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Friday, 19 December 2014

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FOOD REVIEW: Francescas, Barrow

AFTER a bank holiday weekend away – and having failed to do a ‘big shop’ recently – my fridge this week was looking distinctly like Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

On Tuesday it came down to a toss-up between a couple of Baby-Bel cheeses and some tired-looking mushrooms or having supper out.

Needless to say, the latter won, so off we galloped to Barrow, having decided that an early-evening Italian would be just the job.

I’ve recently heard some good reports of Francescas, which is part of the Majestic Hotel next to Barrow police station. So there we headed, even though it stuck in my craw somewhat to give my custom to an establishment which is so cavalier in its treatment of the English language. No apostrophe in Francescas but they’ve stuck one into the sign outdoors which declares “walk-in’s welcome”.

I had heard Francescas is always busy, so I’d booked earlier that afternoon, rather than risk our being ‘walk-in’s’. We were very promptly shown to a roomy booth-style table and, with a pint of Peroni and a large Chardonnay having been rapidly acquired, we settled down to look at the menu.

The restaurant was heaving at just before 7pm, with hordes of customers clearly taking advantage of the happy hour menu. We were too late for that, but it was of no consequence because even at full whack, the prices are eminently reasonable.

True to a typical Italian restaurant, Francescas is busy, loud, family-friendly and frenetic. Lots of bambinas were running round, shouting and enjoying themselves – something which would send me scuttling out of a formal restaurant (one of my screen heroes is the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) but which is perfectly acceptable in a venue which serves pizzas.

A plateful of garlic bread (£1.95) was first, not because we wanted it but because it seems obligatory to order such a thing in any Italian – the European equivalent of poppadoms, I suppose.

It was a bit light on the garlic, but then who wants to have breath that can stun an elephant from 40 paces the following morning?

Calamari (£4.95) for Gordon went down well, while I had a perfectly nice but not outstanding portion of garlic mushrooms at £3.50. A hunk of bread to mop up the juices wouldn’t have gone amiss – after all, when you go to an Italian, you may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb on the carbs front.

For mains Gordon went for the fish of the day which was sea bass (£12.95). I opted for a contadina veggie pizza, not because I’m a vegetarian (mamma mia, God forbid!) but because as a fourth former at Ulverston Victoria High School, I was in the chorus as a contadina in the 1980 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, but I had a whale of a time – even if the audience didn’t.

I went for the half-pizza, half-salad option, at £4.75 because I have never ever finished a full pizza in an Italian restaurant.

It was OK. Not enough cheese for my liking and a very long way from the best pizza I’ve ever eaten, but perfectly acceptable. Gordon’s sea bass, however, was absolutely delicious.

Now, a word about the salads at Francescas. They’re totally boring. About as Italian as I am, dressing-free and simply dull, dull, dull.

An Italian salad should be full of interesting leaves, vine-ripened tomatoes and lashings of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

These salads were nothing like that. These were English, not Italian salads – made by a Frank, surely, not a Francesca.

The chips that came with the sea bass were good, making up for the disappointment of the salad.

For pudding I had another glass of Chardonnay, while Gordon had a frankly brilliant crème brûlée which was ridiculously cheap at £2.95.

By nightfall at Francescas the ambience leaves something to be desired. Overhead lighting does not make for romance. But then, after two large Chardonnays I wasn’t looking for romance. Staggering back to the car was about all I was capable of.

The food at Francescas is good. It’s not top notch but for the prices it’s very good value indeed.

Finally, I must mention the staff. They’re superb. Ultra friendy – and genuinely so. Our waitress Vicky was delightful and all the staff that evening wore smiles and exuded an air of being happy where they work. That in itself says a great deal about Francescas. Boring salads and misplaced apostrophes aside, Francescas is well worth a visit. We shall certainly return.

Have your say

I've been to Francesca's a couple of times, and on both occasions the food has been ok to poor. The Pizza American looked like a dogs dinner, with so much stuff thrown over the top of it: and yes, the salad I had was lousy too and had to be sent back. BUT. I'll go back again as the atmosphere is terrific, the staff friendly without coming on like your personal stalker, and the prices very reasonable. If they could be consistent about their menu - and perhaps offer less, but do it better - then this would be the top place to eat in Barrow.

Posted by Nick owen on 23 September 2014 at 08:09

"An Italian salad should be full of interesting leaves, vine-ripened tomatoes and lashings of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.These salads were nothing like that. These were English, not Italian salads – made by a Frank, surely, not a Francesca."

It may be that you are questioning strict gender binaries but if not, and the structure of the humour could suggest you are not, and as you are into waving your Ulverston pedantry like a long continental baguette, then it is worth observing that 'Francesco' would be the masculine equivalent of 'Frank' as 'Francesca' is the female equivalent.

I've heard good reports of your journalism but it does stick in my craw to give my reading time over to a piece so cavalier with the translation equivalence in the English language.

Posted by Lovin Barrow on 8 September 2014 at 22:28

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