I don’t eat steak when I go out,” my friend pronounced as she perused the predominantly meaty menu at The Chequers in Burcot, causing the sweat to collect at the back of my neck.

“But this is basically a steak restaurant,” I hissed across the table, “and Steve Sanderson’s reputation is fearsome. He’s a brilliant chef.”

“Well, I’m afraid that only my husband cooks my steaks perfectly,” she said primly, levelling me with her considered gaze. “It’s always been a disappointment elsewhere.”

All of which she then recounted to the lovely waitress who came to take our order.

“Well we do some nice vegetarian food as well. Maybe you’d like to try some?” she stammered.

My friend raised an eyebrow at me, the message loud and clear – she’d have the steak, if I went for the veggie option.

Usually I’d protest but Steve has recently transformed his famous pub with a full refurb and new menu, and he’s a damn fine cook, I knew we were in safe hands.

The 400-year-old Chequers just off the A415 is therefore fresher and brighter as a result and has certainly raised its game recently, without kowtowing to any poncified gastro-pub expectations. It is comfortable rather than imposing, welcoming rather than affected.

Steve has also taken great pains to make food easier to order. Thus if you want steak, you can have it bespoke, with a variety of cuts, sauces, sides and salads on offer.

If steak isn’t your bag, there are lots of other choices, so don’t be put off by its carnivorous bent.

A great selection of sharing boards, tasters (bar snacks), sandwiches, pub classics and some more refined mains, all grace the menu.

But first some enticing starters – the wild mushrooms on toast with truffles and parsley (£7.50) sounded fresh, seasonal and delicious so I plumped for that, and it ticked the self-imposed veggie box.

My friend opted for the crispy duck salad with coriander, spring onions, cucumber, pink ginger and duck sauce (£7.50).

Both were a wonderful surprise, the mushrooms varied, the sauce rich and dense, dripping onto the toast below, the parsley lifting it.

The duck was equally successful. The presentation was a bit rustic, but it tasted divine, the crunch of the lettuce, cucumber and spring onion contrasting with the soft, moist marinated meat and the piquant sauce.

All of which was just a warm up for the main event.

I’d ordered the vegetable lasagne with a smoked cheddar crust and wild herb salad (£13) rather disconsolately, it sounding rather pedestrian.

The mains arrived, the drums rolling in my head. My friend had ordered the fillet steak (£25), medium rare with skinny fries, a garden salad, and a peppercorn sauce. So far so good. She sliced it easily, the colour was right, she raised her fork, I closed my eyes. When I opened them there was a curious look in her eyes, both of pleasure and irritation.

“It’s really good,” she said slightly crossly. “Spot on actually.”

What’s so good about it? “It’s cooked perfectly. It’s a gorgeous cut of meat, the sauce is moreish, the chips just right, the salad beautifully dressed,” she shrugged.

“What more could you want?”

And then a smirk. “How’s yours?”

I looked down. It looked like a veggie lasagne to me. But once I’d dipped my fork in, I realised here too Steve had added a dash of magic, because the smokey cheese really lifted the dish, transforming it into something much more unique. I was happy.

Pudding was more of a conundrum, the hot and cold Eton mess with rose and lychee sounded interesting, as did the almond rice pudding, or the lime and lemon posset. My friend went for the sticky toffee pudding and vanilla ice cream which went down a treat. For me the cinnamon doughnuts with custard and apple (£7.50) had my name on. We ate in satisfied silence.

“You know what?” my friend said as she licked her spoon, “I might bring my husband here for dinner. He’d like it.”

In terms of compliments, Steve won’t get better than that.

Katherine MacAlister