Joanna’s, 56 Westow Hill, SE19

I always enjoy being shown the longstanding local favourite of a good friend, it's almost guaranteed to be great. Joanna’s is a Crystal Palace institution that has been running for over 30 years, and been frequented by my friend and her family for more than 15. So it was without hesitation that I made the journey South to experience what they have grown to love.

Joanna’s started life with a leaning towards an American diner, renowned for its burgers, but now has an eclectic menu that combines its burger heritage with shellfish, fish and hearty, homely dishes such as cottage pie. The restaurant is still owned and managed by the same family that founded it in 1978 and the atmosphere is as warm and welcoming as you would expect from a family-run business.

From Crystal Palace train station it is a short walk up a very steep hill – definitely a good way to work up an appetite. I arrived slightly early, after the exhausting mountaineering I desperately needed a seat so waited at the bar. From my stool I was able to admire the breathtaking, birds-eye view of the city. The gherkin and other city heights looked like upended lego blocks from this hilltop perch. Only a couple of the tables benefit from this view, so have a seat at the bar and drink in the spectacular vista before you go to your table.

Joanna’s has a very reasonably priced set menu at £12.95 for two courses (£16.95 for three) with plenty of options to choose from. This is what we opted for. To start with we enjoyed lamb kofta and crispy duck salad. The lamb was generously spiced, not in the least greasy, and accompanied by a refreshing tzatsiki. The duck salad had very tasty little pieces of crispy skin along with the shredded meat and a hoi sin dressing which combined to give it great flavour and texture.

To follow this we had grilled prawns with lemon scented rice and sweet chili sauce, and battered haddock goujons with mushy peas (sorry, minted pea puree) and chips. There was a slightly worrying moment when the waiter seemed a little reluctant to leave the tomato ketchup on the table, he insisted on serving it onto the plate, but we managed to purloin a thimble-sized pot in the end. The prawns were large and perfectly cooked. There were only three of them but the menu had warned of this so it wasn’t a surprise. The batter on the haddock was light and brilliantly crisp.

We lingered over this, and a bottle of sauvignon blanc, well into the afternoon, by which point the restaurant had nearly cleared out. However, we didn’t feel at all like we were being rushed at any stage, they were perfectly happy for us to take our time.

It is pretty easy to see why Joanna’s has stood the test of time and retained a loyal following. It is friendly and welcoming, the food is great and the atmosphere is sophisticated yet unpretentious. It’s a shame it’s not local for me, but it’s certainly worth the train ride and hike.

joanna's restaurant