“The burger bun is actually pretty good…”
We’re sure a lot of you have fond memories of TGI Friday’s from your youth. Even though you probably won’t admit it in public.
We certainly do. To us it was a place of magical wonder, full of bright, garish awesomeness. The staff were always effervescent, covered in their own quirky, idiosyncratic collage of badges (Rob’s pretty sure he was once served by one waitress wearing roller skates). The bar was always a hive of excitable chatter, bottles being juggled about with skilful abandon by Tom Cruise-esque bartenders. They had an uncanny knack of gluing things to the walls: guitar, baseball bats, American football helmets. It was the equivalent of Disney World in a restaurant.
The food? Man, neither of us can remember much about that, both having only soft-focus memories of steaks and sundaes. That, and it being a family friendly environment for one’s Dad to get drunk.
Neither of us have been there in decades, so it was with wide-eyed expectation of a truly amazing experience that we headed to their newest London booth in Westfield Stratford.
We weren’t disappointed. The place is massive! One of the booths is IN a New York Yellow Cab! Ridiculous!
Seated at our heavily spot-lit table, it felt like being in Las Vegas - with the ever so slightly too loud American pop tunes, the air con pumping out at constant speed, the floor-to-ceiling displays of Americana. We looked around dumbstruck. Maybe, just maybe this was going to be amazing!
We were brought down to Earth with a Deep Impact style bump. The prices seemed steep and the portion sizes were criminally small, something all too apparent when the starters of bone-in and boneless Buffalo wings, plus Chicken Fajita Nachos, turned up. “WTFs” reverberated, looking at the dozen or so nachos sparsely arranged on the huge plate in front of us.
Only a couple of tiny pieces of chicken were immediately discernable, and not many more after that. They were average at best and no one rushed to finish them. Both types of wings were bolstered by the liberal use of Frank’s on them, the boneless options having the same consistency as KFC popcorn chicken with glandular issues. But again, for the price and ‘sharing platter’ status, there just wasn’t enough of them.
As you can imagine by this point, we were not all that hopeful about the delectability of the mains that followed: a ‘Classic American’ burger with cheese and some Sizzling Blackened Chicken & Steak Fajitas.
The burger bun is actually pretty good, a ‘classic’ American Wonderbread / McDonald’s-style one - smooth, spongy, outrageously sweet and competently toasted. The special sauce is also a respectable mustardy thousand island-style effort.
It’s also worth saying that the thing smells incredible. Like it’s taken a bath in that weird Flame Grilled flavouring they use at Burger King. It can’t be natural.
The shortcomings are very visually apparent, and abhorrently unacceptable.
The patty is way too small for the bun, comically so, like a toddler trying to walk around in grown up shoes. We popped open the lid and saw a grey excuse for a patty that was overcooked, dry, and so densely packed that on biting it really didn’t feel like meat at all. But it tasted like meat, in that way chemicals make it taste like meat.
It was bad. Pretty fucking bad. And they have the nerve to advertise them as ‘juicy’.
On to the fajitas. Ever hopeful. Nobody does proper TexMex fajitas in London, despite what they try to say in the papers.
While the spicy seasoning that coated the peppers and onions was passable, it was the meat again that was flawed. The steak was a brown leather apology: dry, overcooked so it was like chewing a gristle fruit gum. The chicken tasted like those Birds Eye Chargrills, pumped full of water and reconstituted to shit. Even the chargrill taste was clearly synthetic.
You have never seen such a despondent bunch of lightly sozzled diners, the disappointment being all too sobering despite the plethora of icy booze we had thrown down ourselves.
For an establishment that advertises itself as the home of ‘fresh from the grill’ dishes, all of the meat here is severely lacking. Sadly, it is an all too common experience amongst chains that almost feel as if they have superseded the need to draw people in, so wide is their established consumer base. What is saddest of all is that this type of thing constitutes a decent meal for most people. A treat, even.
As a point of contrast, Rob had a stupendous three course lunch at Gauthier two days prior which came in three whole pounds under his share for TGI Friday’s. This only added further upset to the bill arriving.
There are 900 TGI Friday’s around the world. The company line is they serve the same thing globally. We would obviously never waste a meal in the US at one for the sake of comparison, but we have a hunch the portions wouldn’t be so dismal over there.
If only the Cheesecake Factory would come over instead, with its impossibly-priced bible menu. We can still hope.
- Rob & Simon.