The Beefeater restaurant chain has been purveying its particular branch of mass-market dining since 1974, a fact now celebrated in one of its most prominent promotional logos.

It happens that my career as a food reviewer in Oxford began in that same year. Well were those times called “the decade that taste forgot”.

In its early days, the Whitbread-owned chain was widely recognised as ripping off the prawn cocktail/ steak and chips approach of Berni Inns, by then 20 years old.

Beefeater was later to acquire (in 1995) that company’s assets, including one of its iconic outlets, Oxford’s Mitre Hotel. In common with most stand-alone locations this has now gone, as Whitbread pursues a policy of running its Beefeaters as an adjunct to (and nosebag for) its Premier Inns.

We have them in tandem on the Oxford Business Park in Cowley, at Milton Trading Estate near Didcot and on the outskirts of Abingdon.

The last of these, the Ock Mill, became one of the first in the 1990s to be given the new company name, Out and Out, when Beefeater was judged to have a tarnished image.

Out of the frying pan into the fire, I thought; for was not the description ‘out and out’ usually applied to unpleasant things, like disasters and bastards?

Certainly, the change was not judged successful, and back came Beefeater, proudly proclaimed.

There are now some 140 around the country, the latest of which is at – or rather just beyond – the Oxford Motor Park, in Langford Lane, Kidlington.

The place is popular as a drinking haunt for the sales staff from the various motor dealers, I’m told, with no doubt a Swiss Toni or two among them. (He’s a shiny-suited, smooth-talking Fast Show super-salesman, in case you didn’t know.)

There’s an adjoining Premier Inn, which led me to expect that business types would be its primary source of custom. Not so. For on our Saturday night visit – when the place was rammed – we are surrounded by revellers obviously on a night out.

There’s a 60th birthday party in full swing – balloons clearly advertising the fact – a few tables away, and, closer, various family groups, with youngsters caning into their kids’ meals (£5.99 for three courses!) in between bouts on their games consoles.

The atmosphere is that of a jolly cafe, with a functional decor serving to reinforce the feeling. Don’t expect sophistication; rather, bare-topped tables, bright lights and decoration concerned chiefly with cattle.

Our table for two, fixed seats facing each other, is close to the action, by which I mean the kitchen. This stretches along one side of the eating area, open to view as the chefs labour away.

Dishes are placed beneath lights on the serving counter – an appetising display – as they await delivery by the jolly staff.

Watching the work is fun for me as we enjoy our G&Ts – Sipsmith me, Tanqueray for Rosemarie. Her seat commands a less appealing vista – the entrance to the loos.

Soon she has something better to look at with the arrival of her starter, a trio of garlicky baked scallops, served whole but without coral on a bed of creamy mashed potato with a rasher of good-quality smoked bacon as topping.

This proves much more appealing than “Our Poshest Ever Prawn Cocktail”, an uncomfortable plated collision between things hot and cold. A pair of shell-on grilled king prawns are in the former category (and much enjoyed), but these only serve to flag up, in the contrast, the tastelessness of the chilly lobster claw meat presumably designed to lend the dish its ‘poshness’.

Thank goodness that in my planned celebration of the Beefeater ‘prawn and steak’ tradition I am better served by the steak – a superb 8oz fillet cooked to a perfect medium, with a decent béarnaise sauce and fine chips. I drink USA Cabernet Sauvignon (Dark Horse) – just the ticket.

Rosemarie is highly delighted, too, with her beef short rib – lots of delicious sticky meat, on the bone with horseradish mash (quite hot!), a lovely bone marrow and onion sauce and tenderstem broccoli.

She rounds off with a Triple Chocolate Brownie (“just worth getting fat for”), while I slug the last of the South African chenin blanc – brilliant value at £12.99 the bottle.