I don’t think I’ve ever visited TGI Fridays.
This US chain never appealed, though it's omnipresent, like Starbucks or Hard Rock Cafe.
However, I didn’t know its origin story. The first, Fridays, opened in New York, in 1965, on the corner of East 63rd and 1st Avenue. I Google Street Viewed the old location, and it’s no longer there, though I did see a man in yellow T-shirt and fanny pack, hailing a cab.
The chain is now operated by hospitality group, Hostmore plc, who have recently rolled out some new 63rd + 1st all-day dining venues, including one in Edinburgh and another in Glasgow. This new take is supposed to celebrate the flavour of the first branch, where Tom Cruise was trained by staff for his turn in the film, Cocktail.
I guess it was cool, back in the day. Essentially, the brand is deep into middle age and is having a crisis. Aren’t we all?
As anticipated, the drinks menu has plenty of cocktails, which are arranged into categories, like Sweet, Dry, Manhattans and Bitter. I skimmed straight to the Sour section, because I needed a jolt.
Unfortunately, the Pear Sidecar was sold out, so I went for the Midori Sour (£10) instead, with the billed ingredient as well as Tanqueray London Dry Gin, lemon, watermelon and Angostura bitters. Good, though I would have liked a slightly longer drink than what fitted into the bijoux Nick and Nora glass. It went down easily, but too speedily.
We also tried the light Macintosh Spritz (£10) with the Scottish ingredient of Caorunn Gin, as well as Prosecco, Pomme Verte Liqueur and lemon.
The lunch and dinner food list has a US vibe. “I’ve never tried corn dogs before, so I want them,” said my other half, who hasn’t had Twinkies either.
His wish was granted, and we ordered these snacks (£7). There were two of the mouse-sized pellets of battered and deep fried cornbread batter with a core of sausage, like a human leg sealed in Vesuvius lava. These were impaled with sticks so you could dip them into a ketchup and mustard mix.
“Dirty,” he said, looking ashamed. He needn’t have felt too upset. This place has calories on the menu. These were 313, practically a diet food.
I had the crispy Chinatown beef salad (£12.50), which seemed rather pricey. It was a mixture of cold and soft rice noodles, and fried ones on top, for a mixture that was difficult to navigate into one’s mouth. I kept aiming, as if this was a fairground game and I was trying to toss a ball into a wonky hole, or whack a mole. Most of the crispier worms ended up on the table. There was no teddy to win, only a taste of sugary fried strips of beef, toasted peanuts, slivers of chilli, and bits of crunchy veg.
For my main course, I went for the chicken parmigiana (£18). It was fine - wet, squishy and mossy textured, with breadcrumbs, sugo and cheese on the battered flat insole of meat. So you can pretend that you made a healthy choice, this comes with a side of green salad, which consisted of lettuce and broccoli with a pesto-ish dressing.
You also get fries - pale-looking things, all squirted with a shiny confit garlic mayo. For an additional £1.50, I’d upgraded to the “bacon” loaded fries. I didn’t notice the inverted commas until this option had arrived. Turns out it’s a grammatical shorthand for vegan, rather than general sarcasm. These fibrous crumbs weren’t made from the best meat substitute. They had the texture of lino off-cuts. I picked them off.
As they were out of the sea bass and fishcakes options, we went for another main course of “chicken” tacos (£12). As well as sour cream and salad, this pair of charred tortillas were filled with a much better meat alternative. It had a bit of chew and bounce, and was plastered with a very sweet and dark red rum and chilli pineapple salsa. And there were more fries on the side.
I can’t say that TGI Fridays’ new sister chain would make me want to book a flight to the Manhattan original.
However, at least there’s now a destination for those who want to experience their first ever corn dog.