Few restaurants have a truly family feel outside of the obvious high days and holidays, so it was lovely to feel that warmth at A Toca.
Sunday was my mumâ€™s 75th birthday and a table for 12 people was treated as an everyday occurrence by the Portuguese restaurant at the time of booking â€“ and when we arrived we werenâ€™t the only large group.
Amazingly, by 1pm the place was packed, with what must have been 150 covers and a permanent queue of 10 people, who were replaced by another lot no sooner had the previous late comers been seated.
Such popularity made for promising experience, as did the arrival of fresh bread and butter, served with home-made cheese, olives and a choice of pates â€“ sardine and tuna.
Unfortunately, the starter of fried calamari (Â£6.50) was disappointing â€“ frozen fish just doesnâ€™t cut it and the jarred tartare sauce didnâ€™t make it any the more appetising.
The main courses were certainly plentiful but the inclusion of rice and chips seemed a bit on the stodgy side. Actually, halve the portion sizes and a bit of both would have been nice.
Grilled chicken with mushroom sauce (Â£9.50) was tasty but again, enough to feed two people.
I ate some of the chicken, the accompanying side salad, and left much of the rice and chips.
My husbandâ€™s grilled lamb cutlets (Â£13) were well received but again there was surprise expressed at the quantity. Giant skewers of grilled meat proved popular throughout the restaurant, huge chunks of beef and pork temptingly glistening but, sadly, only one person at our table had spotted this on the menu.
This looked the way forward in main courses so it was a shame more of us did not partake.
Others in our party ordered Dove sole (Â£17), pork fillet (Â£9.50), described as well marinated, if a little fatty in parts, and king prawns A Toca-style (Â£7), cooked in tomato and garlic.
The dessert range was impressive, with traditional pudim â€“ a take on crÃ¨me caramel â€“ custard tarts on offer. The latter were particularly good, flaky, crispy pastry, stuffed with fresh egg custard.
And there were plenty of holiday-special desserts available â€“ frozen fruit filled with sorbet and lots of plastic cartoon character moulds, chock full of ice cream to keep the kids happy.
Paloma was not a guest of A Toca, 343 Wandsworth Road, Vauxhall.
Visit www.atoca-restaurant.co.uk for more.