‘You can’t review it purely based on him,” my friend whispered as we discussed the extraordinarily handsome French chef who had emerged to introduce himself at the end of our meal. “Well, it’s lucky that not only did he cook like an angel but he looked like one too then,” I replied, the glassy sheen still evident in my eyes as I stared mistily though the windscreen.

To be honest, being a foodie through and through, I was more impressed by Marcel’s cooking credentials than his vital statistics, but my, my, having both just made our visit to The Eagle in Little Coxwell even better.

Where I hear you say? I know, Little Coxwell is blooming miles away up the A420, past Faringdon. And when we arrived, we remained fairly unimpressed by the very ordinary looking pub, whose peach walls did little to increase my appetite. We sat in the empty bar, a mistake as it turned out, because if you venture around the back there’s a charming little restaurant, and ordered our food, not expecting much.

But that’s the amazing thing about this job — you never know what’s going to fall in your lap, let alone a knock-out French chef whose food could charm the birds out of the trees, us included. And it just proves that nothing is a dead cert. Places with amazing reputations can fall flat on their faces, chefs move on, standards slip, venues rest on their laurels, while others emerge from nowhere to smother you in good food and culinary love without a word of warning.

So back to the peachy pub. Marcel Nerpas comes to the Eagle Tavern, via The Swan at Streatley and the Horse and Groom in Mortimer. He specialises in local produce, high quality food and value for money and was recently awarded the 2AA rosette award. Worth a visit anyway.

The Eagle offers an extensive à la carte menu, which Marcel was disappointed we didn’t choose from, but the astonishingly good value lunch menu was so appetising, that we all gravitated naturally to that. Starting with the soup of the day — tomato and Thai basil — and the pan-fried Loch Duart salmon with mixed leaves and crème fraiche, we followed on with the beetroot risotto with crumbled goat’s cheese, rocket and truffle oil, chicken supreme with crushed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and mushroom sauce and the cannon of venison with braised red cabbage, mash and a port reduction jus.

As for the pudding — oh, dearie me, I’ve come across all faint again, because it was the holy grail of puddings. While peanut and salty caramel is on dessert menus across the land in various reincarnations, no one has got it right yet, because the salty-sweet balance is so hard to achieve.

But back to the beginning. Soup is a true test of a chef and this was an immediate sign that someone knew what they were doing. Perfectly blended, not too acidic, this orange, fresh, perfectly-balanced potage was perfect. The salmon was also pronounced delicious.

The chicken supreme, an old-fashioned dish perhaps, but certainly a classic, was perfectly cooked and the venison shoulder was another instant hit, falling off the bone. As for the risotto, again this is very en vogue right now, but was the best I’ve ever tasted. The beetroot was so finely diced it was hard to tell the difference texturally between the vegetable and the rice, meaning it was much more flavoured and proportionate, while maintaining a ‘bite’. Add in the wonderful dollop of rocket and truffle oil, and I was in heaven.

The girls both had the lemon cheesecake with mango sorbet and lemon curd purée for dessert, and started rolling their eyes up to heaven, but to be honest I wouldn’t have noticed if they’d been eating baby mice on toast, such were the raptures I was experiencing with my peanut and rapeseed oil cake with iced chocolate mousse and a smear of the best salty caramel I have ever had the good fortune to encounter. Genius.

Oh, and did I mention the price? Three courses at lunch-time set me back £16.50. No that’s not a typo. £16.50 for goodness sake! Or £12.50 for two courses.

To conclude then, Marcel Nerpas understands the fundamentals of balancing food, which in my humble opinion is not something you can be taught. The fact that he’s also a super and accomplished chef are a bonus, but in my eyes this was a superb meal from a chef who has a hugely bright future in front of him. The Eagle Tavern may be off the beaten track but you should be bashing down the door to taste Marcel’s food at these prices. I will be. Obviously.