It was the opening night of the new Harry Potter film. Leisure World in Southampton was packed. People milled around the car park in Gryffindor style ties and robes. The night clubs were just beginning to play music, though crowds wouldn't gather there for a few more hours.
We went inside to the popular restaurant Frankie & Benny's. Luckily we had a reservation; they get fully booked as far as a week in advance. Although there were a lot of people there, the restaurant didn't feel too crowded. In fact, the atmosphere was nice. 1950s style music, full of wonderful singers like Nat King Cole and Dean Martin, played in the background. The lighting was perfect: beautiful lamps created atmospheric lighting. Vintage pictures covered the walls. Many pictures were of the owners and their friends and family in the original restaurant. The overall effect was like an upscale diner (they describe themselves as a New York Italian Restaurant and Grill). They pride themselves on home-style cooking inspired by Mama's meals.
Our waitress came promptly and regularly to check on us. She was friendly and helpful. Unfortunately she didn't write anything down. Although she verbally repeated our order back to us, she didn't take any notes. As a result, when our food came there were two mistakes in our order.
For our starter, we ordered the buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad (3.95). Mamma mia! It was a fantastic, simple, classic combination of fresh mozzarella cheese, olives, and sliced tomatoes with a fresh pesto. We were happy to share it.
As a vegetarian, I was impressed by the number of vegetarian courses on the menu. I had several choices of different types of food (be warned, though, if you don't like mushroomsthey featured prominently in all of the vegetarian options). I decided on the garlic mushroom and ricotta calzone (6.95). Honestly, it was an OK dish that should have been much better than it was. The calzone was very blandit tasted of mushroom and ricotta, but without any discernable seasoning (you couldn't even taste the garlic). Also, all of the filling was clumped into the middle so that there were several inches of stodgy pastry left around the edges. The sauce was good, but there was too little of it.
My husband ordered the Sirloin Steak with Garlic Tiger Prawns (13.95). His dish came out with two mistakes in it. The prawns, he said, were very good, but the steak and side dishes were disappointing. The end result was, again, an OK dish that could have been much better.
On the dessert menu it was clear that although Frankie & Benny's describe themselves as a New York Italian restaurant, they are a chain in England that incorporates English cuisine as well. Very un-Italian (or American) choices like bread and butter pudding were available. I opted for the brownies and ice cream (3.95). The portion was smaller than I had expected. The brownies were dark and very rich, and the ice cream was obviously homemade. Unfortunately, there were only a few spoonfuls of ice cream, which quickly melted because the dish was served on a hot plate. There was way too much whipped cream slathered over the dessert. My husband had the East Coast Sundae (3.95). Again, the sundae was much smaller than the description had led us to believe. It was good, but he was left wanting more.
Overall, our experience was fairly average. The food was good, but not great. The atmosphere was good, but not incredible. The service was friendly, but not accurate.
Would I recommend them to a friend? Maybe. The location of the particular branch we went to is very convenient if you have been out shopping or if you're going to the cinema. Expect a pleasant dining experience with alright food.