The horrors of Halloween are necessarily succeeded by a plenitude of pumpkins – all those wide-grinning candlelit heads! – with a challenge to chefs in our catering establishments, and likewise cooks in the domestic setting, to devise tasty and ingenious ways for their disposal.

How ingenious these can be was demonstrated for me more than 30 years ago when I was invited to judge an annual competition for pumpkin dishes held at The Plough, in Finstock. The range of soups, cakes, breads, pies, puddings, flans and casseroles was truly amazing.

At The Fishes, in North Hinksey, the head chef James Grassby worked up a trio of specials featuring the gourds, two of which Rosemarie and I were destined to sample (the third was a salad with blue cheese and pine nuts) during a delicious, markedly belt-stretching, dinner there last Saturday.

The purpose was to try out James’s new menu for autumn, which proved to be an almost total revamp of what had gone before, though in the same tradition of excellence in quality and sourcing long associated with Peach Pubs.

The company is so well known in Oxfordshire as really to require no introduction. The Thatch and The James Figg, both in Thame; The Fleece in Witney; and The Bear and Ragged Staff in Cumnor – the most recent acquisition – are among my (and everyone else’s) favourites.

Oxford Mail:

The Fishes has always been a favourite of mine too, albeit in a very different guise when I first knew it more than 40 years ago. As a ‘local’ to Newspaper House, it was here we strolled on many days along Willow Walk for a plate of bread and cheese and a pint of Morrell’s bitter – 25p the lot!

How amazed would its then landlord John Beesley be if he could see his basic old boozer as it looks today, complete with its elegant conservatory restaurant extension pictured above.

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It was into this oasis of comfort, to the circular table in the foreground, that Rosemarie and I were shown by the duty manager Pete after arriving by taxi for our 8.15pm booking.

There was a cheery buzz about the place, as you would expect at this time of the week, with conviviality all around us.

Pete introduced our waitress Charlotte, attentive throughout our meal and commendably well-informed about the dishes on offer, most of which she had already tried. Her first duty for us came in the delivery of Bombay Sapphire gin and tonics which we enjoyed while studying the menu.

The first pangs of hunger were allayed with a basket of artisan bread with butters (including a delicious Marmite-laced one), after which we took delivery of an unexpected appetiser from the kitchen, little cups of smooth pumpkin and blue cheese soup.

Oxford Mail:

Starters proper were potted crab and toasted sourdough for me, served warm, so I couldn’t pick off the butter topping, and pan-fried (melt in the mouth) scallops and Clonakilty black pudding for Rosemarie. She loved them.

Then came a second surprise from chef Thomasz, deputing for the absent James, with unordered fish dishes (we can’t visit anonymously here!). These were taster-size portions of one of the night’s specials: pan-fried seabass, with pumpkin and saffron risotto, salsa verde and lots of that wonderful sea vegetable, samphire.

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Very much not wonderful kale came with Rosemarie’s splendid 14-hour braised beef and ale pie. This usually remains obstinately chewy, no matter how expertly cooked. It is hard not to agree with the opinion of the great Mary Berry (offered in the Sunday Times this week) that kale is “the most over-rated food trend – I’m not a fan”.

Oxford Mail:

The most under-rated? Cabbage. Mary would therefore have approved its delivery (in the Savoy variety) with my roast Cornish lamb cannon (slightly tough – should have gone for well done) and the wicked indulgence of lamb belly, fondant potato and a rich jus.

We drank Côtes du Rhône (Les Coteaux, 2016), whose brambly, spicy tones nicely hit the spot.

The day’s pudding special – chocolate brownie terrine, with orange purée and coconut yoghurt – could not be resisted. Nor could the ‘smidgen’ – actually rather a large piece – of creamy Beauvale Blue. This was an autumn feast indeed.

The Fishes, North Hinksey Village, Oxford, OX2 0NA, Tel: 01865 249796.

Opening hours: Mon-Thurs, 9.30am-11pm, Fri/Sat, 9.30am-midnight, Sun 9.30am-10.30pm

The people: manager Jake Stenning, head chef James Grassby

Do try the . . . pan fried scallops with Clonakilty black pudding £11, potted crab with sourdough £9, roast lamb cannon and crispy bacon £21, beef and ale pie with buttered mash and greens £14.75, chocolate brownie £6.50, smidgen of Beauvale Blue £3.75