In BRAZIL they celebrate the final days before Lent with a riotous carnival of bacchanalian proportions – a steamy festival of feathers, sparkly bikinis and samba.

Down in New Orleans, they mark the day before Ash Wednesday with jazz, wild dancing and by flashing bits of their anatomy at strangers. And in Cologne, the normally straight-laced Germans enjoy colourful processions, outlandish fancy dress and barrels of beer.

In Britain we have pancake day.

We, of course, are the lucky ones – given free rein to tuck into thin concoctions of milk, flour and egg, topped with a squeeze of lemon or spoon of syrup.

Filled with the wanton spirit of Shrove Tuesday, albeit a couple of days early, I trekked down to Oxford’s own home of hedonism, the Cowley Road... or, to be precise, its colourful, foodie side-street, Magdalen Road.

Here, the team behind the wonderful Handle Bar Cafe & Kitchen in Oxford’s St Michael’s Street, have opened a spin off. And in the evenings it is all about pancakes – or rather, their sophisticated Gallic cousin, the crêpe.

By day a rather hip cafe serving wholesome breakfasts, brunches and lunches, at night Handle Bar 39 – as it is known (it is at 39 Magdalen Road, you see), turns into a little slice of Brittany, pulling on a stripy top and beret, and serving up the best crêpes in town.

With Parisian Celine Wills and her Marseillais sidekick Cesar at the helm, the French touch is unmistakable and the menu is a love letter to their homeland across la Manche.

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Fortunately, my two sons and I were in an adventurous mood, diving into the surprisingly playful (for crêpes at least) menu.

On the first Sunday of the month, Celine and Cesar throw a party called, of course, Sunday Funday, with DJs spinning super-cool tunes and a hip crowd taking advantage of the decent beer, Breton cider, and what I hear are Cesar’s pretty lethal rum punches.

So with Northern Soul and down-tempo Latin soul coming from the decks, and a Connect Four tournament underway in front of us, we settled in for a party.

Cesar was keen for us to try his cheese board, which did sound impressive.

Being a hardcore fromage freak I was all for it. However, I was outvoted, and we instead decided to dive straight into the savoury galettes.

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Given the size of what followed, it proved a sound move.

Being a fan of the noble champignon, I went for Celine’s La Sauvage – a firm galette wrapped around a wonderful combination of wild mushrooms, spinach, walnuts, herbs and crème fraîche.

The browned galette had a wholesome bite to it and was dry and strong enough to support its many moist constituent parts, which combined to give a fragrant, crunchy-nutty, herb-rich tang.

The mushrooms were also firm with a pleasant bite. At Cesar’s recommendation I also added an egg, which made it creamier still.

It was quite delicious and very filling – and at £8.50 possibly the best value quick dinner in town.

As for the boys, one lad went for the other great contender: La Tartif (£10) – basically a tartiflette of Reblochon cheese, bacon and potato wrapped in a galette. It was also very good, and even more filling – a hefty, cheesy double-carb winter warmer, and just the kind of thing which would set you up for a day in the mountains. If we had any.

The other lad wanted Nutella, which they don’t do (no palm oil products allowed, admirably). However, they do make their own variant – albeit a far richer, slightly bitter and more authentically chocolatey version which while absolutely to my taste, was a little too overpowering for him.

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We finished by sharing their pièce de résistance, Flaming Miss Marmalade (£8) a divine combination of Celine’s homemade bitter orange marmalade and chocolate sauce, flambéed with Grand Marnier and topped with chantilly.

With ceremony, Cesar torched it at the table – a suitably theatrical finale to a very tasty, and enormously fun, night out.

Who needs carnival!

  • The Handle Bar 39
  • Magdalen Road, Oxford