It says much for the power of public relations that almost everyone to whom I have mentioned the Little Chef — and my unlikely visit to one — is aware of the recent involvement of Heston Blumenthal in the chain. What lodges it in the mind, no doubt, is that so renowned a fancy foodie should be associated with an enterprise generally deemed down-market.

Don’t imagine, though, that in devising the menu for these travellers’ favourites the superchef has incorporated any of his trademark dishes. The Little Chef’s porridge — and it’s sold by the bucketload, some to the takeaway trade — is made using oats and not snails. The ice cream is vanilla, not Heston’s famous bacon and egg flavour. Indeed, in most respects the restaurants offer what might be expected — favourites like bangers and mash, burgers, steak and ale pie, and scampi and chips.

Gourmet touches come in what are styled ‘signature dishes’ one of which — braised ox cheeks — I tried on our test visit last week to the restaurant on the north side of the A34 at Weston-on-the-Green.

Getting there proved problematic since, as so often, the busy road was virtually at a standstill because of an accident. We had settled on an approach through Eynsham and Bladon before learning, in a call to the manager, that traffic was moving again.

Revamped a year ago to a design by Ab Rogers, the place presents a clean and functional appearance. This applies not least in the loos, with their gaily tiled walls. I thought I could hear a baby crying in the stall next to me. In fact, it was the recorded bleating of a lamb, one of the sounds of spring (along with mooing and chirruping) that bring a smile to the face.

So, too, do the cheery attentions of the staff. Under manager Emma Hartrey, who has been with the company for 15 years, a happy team has clearly been forged. Besides Emma herself, we were to meet waitress Michelle Bone and, from the kitchen, Selina Daly before the evening was out.

Pleased, if slightly surprised, to find wine available, we had glasses of a fruity Aussie chardonnay (Old Press) while we studied the menu. This went nicely with my starter of prawn cocktail. As can be seen on the right, this was presented in a bowl rather than a glass, with loads of peeled prawns on a bed of mixed leaves. In an effort, I’d guess, not to drench everything in Marie Rose sauce, Selina had gone too far the other way. I could have done with a tad more of it. Bread was fresh and plentiful. Rosemarie enjoyed a bowl of rich, dark and tasty mushroom soup.

These three adjectives serve admirably, too, for those braised ox cheeks in a red wine and onion sauce, with ‘tender’ thrown in for the delicious, slightly sticky meat. The buttery mash was excellent, but the well-presented side salad suffered from a too-sweet dressing.

Rosemarie’s beer battered hake struck as as a bit on the measly side — certainly in comparison with the whacking chunks of cod I had seen being enjoyed in the sunshine earlier in the day on Church Green, Witney (from Smart’s takeaway). But the fat, brown chips were wonderful.

I finished with a smashing thick ‘Jubilee’ pancake stuffed with warm Morello cherries, while Rosemarie had the classic waffles, freshly made and drizzled with maple syrup. Both came with a good ice cream and led me to the conclusion that Little Chefs are ever likely to breed large customers.