I know what you're all about to say. What was Vindaloo Queen doing in a chain restaurant? The thing is, I wanted to check out the restaurants in the city of Salford which a lot of people bypass in favour of Manchester's eclectic offerings, plus the kind folk at Frankie and Benny's PR agency offered me a meal for two in return for a review. I had previously visited F&B's in my past life as an air hostess, when I would frequent their airport branches due to my generous staff discount, but what are their high street brothers like? More importantly, how does chain restaurant food measure up to the independents I have become accustomed to?
As I approached F&B's at Salford Quays, one major plus point was obvious right away- free parking and for those who don't want to drive, there is a tram stop right outside. Although the food prices might be a little high compared to my favourite independent eateries, parking is £6.30 for 2 hours outside them so at Frankie's, the free parking offsets the high food prices. Swings and roundabouts. The fabulous sound of 50s and 60s music pulsated outside of the restaurant, giving us a taste of what it was going to be like inside. Was it to be a retro diner experience?
Although F&B's is a chain, it has successfully managed to steer away from that identikit look that some chain restaurants have- the Ikea warehouse look. This place has heart and soul, helped by its cosy furnishings, booths (an essential restaurant seating arrangement in my book), upbeat friendly staff and the retro music I mentioned earlier. It hasn't gone the full hog and made it a retro diner as I initially suspected, but has gone for a classic American theme.
The menu is an interesting mix of Italian food, typical burger bar staples, steaks, a low fat selection for the calorie conscious and traditional British puddings. Even the fussiest eater would easily find something they liked on the menu and veggies like me are well catered for. There were two menus on offer, the standard one and a 2 course for £10.95 special; I opted for the standard menu and The Carnivore went for the special. Drinkswise, it was 2 pints for the Carnivore and a J20 and a coffee (obviously) for me. Sadly, the coffee wasn't as potent as I like- there was no evidence of 'crema' on top which seemed pretty paltry for £2.35. It tasted more like filter than freshly ground.
My starter was this fabulous flat mushroom, filled with Grana Padano cheese and garnished with rocket. It was delicious and if I hadn't have known better, I would have thought I was eating it in a fancy French/Italian bistro:
Meanwhile, the Carnivore chowed down on this delicious Bruschetta which tasted as good as any Italian. The topping was reminiscent of Tex Mex Pico de Gallo- absolutely moreish!
After the starters, we had a comfortable wait in anticipation of our mains- not too long and not too short. What I really liked about this restaurant was that the fact that the tables were spaced far apart enough and the music turned to such a volume that you could actually have a private conversation in here without broadcasting it to the whole place! For the main course, I opted for my old faithful Penne Arrabiata. It was pleasant enough and I ate the lot, but I felt the sauce could have been spicier to make it more authentic, plus the pasta tasted pre-cooked as if it is ready-made and just warmed up. Definitely not worth £8. A nice touch would have been a bread basket like most eateries do, but it was an extra charge here.
Meanwhile, the Carnivore tucked in to burger and chips which went down a treat, but he thought the portion of chips was a bit paltry. Burger was good quality meat though!
For dessert, we had some deliciously decadent sundaes- the dessert menu is so extensive, it was a hard choice to make. We settled on a Knickerbocker Glory and a Cookies and Cream sundae:
Cookies and Cream was an interesting mix of cookies, ice cream and raspberry sauce and rounded the meal off nicely, while the Knickerbocker Glory was the pseudo-healthy option as it contained fruit! However, neither were deserving of the £5.25 price tag. After careful consideration of the ice cream, we decided it tasted a bit Mr Whippy, rather synthetic. They tasted pleasant and hit the spot, but they didn't measure up to my local ice cream parlour.
My overall impression of F&B? It's a cheerful, inoffensive restaurant that has dishes for everyone, but its price tag doesn't reflect the quality and portion size of the food. I did notice that the prices are the same up North and down South, so maybe some regional re-pricing wouldn't go amiss, especially in an area like Salford that has high unemployment. You can't deny that the staff are well-trained compared to most eateries, and in the case of F&B's bubbly Salford staff, a smile really does go a mile.