Thursday, 26 July 2012

Frankie & Benny's Blackpool (July 2012)...

When I was offered a £50 voucher to try out a Frankie & Benny's restaurant and their food, I jumped at the chance. I knew me and Si were going to Blackpool at the beginning of July and I knew they had a restaurant there, so I thought this would be the perfect chance to use it, whilst we are away enjoying ourselves anyway :-). I have never been to a Frankie & Benny's restaurant, but knew that it was American themed. I have been to Planet Hollywood before, which is the same kind of theme and thought it was great there, so I was excited to see what this restaurant and their food was like. You can find out a bit more about the history of Frankie and Benny's, on their website. I think it's always interesting with big chain restaurants to find out a bit more about their background and how they began.

Before I begin, I think it's important to let you know that a voucher was sent to me through the post. So a table wasn't booked by the company that sent me the voucher, the restaurant didn't know I was coming at all, let alone what day or time. I always feel totally comfortable when I am carrying out restaurant reviews this way. I have turned down companies who wanted me to review a restaurant/pub food in the past because they said they would have to book me in so that the restaurant/pub knew I was coming and that I didn't have to pay. I don't feel comfortable doing this as obviously they know I am coming and it is more than likely that the PR company or the company that has booked me in has said that I don't have to pay and am carrying out a review. If I did a review like this, I wouldn't know whether the people serving me were genuine in their customer service or just putting it on because they know I am doing a review, let alone if they had made the food perfect just for the purpose of my review etc and they obviously don't want a bad one.

Frankie and Benny's in Blackpool is a little bit behind the main promenade and isn't immediately visible whilst walking, so I would suggest finding out where it is before you set off. We used a map on our phones to find out where it was and then after getting a tram to the central pier, we walked there. It took us about 15 minutes to actually walk there because we weren't initially sure where it was, so we ended up walking down side streets etc (where the map was directing us) and then when we came out, we saw the promenade/sea straight ahead, so we just walked straight up and it took us less time, probably about 5-10 minutes. It is located in Festival Park, which also has a cinema, a spa and car parking facilities. You can view a map on their website, to find out how to get there yourself :-).

The restaurant is open from 9am every morning for breakfast and closes at 11pm every night, apart from Sunday when it closes at 10:30pm. The first thing I noticed when we walked in was the American memorabilia on the walls and the fact that most of the seats were comfy booths, so that people could feel like they have their own privacy. It looked clean and welcoming and within our first few steps into the restaurant we were greeted by the manager, who clearly saw there were two of us and asked if we wanted a table for two. We of course said yes and a waiter came over to her and asked if she wanted him to direct us to our table. She agreed and so he greeted us and asked how we were and if we had ever been there before. We hadn't, so we told him this. He took us over to a table for two (the booths were big enough for families, so prob too big for us, although I'm sure if we would have asked to sit in a booth, he would have let us), which we were perfectly happy with. He asked if the table was ok and we said yes. There were no other people around us, so we felt comfortable sitting there. As we hadn't been there before, he showed us the menu's and the special menu's and asked if we wanted any garlic bread/dough balls to start us off. We weren't too sure at first what to go for as we had literally just sat down, but we both like garlic bread so we went for that. He also asked us if we wanted any drinks, but I said can we have a few mins to look at the cocktail menu, in which he replied of course and that he would be back with us soon to take our drink orders. The waiter was very happy, chirpy and it felt like it wasn't a chore for him to serve us and make us feel welcome.

We had a look at the cocktail menu and there was a lot to choose from, the prices were average. We are used to seeing cocktails priced around £4-5 (which these were), but noticed you could get some cocktail pitchers for £11.45, which is a great price, considering what we are used to. The waiter gave us enough time to have a proper look at the menu (about 5-10 mins), so when he came to take our order we went for a Mai Tai (which we remember drinking in LA when we went in 2010), we never seem to find them when we are out drinking where we live, so it was nice to see it on a menu. We ended up having two pitchers of this throughout the night ha...well we were there to enjoy ourselves! It was so tasty and reminded us of LA so much, so it definitely bought back some memories. Our garlic bread came before our pitcher (it was with us in about 10 mins from when we were first asked if we wanted it) and it was bought to us by a waitress (who then remained with us throughout the night), Alex her name was. So, I don't know what happened to our waiter, he was probably told to swap areas or something, but it wasn't a big deal. Anyway, we told her we had ordered a pitcher aswell, reminded her what it was and she said she would go and see how it was getting on. It then arrived with us about 5 mins later. The garlic bread was delicious. We are used to having garlic bread on ciabatta in restaurants/pubs at home, this one was like a pizza, on a thin crispy base, with loads of flavour! It was a little bit greasy, but definitely full of flavour.

After Alex could see that we had finished our garlic bread, she came and asked us if we had decided what to order. We were looking at the main menu/specials menu whilst we were eating our garlic bread, so we were deciding, but we asked for a few more minutes because there was so much on the menu and I didn't know what I fancied to be honest, so I was being awkward and taking a while lol, but not on purpose...I promise! Ha. I must say that again Alex was happy and chirpy and made us feel welcome and not a bother at all. After she had asked us twice if we were ready to order (which we weren't lol), the third time was lucky and we had finally decided. We decided to go for the specials menu and choose two courses for £10.95, which we thought was a really good price! You could also top up to three courses for an extra £2.25, but we weren't sure if we wanted dessert yet, so we left it at two courses. There are only a number of things on the specials menu though and if you're feeling picky and not sure what you fancy, there might not be enough choice on there for you. It took me a while to decide what I wanted! So, I went for the Southern Blue Mushroom to start with and the New Yorker Pasta for my main. Si went for the Buffalo Chicken Wings to start and the Double Pepperoni Pizza for his main. I'd say our starters were with us in about 20 mins and when we had finished our plates were collected almost immediately and she said she would give our main meals the go ahead. It then took about 10-15 mins for those to come. Overall, we didn't have to wait long for our food at all, but it was enough time to let our previous food go down, allow us to relax and chat some more. We never felt like they were rushing to get our food out to get us out of the restaurant and our food was always delivered nicely presented (apologies for some of the half-eaten food pictures, we couldn't resist the food and sometimes forgot to take a pic straight away, oops!) and hot!

                              My Starter.                                                      Si's Starter.

                                My Main.                                                           Si's Main.

My mushrooms were to die for! This is one of my favourite starters, wherever I go to eat. It might not be the exact same thing, but I love mushrooms with yummy! The balsamic glaze added a bit of sweetness to the dish aswell, so the savoury-ness of the cheese with the sweetness of the balsamic was a perfect match. Si enjoyed his Buffalo Chicken Wings. They came tossed in a Louisiana hot sauce, which Si said wasn't too hot (but he does have a palette for hot/spicy foods), so something I think is hot, he wouldn't think is. He asked for the wings to come with sweet chilli sauce, instead of the blue cheese dip and they changed that for him no problem. My main was ok and nice at the time but I don't think I'd have it again if I were to go there. That's nothing against the dish itself or anything they did to make me not like it, I think it's just to do with my palette/preferences etc. I mean I love chicken breast, pasta and cheese sauce, but I think this dish had other ingredients that I didn't think would be so prominent in the dish. The chilli that was tossed with the pasta and cheese sauce for example was actually jalapeno chillies and the sauce had a pepper taste to it (it was described like this on the menu), which I thought was going to be like bell peppers cut up into the sauce, but it wasn't, so the taste was a little hot and peppery for my liking. However, the chillies were easy to pick out as were the pasta and chicken (to eat with less sauce on them). Si really enjoyed his pizza, he said it was very New York style, loaded with flavour and whilst he said it was a little greasy, he enjoyed this aspect of the pizza.

After we had finished our mains, our dishes were taken from us within 5-10 mins of us finishing. We then started looking at the dessert menu, as we both decided we wanted something fresh and light. So, Alex could see we were looking at the dessert menu and after about 10 mins of us looking at it, she came over to see if we wanted anything. We both went for lighter option sorbets (I went for Lemon, whilst Si went for Mango), which were two scoops of our chosen sorbet, with a sprig of mint on top. At this point we also ordered another Mai Tai pitcher :-). We waited about 10 mins for our sorbet and 15 mins for our pitcher. Considering our sorbets were lighter options (which to me means smaller portions), they still came in tall glasses and looked full.

                                              Lemon Sorbet and Mango Sorbet.
                                  (Apologies about the half eaten desserts :-/).

They were really refreshing though and cleansed our palettes. The thing with sorbet is that once I start eating it, I could just keep eating it lol sooo nice! My lemon one wasn't too bitter, which was good. Si said his was a little bit sickly after a while, so I let him have some of mine, cause I'm nice like that he, he.

After we had finished our desserts, again our glasses were taken from us within about 5 mins and we were asked if we would like anything else. At this point we were ok, we were just going to chill for a bit and finish our second Mai Tai :-). We took a bit of time to look around the restaurant whilst we were relaxing and noticed that the place was full of mainly couples like me and Si or families with kids. When we first arrived there weren't many people there, it was a weekday (10th July...ignore the date on the camera, it's set wrong) and about 5pm, so most people were probably finishing work etc. By this time, the restaurant was pretty full and there were a lot of birthdays in. Every so often, the waiters/waitresses would take a lit cake over to a table where it was someones birthday, sing Happy Birthday (whilst clapping), some people in the restaurant would also join in and then Congratulations by Cliff Richard would come on. This happened a few times within the night, but it's always nice to see people out celebrating their special occasions. Throughout our meal, 1950's classic songs were played and even though we were born in the 80's, we still found ourselves having a little sing to ourselves/bopping along to the tunes haha. It wasn't depressing, boring music, it was quite uplifting and not so loud, so we could still hear ourselves talk. We also noticed a waitress going around with balloons for the kids, so this is something that probably happens in all F&B's, or if not, I'm sure they can be asked for :-). The table, chairs, menu's, glasses, cutlery etc were nice and clean and the table wasn't sticky. They had a nice American style bar area, with all the spirits stacked up at the back and bar stools, so you could just go in and have a drink if you wanted to. I personally didn't go to the toilet whilst we were there, but Si did and he said the men's toilets had chequered walls and floors and were nice and clean (surprising for a men's toilet). I also noticed aswell, whilst I was waiting for Si to come back from the toilet, just before we were about to leave that there was a little taxi intercom thing where you could call a taxi for free.

After we had finished our Mai Tai, we got Alex's attention and asked for the bill. Another thing to add is that we didn't have to show our voucher when we first arrived, so just another little disclaimer to say that they didn't know we were there to do a review/had a voucher...sometimes these things need to be said lol. She bought it over to us and originally it came to £60.35. This could be considered pricey for one meal and had we not had the voucher, we prob would have thought it a little expensive. However, we did have a 3 course meal and two cocktail pitchers. So, there was always room to make it cheaper if we wanted to and had we not had the voucher we prob would have had a main and dessert each and just one pitcher. We gave Alex our voucher and she said she would just go and take it off the bill and bring another one back with what we had to pay. Si noticed she went and asked the manager about something with our voucher, but it was probably how to put it into the till or balance our items out minus the £50. Anyway, Alex came back after a few mins and gave us our new bill which was £10.35. She said in a chirpy, happy manner that it was a cheap one for us tonight (due to the voucher) and we had a laugh about it, when she asked if I had won it, I said no I had been sent it to review the restaurant/food/service etc she said 'ooh, that's good, you'll have to get some of these more often'. I just felt so good knowing that her service/manner was 100% true and honest. We gave her the money for our bill and left her a £3 tip. We like leaving tips if we feel we have been treated well whilst out for food, if our food was nice, service was good etc and it all was, so we felt she deserved it :-).

This is definitely a restaurant that I would go back to again. We don't have one in our town, but we have one not far from us. I think it's a nice place to go for someones birthday as the atmosphere is lovely, there is a LARGE selection of food and drink (I forgot to mention they do of course sell soft drinks and beers/ciders and wines), especially if you want to have a few cocktails to celebrate! The service, cleanliness and waiting times could be different in all Frankie and Benny's restaurants, but I do know that in this one, we had nothing to complain about :-).

Sometimes with restaurant reviews it can be easy to forget to mention something, so if there is anything you would like to know about the restaurant we went to, feel free to ask. In terms of basic info, you can find out a lot on the website. If you want to find your nearest Frankie and Benny's, you can do here and all menu's are available to download online, so you can have a look before you go :-).

Have you ever been to a Frankie and Benny's restaurant? What did you think?

Thanks so much for reading my post...don't forget to like, comment and follow my blog for more posts :-).

Gem XxOo

Disclaimer: As stated above, I received a £50 voucher (to use at any Frankie and Benny's restaurant), to consider doing a review of the above restaurant and their food. I can't guarantee that every Frankie and Benny's restaurant will be the same as what I have described above. The restaurant weren't aware that I was coming and so this review isn't biased at all. My opinions are 100% honest as always.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Ripley's Believe It or Not! (Blackpool, July 2012)...

So, for those of you following/reading my Blackpool reviews/vlogs, I have another one for you. Another attraction me and Simon went to in Blackpool was 'Ripley's Believe It or Not!'. The only other Ripley's in the UK is in London and me and Si went to that one a few years back. It was on the off chance really, as it was really wet and we were walking around, spotted it and decided to go in. We loved it. It's full of interesting, fascinating facts and unusual items so we were excited to have a look around the one in Blackpool.

For those of you not familiar with 'Ripley's Believe It or Not!', it is basically a museum of unbelievable and fascinating facts and unusual items. Ripley is Robert Ripley, the cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, illustrator, collector and seeker of the odd and unusual facts/items that appear in all of Ripley's attractions. You can find out more about him here.

The majority of facts and items are different in the Blackpool one, compared to the London one. So you don't have to worry about it all being the same. There is one thing I remember being the same and that was the mirror where it shows you how to roll your tongue. If you carry on round the amusement you will come to a double sided mirror where you can see people sticking their tongues out and trying to roll their tongue. It's quite funny to be honest watching people, as they obviously don't know people can see them doing it, until they get around to the other mirror side and realise :-). So, when we saw that we recognised it from the London one, but that's the only thing that stood out to me as being the same.

Ripley's in Blackpool is located on the promenade, by the Pleasure Beach on Ocean Boulevard.

Whether you are travelling by road, rail or air, it is pretty easy to find. There isn't a direct link as it is on the home-page, but if you look on the right hand side of the website homepage, you will see a map/directions. If you are travelling by car, it tells you where the nearest place to park is here. We had a weekly tram/bus pass whilst we were there, so we got the tram, which took about 5-10 mins from our guest-house.

The attraction is open daily from 10am. In the Summer/in season months, it is open every day, but when it comes to the Winter/out of season months, then there is only certain days they are open. It's best to check the dates on the website, if you are thinking of booking ahead. Or contact the attraction. It's £12 for adults and £6 for children, but you can get discount vouchers and group discounts on their website and often whilst you are in Blackpool, or even before you go, you will see 2 for 1 vouchers in magazines, papers, on the back of leaflets/receipts etc. So keep your eyes peeled because who doesn't like a discount! There is a leaflet you can grab on the way in, which has the museum layout inside, so you can see where to go/where you are going etc. However, the museum leads you from room to room, so you are sure not to miss anything :-).

There aren't any refreshment areas within the museum, but this isn't something you are going to be in all day. There is a gift shop at the end, which sells memento's to remind you of your visit to the attraction and I'm sure I remember there being a cold drink fridge aswell...if you are desperate for a drink when you come out :-). There is a funny thing inside the museum, which is a fridge that says: 'Don't forget to grab your free drink'. So you open the fridge and see lots of empty drink cans and it basically laughs in your face lol. As if you get a free drink...haha!

We went to the attraction on the 9th July 2012 (ignore the date on the pictures, my camera date/time is set wrong, I must sort it! Lol). There weren't many people in there to be honest, so you could stay and look at any of the facts/items as long as you wanted, because no one was hanging around you trying to have a look. Another couple went in the same time as us and as we were going around the museum, a few other people caught up with us. So it wasn't totally empty, but it was quiet. It took us about an hour to get around the whole thing. We didn't read every single little thing though, we just read those bits of info/facts that caught our eye. Each item has a detailed explanation by it, so you aren't left wondering what something is, it is explained for you :-). It did seem to go quite quick, whilst we were in there, but time always does when you're having fun and we enjoyed it on the whole. There are two floors, 8 galleries and 10 televisions. Here are a couple of my favourite bits of the museum...

'Can you lift both legs at the same time?'. Me and Simon had some fun with this, on many shots we took, you could see our other leg/foot, but I think I mastered it in the end...just about :-).

This was a Princess Diana piece, make solely from pennies. Some of the pennies were shaded in different colours, but I thought it was amazing that you could get a picture so spot on, with just pennies! I should try it myself lol.

There is a lot of interactive parts to the museum, for example...funny mirrors, puzzles, tongue rolling and much more! You can see some footage from our trip here, by watching my Blackpool Vlog: Day 2 YouTube video. I don't want to ruin what's inside the museum by naming most of the things, but you can take a look here at what you can expect to find.

We had a fab time learning about unusual items and finding out fascinating facts. Now we have been once, I can't say we would go again, because we already know what's in there. It's the same with the London one to be honest. Unless they both have a total refurb and have all new items in there. However, if you have never been to either, then I would deffo recommend taking the time to go and have a look. It's a good way to enjoy an hour or so, for not such a ridiculous price :-).

If there is anything else you would like to know, please ask!

Have you ever been to any of the Ripley attractions?

Thanks so much for reading. Please follow, like and comment.

Gem XxOo

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Blackpool Zoo (July 2012)...

Those of you that watch my YT videos and follow me on Twitter, might remember me saying that I was going to Blackpool for a week from the 8th to the 13th of July with Simon. It was one of my birthday presents from him and I must say we had a blast! We did a lot of stuff whilst we were there and so I made sure I took a lot of pictures and I also vlogged along the way. You can see these vlogs on my 'Live Love Laugh' YouTube channel.

I thought I would carry out some review features for you of the things that we did in Blackpool, so you can get a feel for what most of the attractions are like. Me and Si love zoo's, monkeys tend to be our faves as they are so characteristic and fascinating to watch. So, saying that, I'm going to start off with Blackpool Zoo...

It was quite easy to get to the zoo, we caught the seasonal bus from the town centre, outside BHS on Corporation Street. These buses run quite often and it took us about 15-20 minutes to get to the zoo, so we were there before we knew it! The stop is just outside the entrance of the zoo, so when you have enjoyed your day, if you're catching the bus back, the stop will be right there waiting for you, meaning you don't have to walk far. I found this really convenient and like I said before, the buses run quite regularly. If you are using other methods of transport to get to the zoo, there is a 'find us' page on their website. If you are travelling by car, the zoo has car parking facilities costing just £2.50 per car, per visit.

The zoo is open every day of the year at 10am, except for Christmas Day. It costs £15.50 for adults to get into the zoo and for those of you with kids, it's £11 for 3-15 year olds. Under 3's get in for free. There are plenty of other price offers, the chance to become a member and a way to save by buying tickets online, on their website. I didn't think the prices were too bad, put it this way, I've seen worse zoo prices and you can spend a whole day at the zoo, so it's not over before you know it, like some other Blackpool attractions can be. At the ticket kiosk you are given a leaflet of talk/feeding times and the chance to buy a zoo guide for £2.50. Simon wanted to buy this as like I said before, we love zoo's and there are plenty of facts and info within the guide, aswell as a map. However, you can print off the map from their website, so you don't have to pay for it, if you don't want to :-).

There is a gift shop and a coffee shop within the entrance hall of the zoo and a large cafe within the actual zoo. We didn't buy any food from the zoo, as we had grabbed some lunch whilst we were waiting for the bus ha, but we did have some drinks at the zoo (a slush for me...yum! and a Dr. Pepper for Si), which cost approx £3.50.

Onto our actual visit! We went on the 10th July (Tuesday) and it was quite a chilly day and also kept spitting throughout. We did notice that the zoo was quite quiet to be honest, but when we thought about it, it was a weekday, not a school holiday and most adults were probably at work, so we gathered that this was the reason. Unless people were planning to come on the morning, but saw the weather and decided against it. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely if it's warm whilst walking around a zoo, but it wasn't that bad and definitely could have been worse. We did notice that there were a lot of school trips at the zoo, loads of little kids getting really excited...bless em! It was quite funny to be honest, as there were several times throughout the day when I was looking at animals through a window (the lions and tigers spring to mind) and suddenly there would be a herd of kids running to the window, surrounding me and encasing me in the middle! Ha.

In total, we were at the zoo for about 3-4 hours, which gave us enough time to see all of the animals, read about them (there are info signs by each animal enclosure) and enjoy watching them for a while (especially the little Monkeys, soo cute!), stop for a drink and listen to a talk. We managed to watch the 'Birds of the World' talk/display, at 1:30pm, which lasted for about 20 minutes. It was really interesting and amazing to see how the birds had been trained and what they could do. We wanted to see the Sealion display at 2:00pm, but we got caught up watching the monkeys and didn't realise the time. There was a Sealion training talk/display on at 4:00pm, but again we were caught up watching other animals and again didn't realise the time. It was 4:20pm by the time we realised and it finished at 4:30pm, but we were basically at the end of the zoo and ready to go home anyway as we were quite chilly. So, if you know which animals you would like to see talks/displays on, then I'd recommend giving someone the job of keeping an eye on the time, because if you're watching fascinating animals that just draw you in, it is SO easy to forget about a talk/display that you may want to see.

Like I said, I took a lot of pictures, so I thought I would show you a few favourites here:

Yes, they had Guinea Pigs at the zoo!
      This one reminded me of my piggie Belle that died this year.

There are lots of other fun things to do at Blackpool Zoo, for example: animal experiences (feed a tiger, train the sea lions, tickle a tapir or become a keeper for the day), play areas and activities around the zoo (inflatables, crazy golf, or a miniature train for when your legs are tired :-)), a children's farm, play barn, nursery, shopping in the gift shop, dining and you can even have a zoo party or adopt an animal! There are also plenty of opportunities for people to learn at the zoo, including education sessions for school groups, a zoo keeper academy and a chance to do some work experience.

The zoo also has toilets situated by the entrance of the zoo and within the actual zoo, baby-changing facilities are available in all toilets, wheelchairs and pushchairs can be hired from reception, members of staff at the zoo can help with lost children and first aid, you can enquire at reception regarding lost property and there are hand washing facilities situated around the zoo. Put it this way, this zoo has a lot to offer and it's worth checking out the website to see if there is anything you would like to do/enquire about before you go :-).

If you do go to Blackpool Zoo, I hope you have a fab day! I know we sure did (I just hope you have better weather:-)).

If there is anything else you would like to know, please ask!

What's your favourite animal in a zoo?

Thanks so much for reading. Please follow, like and motivates me to blog more for you lovelies :-).

Gem XxOo
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