But It’s A Thursday | T.G.I Friday’s, South Village, Bluewater, Greenhithe, Kent DA9 9SG
A couple of weeks ago, a package landed on Saff’s desk. A sturdy black box with a big fancy scarlet ribbon and a sticker that simply read ‘It’s all about me!’ As it was her birthday she assumed that the gift was from one of her friends. Wrong! It was from T.G.I. Friday’s – a promotional package for their new Celebrations Club (more on this later).
Along with a party cannon, hat and other bits and bobs, the box contained an invitation to try some new dishes and old favourites at a T.G.I. Friday’s of our choice. Now we’re lucky enough to receive numerous invites, many of which we have to decline due to time restrictions and T.G.I.’s was about to be consigned to that list.
It wasn’t on our ‘to go to’ list, in fact, it’s the kind of restaurant that we tend to avoid. But, and it’s a very big but (ffnar, ffnar), my birthday coming up, I was off work with the kids and I hadn’t eaten there since I was in my early 20s. We were feeling very down as our beautiful pet cat had just died and Saff was finding it hard to want to do anything.
So with a little arm twisting and puppy dog eyes my children and I persuaded Saff to book a table for my actual birthday day. Which, depending on how much of a exhibitionist you are, is an interesting experience!
So my ‘special day’ arrived and after spending the afternoon being a big kid at Adventure Island in Southend it was time to make the mad dash over the QEII bridge to visit the T.G.I. Friday’s Bluewater branch. Even at 7pm there was a long queue snaking outside the restaurant, while other establishments in the food court were relatively quiet – so they’re obviously doing something right? Time to find out.
This branch is the busiest in the UK, always jostling for top spot with the Leicester Square restaurant and the staff relish this challenge. The apparent joy of working at the number one branch really shows in their eagerness and Joker-esque broad smiles.
Decor is fairly standard – the out of the corporate box T.G.I. rock venue/sports bar vibe, a motorbike here, a drum kit there – you know the scene. It was full. Pretty young things stood at the bar, large groups of teens were celebrating their birthdays and couples (some looking like it was their first dates) gazed into each other’s eyes.
We fell into the table of four family category, which is perfectly catered for with both a kids AND a young teens menu. Also there’s the new Liberty menu – £15.99 for two courses, served all day from Monday to Thursday (excluding bank holidays) – excellent value. Now onto the actual food, the part that Saff was most dubious about.
Our waitress Sam’s first question was ‘anyone celebrating a special occasion?’ I tried to keep quiet, I’d heard rumours that birthday boys and girls were forced to walk around the restaurant half-naked drizzled with chocolate sauce and popping candy – or maybe that was just a dream I had. But I felt my kids eyes burning into my head and I cracked under the pressure and blurted out ‘yes, it’s my birthday’.
Saff, Oliver and I all ordered from the Liberty menu, while Charlotte (11) bypassed both kid’s menus and ordered ‘steak, nothing else’ from the full menu. To start I had the Boneless crispy coated chicken breast pieces tossed in Frank’s Red Hot sauce with a bleu cheese dip. (£5.49 if ordered from the full menu). It’s not as amazing as my benchmark Voodoo wings from The Big Easy, but to be honest these moist chunks of chicken were good.
Saff hit the starter jackpot with her Jack Daniel’s sesame chicken strips (£6.49) – crispy chicken breast strips, tossed in Jack Daniel’s sweet ‘n’ smoky glaze and topped with toasted sesame seeds and chilli flakes. This dish looked great (apart from the off-putting smeary fingerprints around the outside of the plate) and tasted even better. Saff couldn’t believe it and was a little hesitant to admit they were good, I had a definite case of starter envy.
Before the mains arrived, our waitress Sam appeared at the table with my cocktail (a surprisingly good Cherry Stag (£6.49) – Jim Beam Black Cherry infused bourbon shaken with Luxardo Amaretto, BOLS cherry brandy and a dash of lemon juice. She was also clutching a huge 3ft tall balloon birthday ‘crown’ which she squeakily squeezed over my shaved head. Why didn’t I keep my mouth shut? Especially after not one, but two balloons bursting whilst on my head with an ear-ringingly loud bangs and a look of panic from my family.
Oliver’s Fridays double glazed Jack Daniel’s ‘legendary’ burger (£11.99) went down equally as well. Jack Daniel’s sweet ‘n’ smoky glaze, Monterey Jack cheese, Jack Daniel’s candied bacon and Fridays mayo. Not quite sure what legend this burger is from but Oliver sure made a short story of it. His quote of the day: ‘Dad, I could drink this Jack Daniel’s sauce out of a cup.’ I think he liked it. Or maybe that JD glaze is the secret.
Saff’s Ultimate Jack Daniel’s Double Glazed Ribs (£13.49 for a half rack) were much better than she expected, a good smokey flavour, slow cooked so the meat fell off the bone. They’re the biggest ribs on the menu and smothered in Jack Daniel’s sweet ‘n’ smoky glaze (yes more of that JD glaze…)
The only real disappointment was my Blackened chicken fajita (£14.99) Served on a skillet over a bed of garlic mixed peppers and onions, with Fridays spicy guacamole, sour cream, Fridays salsa and warm tortillas. The chicken breast hadn’t been blackened, the Cajun spices didn’t have that authentic tongue tingling hit and even though the skillet was sizzling hot, the onions and peppers were watery and bland.
Desserts are what T.G.I’s say they do best – huge American over-sized servings of all the classics, nothing real fancy like but a sweet tooth’s dream. Oliver’s Chocolate Fudge Fixation – three layers of moist chocolate cake with a rich chocolate and fudge filling, served warm with vanilla ice cream. It did exactly what is says on the tin.
Saff and I shared a Very Berry sundae – crushed meringue pieces, Amaretti biscuit, ice cream, swirls of strawberry purée muddled with blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. And when I say share, I mean 80% for me and 20% for Saff.
Last but in no means least was Charlotte’s Fairground Sundae from the kid’s menu – vanilla ice cream, candy floss, popcorn and mini donuts. This should so go onto the full menu, the kids desserts were way more interesting, this one was like the poor man’s version of the one at STK.
That was that, with a tip and a couple of soft drinks the bill came to just over £100 for two adults, a mid-teen and a child. Talking of tips, we’re not sure how we feel about this, but tips aren’t automatically included on the bill If a customer didn’t pay much attention to the receipt then they wouldn’t know this, here’s their reasons for this policy.
Sure you can get better steak, burgers and fajitas for similar prices elsewhere, but we actually had a good time, thanks to their friendly staff and party atmosphere. But mostly because we were with the kids and they enjoy it there.
South Village, Bluewater Parkway,
Greenhithe, Kent DA9 9SG
Telephone: 0344 692 0281
Book a table online
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 12pm – 10.30pm,
Friday 12pm – 11pm, Saturday 11am – 11pm, Sunday 12pm – 10.30pm
Nearest station: Greenhithe (5 min bus journey)
We ate as guests of T.G.I Friday’s, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.