, she said she would get a fresh steak for me.

As that was cooking, she came over and explained that another customer had complained that her steak was underdone, they believed there had been a slight mix-up in the kitchen.

My new steak arrived, a complete fresh dish. with new fries and new salad. This time the steak was done to my taste, it was tender and tasty and a nice chargrilled flavour. The fries were crispy, with a nice crunch. The salad was simple, it came already dressed and was fresh and tasty. Overall I was pleased with the dish.

As for everything else, the food was great and enjoyed by all. When the bill came, not only was my meal free, but they had also paid for my drink due to the kitchen mix-up, nice little extra piece of good service.

Crab Cake Salad

Taking lunch at Frankie and Benny’s and wanting something rather light, I went with the Crab Salad.

Crab Cake

The menu describes it as “Our large oven baked crab cake served on a bed of mixed leaves with tomato, roasted red pepper and onion, tossed in our sweet chilli dressing with half a chargrilled lemon on the side.”

I was really interested to see how this was going look and taste, I did initially expect a heavy crab cake, with more potato than crab. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that the crab cake was made in the main with crab. There was a good flavour and texture, I liked the subtle crispness on the outside, the soft textured inside.

I did enjoy the salad, though I think if I was going to have this again I would ask for no dressing. The sweet chilli dressing was a little too sticky and sweet for me. I think I would have preferred olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I was slightly disappointed with the salad when writing this review as the menu description talks about roasted red peppers, and there were no red peppers. I hadn’t noticed when I was eating it, so didn’t complain at the time. I didn’t see the point of the chargrilled lemon, why chargrill it, it didn’t add anything and it didn’t really need it.

I liked the crab cake, and enjoyed the dish, I would order it again.

Cajun Burger

Cajun Burger

The last time I had a burger at a restaurant was at Bella Italia and I really enjoyed it. It had flavour and texture and was a really enjoyable meal.

On a recent visit to Frankie and Benny’s I had a Cajun Burger. Now I was hoping to get a similar good burger, however I was to be slightly disappointed.

It was a highly processed burger and not what I was expecting at all. It had a very fine texture and wasn’t exactly full of flavour. The bun however was nice and the garnish for the burger was good as well.

The fries were crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The relish came out of a jar, I did expect that, however it is the rare place these days that make their own relishes, and you wouldn’t expect that in a restaurant chain.

The one thing that I would have liked alongside the burger was some salad, but I guess that would be a side order that would be extra.

Overall the Cajun Burger was nice and tasty, I am guessing that my expectations were high and what I got wasn’t what I was expecting.

Don’t buy the pasta!

Remind me please that if I ever go to Frankie and Benny’s again, don’t order the pasta!

You know for am American Italian Diner I am disappointed how they serve pasta, which in my opinion should be a signature dish for them. Similarly how difficult is it to get pasta wrong?

I should have remembered when I ordered the Philly Steak Bake which was not the best pasta dish I had eaten. I should have known better, you would think? The thing is back then my son had ordered the Spaghetti Oceana which looked great and according to my son was delicious.

Chicken Penne Romana

So this time I ordered Chicken Penne Romana, which was penne pasta with chicken breast, spicy pepperoni and pancetta bacon tossed with Mamma’s rich Neapolitan tomato and herb sauce. It came with the choice of fries or salad. Now why on earth did is come with fries, okay partly my fault I should have chosen the salad option! It is a very British thing I believe that to have potatoes and pasta together, you know lasagne and chips for example.

Next time, choose the salad, next time… well next time I won’t choose the pasta so it won’t be a problem.

So what about the pasta? Let’s be straight, it certainly wasn’t an awful dish, so bad I couldn’t eat it. No it was certainly edible and I did finish the dish. The thing is, it could have been so much better. The so called rich tomato sauce, was anything but rich, and lacked flavour and richness. It was too bland and it was this that really marked down the quality of the dish. When you read the description “tossed with Mamma’s rich Neapolitan tomato and herb sauce” you kind of expect that to be the case, the reality was that didn’t happen, the pasta was in the bowl and the sauce poured on top. If you wanted it tossed you were going to have to do that yourself.

It was a pity that the dish turned out the way it did, as the concept sounded really good.

I wish I had ordered that…

Sometimes when going out to eat I think about what I would like to eat, of course you then make a choice, but when the food eventually arrives, you think, I wish I had ordered that.

Of course it doesn’t always work that way, usually I am happy with what I have ordered, and sometimes I am really glad I ordered what I did, but now and again you wish you could have chosen differently.

I had a recent experience of that at Frankie and Benny’s where I had ordered the Philly Steak Bake.

My son had gone with the Spaghetti Oceana (£9.25). Spaghetti tossed in our Neapolitan tomato sauce with large prawns, clams and garlic. Served with a fresh rocket, tomato and red onion salad sprinkled with Grana Padano and half a char-grilled lemon on the side for added flavour.

Spaghetti Oceana

This looked fantastic and according to my son tasted great.

My wife went with the Californian Pizza (£9.75). Creamy goat’s cheese, slices of fresh tomato, mixed peppers, sautéed mushrooms and red onion, with melted mozzarella on our tomato and nut pesto base.

Californian Pizza

It looked really nice and she said it was delicious and she finished it off, and there was me hoping that I might get a slice at the end.

This was one of those meals where I wished I had what someone else ordered.

Hmmm, needed more pasta

Having had quite a good experience with our last visit to Frankie and Benny’s we decided wanting to eat out again to visit once more.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to eat, and at first was going to go with something I had before. Then I remembered that I had decided that this year to make a noticeable effort to try out new things when eating out.

I usually avoid pasta dishes when eating out, mainly as I find that most places overcook the pasta. However as I was willing to try something new, and didn’t really want pizza, I went with a pasta dish, the Philly Steak Bake at £10.95. This is described as strips of tender steak, red onion, peppers and Philly cheese sauce, oven baked with penne pasta and topped with cheddar cheese.

Philly Steak Pasta Bake at Frankie and Benny's

Probably the best way to describe this dish is to ask if I would order it again.

So would I order it again?

No I wouldn’t!

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t an awful dish, but it certainly was not an outstanding dish. I enjoyed the steak, the cheese sauce was a little too processed for me, however as had anticipated the pasta was overcooked! Maybe it’s just me, I like my pasta al dente, with some bite, this was very soft.

Well that wasn’t too bad…

The original plan was to go somewhere else for lunch, but in the end we somehow found ourselves at Frankie and Benny’s. So despite many reservations about the place (and some pretty poor experiences) I was once more sitting down and looking at the menu in Frankie and Benny’s.

As it was a Saturday, there were no special menus or “cheap” lunch choices, so I had the whole menu to look over.

Fancying a starter to share, I chose the Bruschetta, a home made mix of fresh tomato, red onion, basil, olive oil and cracked black pepper served over toasted garlic ciabatta bread, finished with a balsamic glaze.

Bruschetta

We also got some Warm Dough Sticks with Garlic Butter. I didn’t get a look in with the dough sticks, but they looked a little overdone to my eyes, but without eating it I couldn’t be totally sure.

I had had the Bruschetta before and back then I said

“I was not that impressed with this, I found the red onion very harsh and astringent.”

This dish was much better than when I had it back then. The tomato and onion was much sweeter and contrasted well with the balsamic glaze. The bread was nice, not over toasted, and overall the dish was rather nice.

Though I like to think I try new things, too often when eating out I will go with what I like and am familiar with. I have decided this year to make a noticeable effort to try out new things when eating out. So looking over the menu I decided to go with a lighter option, I went with the Marinara Pizza, which had large prawns, anchovies and clams on a tomato base topped with fresh rocket.

Marinara Pizza

There was minimal cheese on the pizza (which is kind of what you expect with a lighter option), but there were generous toppings of prawns and clams, and for me just the right amount of anchovies. The scattering of rocket added some nice greenery and more spice.

I really did enjoy the pizza, there was a lot of flavour. Overall I was quite pleased with the meal, it was certainly one of the better meals I have had at Frankie and Benny’s and how it should be all the time. The service was excellent, not in your face, or so minimal that you are constantly looking around for waiting staff.

Okay Frankie, not too bad, this time

The last time I went to Frankie and Benny’s I wasn’t that impressed with my Calamari Salad. I decided back then that if I had a choice then I probably wouldn’t choose them as a place to eat. However having been invited out to a family dinner, I found myself once more sitting down and looking at the menu in Frankie and Benny’s.

To be honest I did quite like the idea of a salad with calamari, but remembering my last experience I thought that wouldn’t be such a good idea.

In the end looking over the whole of the menu, I went with the special menu with two courses for £10.95, which is available every day except Saturday.

For my starter I went with the chicken wings: Buffalo Chicken Wings – Large chicken wings tossed in Louisiana hot sauce. Served with a blue cheese dip and crunchy celery sticks.

Buffalo Chicken Wings - Large chicken wings tossed in Louisiana hot sauce. Served with a blue cheese dip and crunchy celery sticks

You got four half wings that were pre-cooked, heated up and then covered in some weird very hot spicy orange sauce. I wouldn’t have called the wings I got as “large”. As for the blue cheese dip, I went without, not a fan of that. As for celery, well I have never seen the point of celery, really don’t like and yes I have tried and I really really don’t like it. I do like chicken wings, which is why I ordered this dish.

I thought the orange sauce was a little too hot and spicy, so much so that it overpowered the flavour of the chicken. For me spicy is nice, but it should complement and enhance the flavour of the food it accompanies, not overwhelm it. If that is what it does, just eat the sauce on its own.

For my main, I did think long and hard and in the end went with a burger. New Yorker Burger – Our 6oz grilled hamburger topped with BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayo and bacon, piled high with Cos lettuce and fresh tomato in a toasted sesame seed bun. Served with house fries and tomato-chilli relish on the side.

New Yorker Burger - Our 6oz grilled hamburger topped with BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayo and bacon, piled high with Cos lettuce and fresh tomato in a toasted sesame seed bun. Served with house fries and tomato-chilli relish on the side.

I forgot to ask for salad so got fries instead. The cheese was very gloopy and sticky, but the burger itself was actually very nice and full of flavour. I love the description of “piled high” as there was one lettuce leaf and one slice of tomato. I wonder if they really think that is piled high!

As I didn’t eat all the fries I did decide to have a pudding. with the £10.95 menu you can have a pudding from a selected range for just £2.25 which seemed a lot more reasonable than the cost of puddings from the main menu. As is the case with puddings from Frankie’s it will either be a constructed ice cream style desert or something heated with ice cream. I went with the Hot Chocolate Waffle – A warm cinnamon waffle topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate sauce and topped with crunchy honeycomb.

Hot Chocolate Waffle - A warm cinnamon waffle topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate sauce and topped with crunchy honeycomb.

It was to be honest what I expected, a warmed pre-cooked waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce, though not enough honeycomb. It was nice, though quite sweet. I should have ordered a black coffee to go with it to offset that sweetness, actually a black tea would have been nice. Something I learnt many years ago was how nice black tea is with very sweet puddings.

Overall I enjoyed my meal, I think my very low expectations were a big factor in that, I wasn’t expecting high cuisine, sophisticated and lever cooking. What I got was typical chain cooking and it was okay.

Don’t overcook the squid!

A recent birthday treat was to go to the new Frankie and Benny’s in Weston-super-Mare. As it was lunchtime, I went for the lunchtime menu special, which seemed reasonable value. For my starter I went with the Bruschetta, a homemade mix of fresh tomato, red onion, basil, olive oil and cracked black pepper served over toasted garlic ciabatta bread, finished with a balsamic glaze. I was not that impressed with this, I found the red onion very harsh and astringent. Normally red onion can be very sweet when raw, however I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would.

The Calamari Caesar Salad came next, which consisted of (according to the menu) lightly fried and seasoned calamari, crispy Cos lettuce leaves, white anchovy, tomato and fresh garlic ciabatta croutons drizzled with our Caesar dressing, topped with Grana Padano and served with a wedge of lemon.

Calamari Caesar Salad

I would probably take exception to the phrase “lightly fried” as the squid had been overcooked to the point where the calamari was crunchy on the outside and quite rubbery on the inside. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I do think that Frankie and Benny’s could do a much better job of cooking the squid. It’s not difficult to cook squid well, however I think that the squid at Frankie and Benny’s is double cooked, it is cooked already and then cooked again when it is ordered. I of course don’t know that for sure. The chef has used the larger outside leaves of the Cos lettuce for the dish, which meant they were more limp than crispy. Overall I did enjoy the salad and it was a good sized portion and value for money.