"You said it was a pub,” my daughter whispered as we entered The Eagle in Little Coxwell, just off the A420 near Faringdon.

“I wouldn’t be wearing this if I’d known - I’d have dressed up,” she added, regretfully.

Actually, The Eagle isn’t a particularly posh or smart pub.

It’s nice mind, but peel back the layers and you can imagine local farmers sitting round the bar discussing the price of cattle feed, back in 1901 when it first opened.

No, people put on their Sunday best because of the food, not because of the furnishings or the clientele, which seems a fitting tribute to Marcel Nerpas’ immaculate cooking.

Because the fare at The Eagle is so good, so refreshing, so unpretentious, it has become the’ go to’ place for birthdays and occasions, romantic dinners and celebrations.

The value is also exceptional. I have no idea how Marcel can serve food of this calibre for so little, but the Sunday lunch is £24 for three courses including the roast. Some places charge that for the mains alone.

The Slovakian Marcel took over the Eagle eight years ago, via The Swan at Streatley and the Horse and Groom in Mortimer, Reading. Not that his menu is particularly exuberant. That’s not his style.

Instead, he lets the ingredients speak for themselves.

What did we think of Mollie's Motel and Diner just up the road?

Take the innocuous sounding leek and potato soup with bread and butter, chosen by my daughter. Its deep rich colour, served with twirls of cream, demonstrated the depth of flavour, freshness and sheer seasonality it encapsulated.

We all had a spoonful each and then another, until my daughter had to physically reclaim it.

I could hardly complain. My Oxford blue brulee was a masterclass in both simplicity and accomplishment.

The brulee was soft and perfectly balanced, the gentle cheese was offset by the sharp, ice cold, piquant green apple sorbet, and the crunch of walnuts and sliced apples. It was worth the trip alone. Like a little window of spring.

Banbury Cake:

The bread was baked that morning, crusty on the outside, soft and chewy within, with tiny pats of local butter and salt. We asked for a refill twice.

Banbury Cake:

The Wiltshire burrata served on sourdough Langos was another surprise. Like a giant savoury doughnut, the gooey cheese balanced on top, and then scattered with the caramelised spices and nuts. Interesting, novel and experimental, if filling.

By this stage we realised we were onto something rather extraordinary, in this tiny rural tavern, our anticipation understandably heightened. And we weren’t disappointed.

The roast was magnificent (rump, roasted potatoes, a vast Yorkshire pudding, seasonal veg (there could have been more) and gravy. The beef was beautifully cooked the potatoes perfectly crisped and tasty, the gravy deep with juices.

But it was the additional offerings that piqued our interest. The veggie option (poached free range eggs, herb gnocchi, wild mushrooms, vegetables and white truffle oil) could be replaced with a traditional nut roast which my son chose. Hearty, the sauce Mediterranean influenced, it was a vibrant, generous and caring dish.

The fisherman’s stew of ‘day boat fish’ with winter veg and halusky soft pasta was brimming with mussels, salmon, ling and plaice, in a rich, oily broth that smacked of Marseilles.

You could almost hear the seagulls if you listened hard enough.

Banbury Cake:

Saving the best for last, the pudding defied belief. The black rice pudding with tropical fruit compote and coconut ice cream was beautiful to behold, all Marcel’s dishes being presented on different artisan plates.

Banbury Cake:

The apple strudel with vanilla ice cream was spliced with walnuts and raisins.

But the almond cake had me from the first bite. Still warm, the tiny round cakes contrasted with the bite of the poached pear and the dark cocoa ice cream, providing an almost savoury after taste.

Banbury Cake:

A master of flavour and balance, Marcel goes right to the top of my list. Add his prices into the equation and I’d give him a crown.

EAGLE TAVERN

Little Coxwell

Faringdon

SN7 7LW

01367 241 879

eagletavern.co.uk