It’s an unusual entrance to a restaurant to say the least - a passageway between a palm reader’s hut and a sweets and ice cream stall – but what a revelation once we stepped inside.
We must have walked or driven past Casa Franco hundreds of times, often on the way to eateries inland, but never thought to venture inside.
Perhaps, subconsciously at least, we were guilty of thinking that a restaurant in such a prime tourism location - just a few blocks from the Pleasure Beach – would offer an experience more suited to visitors than residents such as us looking to unwind at the end of a working day.
But what a find – and how remiss of us not to have tried Casa Franco earlier.
The first sight to greet us as we emerged from the entrance passageway was an attractive outdoor dining area, complete with delightful ornamental fountain – but we stepped inside to be greeted warmly and offered a prime table in the window, complete with that rare privilege in a Blackpool eaterie, a seaview.
We were also impressed with the interior, an absolute Aladdin’s Cave of delightful decor, charming knick-knacks, framed pictures adorning the walls and even foliage falling from the ceiling - what lovely surroundings for a meal, we thought.
The toilets are also worth checking out, as the cheeky list of rules in there really made us smile.
As for the all-important food list, the menu certainly offers something for everyone - with a wide array of Italian choices, including steak and chicken options, served with freshly-prepared garlic potatoes and vegetables of the day, supplemented by an English section, with dishes such as steak pie, pork and lamb shanks and scampi and chips.
But we are big fans of Italian food and all stuck with that as we placed our orders.
I’m always delighted to see meatballs among the starters and had no hesitation opting for those to begin.
At £5.95 and featuring three meaty spheres in a tangy tomato and cheese sauce, it arrived piping hot and was a thoroughly satisfying appetiser.
My wife was equally delighted with her bruschetta starter, featuring delightful bread which appeared soaked in olive oil, topped with plenty of tomato and onions (£3.95), while our teenage daughter eagerly tucked into a nine-inch garlic bread, which was a real bargain at just £2.95.
For mains, I was spoilt for choice from the pasta listings, with penne con pollo - featuring chicken breast pieces cooked in white wine, cream and mushroom sauce – a prime contender.
But I have always been a sucker for a canneloni and the ‘home-made’ billing for it – with also applied to the lasagne – was the clincher.
At £8.50, it was great value, arriving still bubbling from the oven and featuring plenty of meat, spinach, onions and herbs packed into two pasta tubes in a delicious tomato and cheese sauce.
There was similarly long deliberation of the pasta choices by Mrs D, who was torn between penne salmone and penne funghi alla crema - and in the end she opted for the latter, in a cream and mushroom sauce, which she declared a real treat. At £7.95, the price was great, too.
From a lengthy list of pizzas, the youngest member of our party opted for a margherita (£7.50), brimming with cheese and tomato topping and she thought it was a real winner.
The service throughout was really efficient and friendly – including the always welcome checkback to ensure everything was okay with the food – which really added to our enjoyment of the evening.
As we watched the sun set over the Irish Sea ahead of the Illuminations coming on for another evening, we resolved to certainly not pass hundreds of times again before making a return visit.
We were too full for desserts and with an espresso and soft drinks, our bill came to an excellent value £43.20.
Marks out of 10: 9