Prince of Wales Road in Norwich for Sunday lunch!? Isn't that nightclub land? Our reviewer realised his preconceptions were wrong when his family were ushered into the lounge area of Rocco's.
There's something special about Sunday lunch. A chance to sit down at leisure, without having to rush and just enjoy eating and talking. And the only things that make it even better are not having to cook or wash up afterwards. In recent years our Sunday lunches have often tended to be haphazard affairs - sometimes late morning, mid-afternoon, often put off until the evening after a mid-morning brunch. Yes, anyone who has a child playing Sunday football knows the routine, or rather the lack of it, so imagine what it was like with two sons playing for different teams, in different directions and at different times. Hectic doesn't begin to describe it, chaotic is getting close.
That's why Sundays are so precious now that youth football is a thing of the past and life is getting back to normal - or as normal as it ever can be with two teenage boys.
So imagine my surprise when elder son Ben, given the choice of where to go for Sunday lunch to celebrate his AS-level results, announced we were going to Prince of Wales Road in Norwich. I'm going to show my age but surely that is nightclub land, a road where I either seem to be stopping my car for a succession of red traffic lights or light-headed revellers who seem oblivious to them. But it is certainly not a place I would go seeking a relaxed Sunday lunch.
But I realised how wrong I was as soon as we walked into Rocco's - for all you pretty young things it's next to Mercy nightclub, for the rest who are, like me, knocking on it is next to the old ABC cinema - for we had one of the best Sunday lunches I have ever had, one that others will be judged against.
Arriving early for our booking, we were ushered into the lounge area where, armed with a drink, we settled into a couple of the many leather sofas armed with some of the Sunday papers provided for customers. This was bliss - a pint, the papers and it's pouring down outside so I don't feel guilty I should be doing something more constructive. I was so comfortable that it was with some reluctance that I levered myself up and moved through to the classy restaurant area which, with its wood panelling and tiles, is equally inviting but, with the wonderful smells wafting around, there was no chance of us sitting there a long while.
Apart from the traditional fare, what I like about carveries, or as Rocco's calls it the Sunday Roast, is that it is not too difficult to make a choice. Unless you are a vegetarian it basically boils down to making a choice of your preferred meat. Not so easy here because it all looked so good and great value at £9.95 for the main course. Even though the lamb was Ben's choice, I managed to snaffle a piece and it was cooked just how I like it - still pink in the middle - while the pork, my wife's preference, was also succulent and the crackling, kept separately in a bowl, crisp and golden. While Mark II son Tim chose the chicken and ended up with loads of lovely, moist breast, I completed the set and succumbed to the beef which had the merest tinge of pink and was beautifully tender. And the chef certainly didn't skimp when he's carving the meat with three large slices each.
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Oh, and talking about portions, how many carveries have you been to where the plate is small with the result that you see some people returning to their table with a teetering pile of food. Not the case at Rocco's where you get a huge plate so don't need to stack it high.
When you see the vegetable counter, from where you can see the kitchen at work which is always a reassuring sign, you'll understand why you need a big plate. I like my veg so this was heaven with carrots, cabbage, peas, cauliflower cheese, roast parsnips, swede, mashed potato, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing balls and sausages as well as meat and vegetarian gravy.
I'm quite fussy about my veg and have often been put off carveries by the dry, shrivelled-up offerings that have been kept warm for too long. But here, even though the carvery had been open more than two hours when we ate, the vegetables had that freshly-cooked look - the carrots were glistening, the cabbage was still crisp and the roasted parsnips, well they were something else with a wonderful texture and taste - I could have made a meal of them on their own with a ladle of gravy!
It's also good to see the attention to detail such as a full range of sauces and condiments to go with each of the meats rather than having to ask for them.
Having polished off our main courses with three clean plates and Tim reluctantly beaten into submission by his huge piece of chicken, we looked at the dessert menu but after much deliberation decided we were too full. For those with a sweet tooth and even bigger appetites than us, they are priced at £4.95 and £5.95 and we were tempted by the tiramisu, cheesecake and cheeseboard. Instead we opted to return to the lounge area for a coffee where we were mystified by close-up magician Tyler Harrison, who entertains customers between 2pm and 4pm. All very clever but, unfortunately he could not make the bill disappear, not that I was complaining when I saw it was just over £51 including a round of drinks and the coffees.
Now that's what I call magic.
t Rocco's, 86-89 Prince of Wales Road, Norwich; 01603 624000; www.roccosnorwich.com
t What about vegetarians? If the roast is not for you, there is a vegetarian option each week, usually pasta.
t What about parking? Being in the city centre it does not have its own car park but there is on-street parking nearby (check for meters) and car parks within a reasonable walking distance.
t Do I need to book? Judging the by the number of people in Rocco's for Sunday lunch it's essential. Monday to Saturday, Rocco's serves up an Italian menu including pasta, calzone, pizza, meat dishes and insalata (salads) at sensible prices. Have a look at the menu on their website.
t Is there disabled access? One section of the large dining area is suitable for people with disabilities.
t Anything else? Yes, and this sounds rather odd but you must visit the upmarket downstairs toilets while you are there. I can only speak for the men's but the 'wall' of water when they flush is a sight to behold.