Regular readers of this column will probably be aware that I am not much of a fan of the so-called gastropub. This is an overused appellation, which lazy licensees believe entitles them to charge more than twice what it's worth for their grub, while conveniently forgetting the pub side of the business altogether. Let me say straightaway that the Oxford Arms is not a gastropub. When I first made its acquaintance under the present landlord three years ago, it referred to itself in promotional material as "A 19th-century English Pub and Eating House". I liked the directness of this. I also liked the place very much. I signed off my laudatory Oxford Times article by saying: "I am just going to have to go back - soon."

But stupidly I didn't, and it was not until two weeks ago that I stepped once more into this wonderfully 'pubby' place. Rosemarie and I were there for lunch with old friends Alison and Marcelle - the latter arguably a local (she lives five miles away) but certainly a regular. She has a well-developed taste, shared by her husband, for the robust flavours produced by owner/chef Bryn Jones and his team.

Bryn, whose name sounds vaguely Welsh, was working front of house in the early days of his tenancy, at the time when we first dined there. "I'm the man who told you that the fish stew had all the ugly things in it," he reminded me when I rang up last week to arrange for a photographer to call. I had not been able to fix the date after lunch because Bryn was on a day off. His brother and business partner, Rod, was in charge for the session and talented sous chef Lacroix Fatoman doing the biz in the kitchen.

They had one other booking when Marcelle phoned earlier in the day, specifying a liking for the table next to the fire on a chilly day such as this was. When we arrived the place was so full that people were being offered places in an unheated outdoor seating area. That they were accepting them - and eating in their coats, scarves and gloves - says much, I think, for the excellent reputation of the kitchen.

Our meal certainly showed this good name to be justified. Both the quality of the ingredients and the way these had been handled in the preparation of dishes made it obvious that here was a place where people cared about good food, and their customers' enjoyment of it.

Some of what's offered is advertised on a blackboard above the fire, in the way of specials. Today's dishes ranged from the simple pleasure of a sweetcorn cob with butter, through the modest delights of caramelised onion and Taleggio tart, and game pie with mash, to the luxury of North Atlantic lobster. Yours for 27 quid, with chips, but not served in newspaper.

To start, I chose a dish in which the ingredients mattered much more than their handling, since all that was necessary was for them to be slapped on a plate. I merely report that the smoked halibut, trout and salmon were all excellent. In somewhat similar vein, Rosemarie chose a plate of 18-month aged parma ham with sun-dried tomatoes. Ali ordered the traditional potted shrimps, and found the mace and dill involved in their construction particularly appealing. Marcelle went for a brimming bowl of creamy clam chowder, a piping hot dish that was also proving popular (for obvious reasons) with those lunching al fresco. She continued with flavour-packed salmon and prawn fishcakes with sweet chilli sauce.

Having seen a huge portion of fish and chips being made short work of at an adjacent table, Rosemarie ordered some too. Crisp golden batter made with Hook Norton beer, gleaming flakes of white cod, lovely big chips, home-made tartare sauce - what more could she ask for? Only, I regret to say, Heinz tomato ketchup, which was duly delivered.

I fancied the game pie, which boasted partridge among the ingredients, but was warned by Rod of the extreme creaminess of the mash served with it. Assured that it was fairly lean, I opted instead for the lamb shank which had been slowly cooked in a rich dark gravy with lots of flageolet beans.

Ali had bangers and mash, which came with shredded Savoy cabbage and onion gravy. The excellence of the sausages prompted her to ask about their provenance. A family farm at Kelmscott, it turned out. Even as we were digesting this information (and in Ali's case the bangers too), we were confronted by a member of the very family - my old friend Richard Wallace-Jones. A well-known figure in the world of wine who now lives in France, he was back in the area for a tasting that very night.

Though he was keen that we should join him (and a few hundred others) in Banbury Road, I considered that glasses of Pinot Grigio and French merlot were quite enough for one day. My companions felt rather the same about further food, but watched with interest as I broached a slice of pumpkin tart with ice cream and found it to be good.