For those days when only out-and-out gluttony will do head down to the SW19 branch of Frankie & Benny's, the Italian-American diner where gut-busting portions are de riguer.
Situated on the less-than-glamorous Tandem Centre trading estate in Colliers Wood, Frankie and Bennys is the sort of place which serves a need and is therefore a welcome neon beacon amidst the urban grey of industrial South London. With more than a hint of TGI Friday's, it's Cheers-style bar and wholesome checked table-wear is cheerful, homely and standard in all branches. In the vast dining room there is a myriad of seating options, from cosy red leatherette booths in which a 2.4 family fits perfectly, to dinky tables a deux and they can easily cater for larger gatherings too. There is also a separate bar which during busy lunchtimes is set up for solitary dining.
This branch attracts a distinct crowd; locals from Colliers Wood, visitors to the knick-knacky markets of Abbey Mills and of course, the grumbling tummies of shoppers whose only need is generic food at reasonable prices. It's a good place to rock up with the family, along with age-appropriate menus, the staff come armed with stickers, balloons, colouring tools and a tonne of patience. The staff are friendly, efficient and when it's busy, not afraid to let you know when your time is up. The tunes are of an easy-listening nature with a bucket-load of soul thrown in (The official Frankie and Bennys CD soundtrack is available to buy from your server).
This is not the place for bird-like appetites, arrive famished and make the most of the Yankee-sized portions. The vast New York-Italian menu includes all the usual suspects from chicken wings to calamari, burgers to steaks and some house specialities involving chicken, ribs and just the merest nod to the vegetarian. The baby-back pork ribs arrive as a tender rack of char-grilled meaty fingers and are served with a pile of crisp fries and an unctuous tangy barbecue sauce. The food is well-cooked, served quickly and of course, plentiful.
Other notorious American dishes include bad-ass burgers such as the Manhattan, two 6oz burgers with Monterey Jack cheese, crispy bacon and all the trimmings and is enough to make even Elvis wince. The pizzas are good and come in two sizes, 10” and 15”, with the latter being plenty big enough to share. A freshly-made thin and lightly crisp base is topped with an avalanche of cheese and on this occasion, ham and sweetly-charred pineapple. Desserts, if there is room, include the ubiquitous chocolate brownie, or in this case brownies, and comes served warm and topped with half of Cadbury's (including choco malt balls, toffee sauce, ice cream and whipped cream).
You could go all out and really turn this visit into a TGI Friday’s experience and have a pitcher of cocktail (£9.95) of which the list is endless, or take it easy and grab an ice cold Bud. There are plenty for non-drinkers, hearty milkshakes in an array of flavours and the all-important glass bottle of Coca Cola. The wine list is varied and obviously leans towards the Californian and Italian varieties with prices starting at around £13 for a half-decent bottle of house.
The Last Word
Frankie and Bennys could never succeed the iconic Hard Rock Cafe but there is certainly a place for its Italian-American style. The large portions of hangover-busting food are consistent, reasonably priced and served with a friendly 'Have a nice day' smile.