Veganuary is close to being my favourite month! Yes sadly it’s a month of jumping on the vegan bandwagon for big brands without taking into consideration the ethical implications behind the campaign, but 2019 really has started off on the way to becoming the ‘year of the vegan’ by bringing plant-based food fully into the mainstream. Despite an epic fail on Frankie and Benny’s part the last time I visited in Oxford (I went for their ‘unlimited vegan nuggets’ deal but the nuggets were neither vegan nor unlimited and it took the manager a good 20 minutes to relay this information to us), we decided to give them a second chance. I’d noticed their menu was flaunting a hugely expanded range of vegan options, which all sounded pretty promising to a vegan junk food fiend, so was hoping that this time our experience would turn out to be better.
Sadly, I was wrong.
The last time we came we’d booked a table and we were literally the only two in the restaurant, so we hadn’t bothered to book this time but unfortunately that was a mistake. It was 7pm on a Saturday night so probably not too surprising, and we were told there was a 25 minute wait so we said that was fine and we could wait at the bar. That in itself wasn’t a problem, the decision whether to stay or not was ours. We waited around half an hour to be seated but I was more bothered by the fact that more than three other parties of 2-4 people entered after us, also without a table booked, and were seated quicker. No one was keeping tabs on who was waiting and for how long, so it was all pretty disorganised. Once we were seated though, our order was taken really quickly and as we’d had all that time to browse the menu we had already made our decisions.
For starters I went for the garlic bread topped with vegan mozzarella. I’d read on a vegan Facebook group literally while we were waiting for our table that a lot of peoples’ orders at F&B had been mixed up with the non-vegan versions and they didn’t unfortunately find out until after their meal when they were really unwell. We had committed to eating there by this point but I made sure to ask the waiter that this was definitely the vegan version when he brought it out. He replied ‘yes, you can tell because of the cheese, it doesn’t look as nice’. I mean way to sell your food bro. Anyway to be honest he was right, and when I poked it I could definitely tell it was vegan cheese because it wasn’t melting in the same way that dairy does. The bread was really doughy, just on the edge of cooked. It was also super greasy, a bit more oil than necessary. However the garlic packed a punch, and brace yourself, this was probably my favourite part of the meal, so it’s more or less all downhill from here. Jamie ordered the vegan ‘chicken’ nuggets, served with a little pot of mayo. For some reason I expected them to be Quorn nuggets but I didn’t recognise them. They tasted fine, though fairly bland and when dipped in the mayo that was the overwhelming flavour.
Again we didn’t have to wait too long after our starters came out for our mains to arrive. Jamie ordered their new vegan burger which was served with fries and burger sauce. It looked a little bare on the plate and I thought it could’ve at least had a token salad on the side. The outside of the burger was black and looked really burnt. It didn’t taste charred though and once you bit into it the inside was pink, juicy, and yes weirdly meaty. Texturally, it was very close to a burger, and combined with the burger sauce it was pretty convincing. It wasn’t the best vegan burger I’ve ever had but it wasn’t bad at all. The same can probably be said about the fries, which were more like oven chips.
My main was the ‘I Ain’t No Chicken’ Parmigana, two breaded mock chicken fillets served with tomato pasta and your choice of veg, salad, or fries. I feel like fries would’ve been an odd choice to go with this dish unless you’re looking for a plate full of beige. The ‘chicken’ was topped with tomato sauce and vegan cheese. It was a bit tough to cut into but actually not bad at all, the sauce helped it go down and overall it tasted pretty good. The spaghetti on the side however was possibly the blandest thing I’ve ever tasted. It was like they’d paid someone to find the most watery, tasteless tomatoes, then made that into a thin sauce with zero seasoning. This was one of the few times I’ve eaten out and felt truly compelled to use the salt and pepper shakers on the table on my meal. Surely that should be the chef’s job?! There was so much of this pasta too, sadly I had to leave a lot of it. The green vegetables accompanying my carbs were actually fine, consisting of broccoli, green beans and peas, which I was almost surprised to find weren’t undercooked. All in all, it was fine, and that’s really all I can say about it. Not worth the £13 being charged.
It took a while for our plates to be cleared and from this point onwards I really don’t know what happened to the service. Once the dishes were taken away, we weren’t offered dessert menus and our waitress disappeared off the face of the Earth for 20 minutes. I can only assume she took her break and there was no one available to cover her tables. I could see other customers in our area having to wait around too, and where we could see into the open kitchen, freshly cooked orders were just sitting under the heat lamps being completely ignored for certainly longer than they should be, with more dishes being added to the side every so often. Eventually the waitress reappeared but continued to do a great job of ignoring us. Maybe she was just having a bad day, or it was getting towards the end of a long shift, I know it happens, but we haven’t often experienced service this bad, and we eat out a lot. We had been keen to try the two new vegan desserts – a chocolate and raspberry lava cake and a choc chip cookie ice cream sundae – but had deliberated about it for such a long time that we decided it against it, particularly as by this point we had been in the restaurant well over two hours and didn’t fancy waiting around the same again for our last course. I definitely didn’t want to part with another twelve quid. When we finally managed to get the waitress’ attention, we had already put on our coats and were standing by our table ready to leave. I genuinely think we could’ve walked out without paying and no one would’ve noticed at all. I asked if we could pay and the waitress responded ‘give me a minute’. It was a long minute! After a time I decided to ask another server if we could pay, and for whatever reason he himself couldn’t give us the bill but had to go get our waitress back, who eventually brought the card machine over along with a bad attitude, and handed it to me without showing me an actual bill. I paid the amount on the machine because it sounded roughly right and I couldn’t be bothered to waste any more of my life.
Ultimately, I couldn’t even bring myself to be that annoyed at them because frankly I only have myself to blame. It’s Frankie and Benny’s. I know the service at their Oxford restaurant has only ever been awful. I know it’s a chain with at best average quality food and inflated prices. I even thought to myself before we arrived, who would actually eat here without a discount voucher and pay full price for their very average food, before realising my discount voucher wasn’t valid on Saturdays and we were indeed about to be said people. If anything I should be annoyed at myself for getting suckered in, because yes they have lots of vegan options but no it is absolutely not worth the price. It’s a shame we didn’t get to try dessert because they did sound great but I’ll probably never get to try them because I’m making a promise to myself not to go back!