WHEN we decided to go for Sunday lunch at one of Southampton's best known pubs, our first thought was to ring ahead and book a table.

As I soon discovered that's completely out of the question when you want to dine at The Cowherds Inn at their busiest time of the week.

"We open at 12 and we're full by five past," I was told by a staff member at the pub on Southampton Common.

As it turns out the pub's policy is so strict that staff even refused to reserve a table for Prince Edward and his pals when they were doing some filming at Southampton General Hospital a few years ago.

We decided to take our chances and sure enough when we arrived about five minutes early, a queue was already snaking across the car park.

Families, young couples and pensioners were all more than happy to wait for the doors to open.

Once inside the pub, the staff swiftly embark on a military operation to get everyone seated in record time.

Everyone else in there seemed to be familiar with The Cowherds' Sunday lunch routine as they quickly dived for the counter to order their meals and I found myself at the end of queue once again.

I didn't have to wait too long and I soon realised what all the fuss was about when our food was served.

The secret of their success is simple: generous helpings of tasty food at reasonable prices.

The decor is all very 'olde worlde' with plenty of oak beams, low ceilings, log fires and soft lighting.

It's all very atmospheric but a bit gloomy for menu reading purposes.

I finally worked out that there were two choices of roast - turkey or beef - and an extensive Sunday menu to choose from too.

I opted for the beef which came with fresh steamed vegetables, roast potatoes, cheddar mash, a Yorkshire pudding and gravy.

My mum, who was accompanying me, opted for the turkey which was served with Victoria plum stuffing, a sausage wrapped in bacon and the same vegetables as me.

We felt stuffed by the end of it but we both still had a little room left for dessert. I had the vanilla cheesecake with ice cream which wasn't at all sickly as similar puddings can be.

My mum had the chocolate profiteroles which she couldn't quite finish but said were delicious.

Despite their heavy workload, all the staff were really friendly and the waitress who served our table made a real effort to make sure that everything was okay.

There was still a food queue at the counter when we left nearly two hours later. Some people were even braving the chilly autumn elements and eating their lunches at a picnic table outside because it was so full inside.

I'd definitely recommend a visit to The Cowherds Inn, just make sure you're not in a hurry if you fancy a Sunday roast.

The Cowherds Inn is off The Avenue on Southampton Common. Information: 023 8051 6921. Food is served Monday-Sunday Midday-9.00.