Norwich: The Wig and Pen

The everyday menu has a wide range of sensible choices and is complemented by the specials board which does just that - offer something different and special - so you should find something to suit your appetite and mood.

Talk about spooky. I had never eaten at this pub, nor even know anyone who had… until the day I was actually going there. I had met up with a retired colleague and his son to catch up over a pint and suddenly the subject of the “Wiggly” - as one of them called it - came up.

“The 'Wiggly?'” I inquired, only to be told it was their nickname for the Wig and Pen in Norwich.

Apparently it is a regular haunt for them and a favourite spot for good pub grub and, knowing my former colleague, it would also be good value.

I mentioned that I was going with my family that evening, as a treat for my younger son's GCSE results. Well, by the time he had finished regaling me with details of the menu it was clear he was something of a regular and his enthusiasm for venison sausages, mash and onion gravy had me positively drooling.

Our initiation to the Wig and Pen got off to an excellent start when we were lucky enough to find a parking space right outside in St Martin's at Palace Plain and, even better, being after 6pm we did not have to feed the meter before feeding ourselves.

Step inside this historic pub and you immediately feel very much home - it's got the atmosphere of a friendly local in the city centre and judging by the number of people there early evening the Wig and Pen is a popular place. We ate in the bar area - not a problem now with the smoking ban - which has real character with its beamed ceiling and old world charm, but there is also a more private dining area at the back of the pub. And what was even more encouraging was that most people seemed to be eating which says a lot for the food.

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The standard menu is good, honest grub with plenty of choice to suit all tastes and occasions from light snacks such as sandwiches and baguettes and to more filling hot meals.

The venison sausages weren't on but I was tempted by the half a pound of bangers with mash and onion gravy while diners on nearby tables tucking into large portions of ham, egg and chips and golden scampi came close to swaying my choice but the winner was on the specials board.

With 10 choices it still wasn't easy. Had it been a warmer evening I would have gone for the large greenlip mussels mariniere or grilled sardines in a tomato and chilli sauce with salad and garlic bread but there was an autumnal nip in the air which called for comfort food. Ah, sausage and onion plait - perfect and good value at £7.95. A big, piping hot piece with lots of tasty, tender sausage meat wrapped in pastry with thick gravy and served with potatoes and a bowl of nicely-presented, crisp vegetables - carrots, French beans, cauliflower and broccoli.

It was also one of the rare occasions I could predict what my wife would choose off the board. She loves tuna steak and the fact it was cooked with fresh ginger and lime sauce (£9.50) sealed the deal. I'm not a fan of tuna steak, normally finding it dry and tasteless, but this was moist and tangy and changed my perception so perhaps we'll try this recipe at home. It came with veg and new potatoes.

My elder son Ben eats like a horse but, with his strict running regime, is fussy about his diet but no worries here as soon as he saw the cold fish platter and salad and new potatoes at £9.95. What a plateful - crisp, fresh salad, smoked fish, prawns and marinated mussels. It certainly looked good and tasted good although Ben found the marinade a little strong towards the end but it didn't stop him clearing the plate.

Younger son Tim knows what he likes and if there is a curry or chilli con carne on the menu he's happy. On the normal menu Tim spotted a chilli (£6.50). A big bowlful duly arrived served with crusty bread as described on the menu. Spicy enough without being too hot, he enjoyed it but would have preferred it with rice.

My wife does enjoy a dessert when we go out - pudding at home is normally a low-fat yoghurt or fruit - so of course Tim and I had to have one too just to make sure she didn't feel guilty.

Many years ago Denise would have had the bread and butter pudding but now that she is wheat-intolerant her choice was the homemade poached pear with a mixed berry compote. It was beautifully presented and almost a shame to cut into the pear centrepiece.

Meanwhile, Tim, who can eat for England and not put on weight, had the hot chocolate fudge cake with ice-cream. The dark rich cake with ice-cream slowly melting looked mouthwatering and I suspect it was as the plate was soon empty while he thwarted all my attempts to try it.

My first choice would have been the homemade white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake but, not wanting to be piggy after that sausage plait, my conscience told me to go for the light 'n' lemony mousse-cake. Imagine my relief, I mean disappointment, when I learned they had run out and would I like anything else! The cheesecake was wickedly tasty with a small jug of cream to really pile on the calories… but who cares now and then. All desserts are a reasonable £3.50 with mixed cheese and biscuits at £3.95.

I really liked the Wig and Pen and can see why my old mate gave it such a glowing recommendation.

The everyday menu has a wide range of sensible choices and is complemented by the specials board which does just that - offer something different and special - so you should find something to suit your appetite and mood.

I have been passing this pub in the car every week for years but had never been in it. It was only the fact that Ben passes it on his way to and from school that we decided to go there and I'm very glad we did.

t The Wig and Pen, St Martins at Palace Plain, Palace Street, Norwich; 01603 625891;

t Where is it? Near the courts complex - hence the name. Before then, you may remember it as the White Lion.

t Do I need to book? We did, and having seen how popular it is I would advise it to avoid disappointment. The pub has its own website and has just put up its Christmas menu.

t What about parking? We were lucky enough to find a space right outside and it was free after 6pm. There is on-street parking and parks nearby but you may have to pay.

t Disabled access? There are a couple of steps at the front door but help is available.

t What about vegetarians? There are vegetarian choices. On the specials menu there was courgette, wild mushroom and mozzarella tartlet for £8.50 and stuffed baked peppers at £7.95.