My experience of Russian cooking is not extensive, and the meal I ate last week at Oxford’s only Russian restaurant did not convince me that it ought to be much further expanded. On the other hand, the evening we spent at Arbat, in Cowley Road, proved such an entertaining one that I think I would be unfair on myself if I were to resist the temptation of a return visit. Apart from anything else, there are vodkas still to taste, though I doubt we should find such entertaining tutors in their consumption as those we encountered at our first dinner.

Our good fortune was to find that our Wednesday visit coincided with the 20th-birthday bash of Brookes University student Pavel Frolov. With him to share a lavish meal, punctuated at remarkably frequent intervals by formal toasts, were many of his university friends from various Russian-speaking countries. Since these included a couple of lads whom Rosemarie teaches on the Brookes business course, it was perhaps not surprising – though still, we thought, a great compliment – that we came to be included in the celebration.

Our induction into the proceedings began when one of the youngsters crossed to our table with an invitation for me to join in one of the toasts, which at that stage remained an all-male affair. ‘Down in one’ was, of course, the rule. I found the ice and fire of the Russky Standard vodka hit the spot very nicely, especially since the spot had yet to be hit by anything else that evening. A sample sip of Cojusna Castle sauvignon blanc had proved nasty; another of Migdal Gallery chardonnay – from Moldova, a country I have visited – even nastier. The house white was too sweet, though the house red was palatable enough for me to ask for a whole glass – well, I had to order something . . .

I hardly need add that the first vodka was followed by a second, and even a third. By then, Rosemarie had joined in the drinking, along with some of the young ladies present. In the excitement, I even took a hefty swig from her bottle of Stariy Melnik (it comes with finger-grips in the glass), thereby breaking two Gray rules – no lager and no drinking from bottles – in one go.

Apprised by this stage of the reason for our visit, the delightful Muscovite Victoria Tsoy, who runs the restaurant with her Kurdish husband Mustafa Barcho, was naturally curious to know what I thought of the place. I said they had made a fine job of the decor.

And the food? Here diplomacy was necessary, for while it was not really to my taste – being at once too stodgy and too salty – I imagine there are others who would like it very much, including Oxford’s 3,500 Russian residents (the figure is Victoria’s).

On a cold winter’s night, though, I dare say we should all value a steaming bowl of warming borsch (this in Russian style with beef), followed by lamb with rice, say, or cabbage leaves stuffed with beef, or battered pork steak marinated in mustard sauce. Called respectively Plov, Goloubtsy and Otbivnaya, they sound almost as fattening as they must taste.

Did taste, in the case of the last, which had been my main course order. The dish had been the subject of some discussion between me and the waiter, Mustafa’s brother Shivan. Was it battered in the sense of being coated in batter or had it been pounded with a mallet to tenderise it, in the style, say, of a veal escalope? He thought the second. It turned out to be the first.

With its further thick coating of melted cheese it all looked rather too much for me, as one on a low-fat diet, especially since I had just munched my way through a starter of deep-fried meat dumpling (Cheburek). This, in fact, had not been as belt-stretching as its name suggests, since the cubes of spicy lean beef were contained in a packet of thin-ish pastry similar in texture to that found in a pizza, rather than the slippery, suet-laden substance that the word ‘dumpling’ conjures up to us British.

Fortunately, Rosemarie was happy to effect a swap, giving me her order of Kotleta po-kievski. You do not need to be the greatest linguist in the world to discern that the name cloaks the identity of that old favourite of the seventies’ dinner party (and student bedsit), chicken kiev. This was a perfect example – a large and juicy chicken breast, bread-crumbed and deep fried, with herby, garlic butter oozing from its centre. It was served (as was the Cheburek) with a salad of green leaves, cucumber and tomatoes in a creamy dressing.

The switch was actually the second made that night by my long-suffering companion. My original starter had been marinated herring fillets with onions and boiled potatoes (Seledka po-russky), but after one mouthful of the very salty fish, I knew that a second would prove unwise, perhaps even messy.

For pudding Rosemarie at last got what she ordered – Medovik, a traditional (and, she said, very delicious) layered honey cake served with ice cream. This was probably only because I ordered nothing at all.