Marc Evans meets a chef at the top of his game, producing pub classics with the occasional twist.

There is an episode of Friends which sprang to mind when our bread and butter was placed before us at the Wychwood Inn in the picturesque West Oxfordshire village of Shipton-under-Wychwood.

In the show, the geeky Ross offers to drink a jar of rendered chicken fat to prove his love for on-off girlfriend Rachel. Exactly why he made this offer, I can’t tell you. To be honest, I was more of a Seinfeld fan.

The reason I remembered this episode is because Wychwood Inn chef Joe McCarthy didn’t just offer us ordinary butter with his (award-winning) bread – we got a quite sensational quenelle of butter mixed with chicken fat and whisked into a soft spread with the texture of whipped cream. It was divine ­– surprisingly light, but decadent and heavy on the savoury umami flavour. Bread and dripping never tasted so good.

And it’s this attention to detail that Joe is displaying in spades here. Among the good old-fashioned pub favourites of liver and bacon, steak, fish and chips and burgers, he smuggles in taste sensations, out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, strange combinations and even a bit of molecular gastronomy. Always seasonal, this is a chef who seems very happy in his work.

On the Friday night we arrived, the place was buzzing ­­– it’s a proper local, with pre-weekend drinkers, lots of dogs finding their favourite spots on the floor, and that great atmosphere that only a British pub can conjure up.

Once we had despatched the bread (which also came with Marmite butter ­– naturally, this divided opinion depending on whether you love the yeasty spread or loathe it), it was on to our sharing starter of antipasto (£15.95). And while this delicious platter of mozzarella, salami, Parma ham, olives, sun blushed tomatoes and crusty bread didn’t test the kitchen’s cooking skills, it gave them the opportunity to show off their talent for presentation and proved they know how to source the best ingredients. It was as pretty as a picture, and darn tasty too.

For mains, I plumped for the pan seared hake with leek pearl barley, dill oil, buttermilk and crispy leeks (£17.50). This lovely, dense, meaty white fish is revered by the Spanish but rarely seen over here ­– and it’s definitely our loss.

Mine was cooked to perfection, flaky and juicy, with a crispy skin that had been seasoned to within an inch of its life ­– giving it a salty crust which really brought out the flavour of the fish.

The pearl barley was an unusual take on a risotto, and again was full of flavour, with great texture from the plump grains. The drizzle of buttermilk gave it creaminess, while the deep fried leek shards provided extra texture and flavour.

My wife went for the 8oz rump steak with grilled tomatoes, home-made onion rings (the size of a fist), and chips (£18) with a port and Stilton sauce (£2.80). It was everything you could wish for from a big Desperate Dan-style hunk of meat with all the trimmings, and the tangy sauce complemented it perfectly.

Despite scoffing all that free bread and butter earlier, I found room for dessert as I couldn’t resist the sound of forced Yorkshire rhubarb with vanilla parfait, pistachio sponge and honey (£8). But it was a world away from the rhubarb and custard that I imagined.

The rhubarb was turned into a gel which was then formed into tubes and filled with the parfait, drizzled with honey and served on a bed of crunchy crumbs decorated with clouds of vibrant green sponge. The sharp taste of the fruit was the ideal accompaniment to the icy, creamy parfait. A technical triumph.

My wife’s cheese board (£9.50) was also great ­– lots of interesting flavours (some nicer than others, and definitely not for the faint-hearted), and with generous amounts of crackers, grapes and chutney.

We got the chance to chat to Joe after our meal and, despite having just finished a busy service 12 hours after he started work that day, was engaging company and utterly enthusiastic about his food.

He gives the punters what they want ­– the big crowd pleasers of liver, and fish and chips were both sold out by the time we arrived at 8pm ­– but he also offers them plenty of what they didn’t even know they wanted, too.