It was a pleasant surprise to discover, nearing the end of a first-class Sunday lunch at The Abingdon Arms, that it had been cooked by a chap I have known since he was not long out of short trousers.

Little did I realise 35 years ago, when Mark Horton’s parents and grandmother satisfied my not inconsiderable appetite for Morland best bitter at The Waterman’s Arms on Osney Island that he would grow up to become a chef of talent and flair.

Mark had last cooked for me at The Cherwell Boathouse in Oxford; four years ago (as I remember I had been told) he moved to Beckley’s ancient, and much-admired village pub.

Before Osney, I had lived in a village two miles away and used often to drink at The Abingdon Arms, loving it as much for its literary associations as for its antique charms and fine garden, with a spectacular view across Otmoor. Evelyn Waugh shared a caravan in the yard with his friend Alastair Graham in 1925 while writing Vile Bodies, that “welter of sex and snobbery”, as he called it. He wrote in his diaries of a big feast in the next-door barn at which “until about 3 in the morning the whole village sat and ate and drank and danced and sang”. Randolph Churchill visited and recalled “[sitting] outside the pub drinking rum and water from large pewter tankards and eating bread and cheese”. Waugh wrote: “In the evenings I sit with the farmers in the kitchen drinking beer. I like so much the way they don’t mind not talking.”

I would like to think, gourmet that he was, that Waugh would have approved of the pub as it is today, now a Brakspear’s tenancy held by licensee Bal Gill (pictured - he also has The Swan at nearby Islip, where food is in tapas style). The beer is still good (as Rosemarie and our neighbour Paul discovered over lunch) and the food, from Mark’s kitchen, is surely better than it has ever been.

The menu is wide-ranging, with a good range of additional specials. A number of the dishes can be served either as a starter or a main course: the prawn linguine, which was first up for me, was one of these. It was excellent: perfect pasta with four or five juicy king prawns, lots of little clams in their shells, fresh dill, garlic, rocket and parmesan cheese.

Rosemarie gave a thumbs up to the special of pan-fried scallops with celeriac purée (those on the main menu come with black pudding and green beans). Paul was very pleased with a round of sesame-seed-coated goat’s cheese, deep-fried and served with toasted pinenuts, tomato and chilli jam.

Though there was plenty of fish on the menu (including sea bass, cod with mussels and whole roasted gilthead bream), I decided that this was a day for a Sunday roast. My choice was rump of lamb, which was served in big juicy slices with a gratin of butternut and potato dauphinoise, green beans and peas and madeira jus.

Rosemarie had a special of roast belly of pork. The meat came rolled and tied, with a long baton of crackling, stuffing and a cornucopia of fresh vegetables — swede and carrot purée, leeks, green beans and purple sprouting. I was surprised that she managed to finish her big plateful and still find room for a chocolate brownie to finish her meal. This was an extremely chocolatey sponge, which was served with ice cream.

Paul chose one of the offerings on the main menu, a pan-fried 8oz rump steak, which came with sautéed garlic mushrooms, confit tomatoes, mixed leaves, chips and grain mustard sauce. It was all first-class.

He, too, managed a pudding — a big steaming bowl of rhubarb crumble with custard. It was the sort of dish that might have gone down well, I think, with E. Waugh.