There is a new chef, a new menu, a new décor and in so many ways a new beginning at the Banbury House Hotel.

That chef Stuart Banks has a menu packed with my – everyone’s – old favourites. And as for the décor, well no one could think of it as anything other than pleasingly retro after a £200,000 facelift.

Entering the Georgian building up the elaborate iron-railed steps from the street, you find yourself in an area that functions – in the best hotel traditions – as reception area, bar and lounge.

An open, curved staircase carries the eye upward from the sofa where Rosemarie and I settled for our pre-lunch Tanqueray gin and low-calorie tonics delivered by our affable host, the hotel manager David Field. He divides his time between this property and the Evesham Hotel and Spa, which has the same owners.

To our left, a few feet below, could be observed through a series of openings, partly glazed, the elegant restaurant where we would shortly be tucking into chef Stuart’s dishes.

This was my – our – first visit to the Banbury House, though I have long been aware of it as an iconic building on the descent from the Oxford direction towards the town’s fabled cross.

In pre-M40 days, when much more traffic thundered through Banbury, there was usually plenty of time to study its elegant, bow-windowed exterior as a consequence of being stuck in a jam.

On our recent Friday lunchtime visit we travelled by the Stagecoach S4 bus service from Oxford which, with its detours, presented for our inspection some of north Oxfordshire’s loveliest villages, the Hornton stone of West Adderbury looking especially appealing in the sunshine.

With the table booked for 1pm, there was 10 minutes to spare for a leisurely perusal of the menu over our gins.

As I said, there were many favourites listed. In accordance with my usual practice I shall mention some of the things we didn’t have, before going on to those we selected.

These included starters of creamed mushrooms on toast, ham hock terrine, and carrot and coriander soup, and main courses such as pan-roasted sea bream, butternut squash risotto, chicken Kiev, battered haddock and chips and various steaks. Stuart is particularly proud of the meat, much of it sourced from the Banbury butcher Stephen Betts.

Besides a range of ice creams and sorbet, puddings included vanilla panna cotta and baked cookie dough with vanilla ice cream.

To start, I went for the devilled lamb’s kidneys on toast (sour dough), a classic dish rarely encountered on restaurant menus, except as a savoury.

There was less of a liquid ingredient to these than is generally the case, leading me to suspect that liquid had been lost during the cooking. This would certainly have explained the tongue-tingly chilli kick that brought tears to my eyes.

Rosemarie, meanwhile, was enjoying a prawn cocktail, except it wasn’t called that. There were plenty of plump Greenland prawns with baby gem lettuce, Marie Rose sauce and – the only surprise element – a garlic crispbread.

She continued with slow-cooked pork belly, which was served with creamed potato, Savoy cabbage with strips of bacon, and toffee apple purée which lent considerable sweetness to the dish.

I opted for one of the dishes – the only dish, in fact – that could be ordered either as a starter or a main course. This was salmon and smoked haddock fish cake – cakes in the larger version – with a poached egg, hollandaise sauce. The fish was ingredient commendably high, and the flavour therefore more fishy than is often the case.

Rosemarie enjoyed a hefty chunk of warm treacle tart with clotted cream to round off the meal. I chose three cheeses, the Camembert-style St Edburgha, the Blur bassist Alex James’s Buttery Blue and the pungent Oxford Isis.

The first was particularly delicious with the fruity Spanish Verdega called Camina, from Banbury wine supplier S.H. Jones.

* The Banbury Kitchen, at the Banbury House Hotel, Oxford Road, Banbury, OX16 9AH, tel: 0844 3876145,

Open: noon to 2.30pm daily (Sun noon to 3pm), dinner 6-9.30pm

The people: manager David Field, head chef Stuart Banks

Parking: at the rear of hotel or travel by bus with a stop just up the road

Do try the: devilled lamb’s kidneys £6.50, prawn cocktail £6, salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes £10.50, pork belly £12.50, treacle tart with clotted cream £4.95, cheeses £6.50