‘The Duke’s Cut’ sounds less like the name of a pub than a statement of fact, to which a suitable response might be “Oh, not again!”, “What’s he been on this time?” or “The duchess looks a bit squiffy too”. But it is the name of a pub, albeit a new one: it has been applied by owner James Knox to a hostelry in Oxford’s Park End Street which was happy to be known for most of its existence as The Queen’s Arms.

Part of the Morrell’s tenanted estate for nearly 200 years, the pub changed its character and name in 1995 when it was given an Irish-style makeover and rechristened Rosie O’Grady’s. Its rival in then-fashionable ‘Oirishry’, O’Neills in George Street, was opened a few years later, with Mr Knox, from County Down, as its first manager.

Interestingly, he now thinks “the days of Irish bars have passed” (by which, of course, he means pseudo-Irish bars located anywhere that is not in Ireland). Having successful beaten off rivals to buy Rosie O’Grady’s, he expunged the theme in the tasteful £100,000 revamp that followed (though a taste of the country remains in the menu, as we shall see presently).

The new name is taken from the waterway beside the pub that links the Oxford Canal with the River Thames, which was constructed at the expense of the Duke of Marlborough in 1796.

In the days when I went in for messing about on the river, we occasionally took this route from Osney – it was just navigable – to tie up at what was then (1994) tenant Paul Dailey’s newly-built outdoor terrace.

Though I had called in for a drink at The Duke’s Cut on a couple of occasions, and found it most welcoming, last Saturday – with matinee tickets booked for the Oxford Playhouse – was the first time we had decided to eat there. I thought it impressive.

The menu is not large, but contains a varied and interesting assortment of dishes ideal for serving in a pub. Among ‘starters and light bites’ are goat’s cheese and roasted vegetables, spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dip, fishcakes with tartare sauce and a club sandwich of chicken, bacon, salad and a ‘secret dressing’.

Main courses include beer-battered fish and chips; lamb shank; ham (Oxfordshire honey-roasted), eggs (free-range) and chips; sausages (speciality from Chalgrove) with mash; an all-day breakfast complete with black pudding and white pudding; and a changing vegetarian option – our waitress, ‘Lovely Liz’, a vegetarian, assured me there was always something to suit her.

Where to sit, ever a problem for me when eating out, was not easy to solve. I would have liked to be in the little room at the east end of the building, with its impressive range (see left) and view towards Oxford Castle, but one table here was too small and the other – for just the two of us – much too big. Fortunately, the ideal table, overlooking ‘The Cut’ became free just in time. (Those with long memories might recall that until 1977 this area was not part of the pub, but a car showroom, The Mini Centre.) Food was soon with us, in my case a plate of whitebait, with lemon, a little dressed salad and tartare sauce. Often this is not a happy choice, with the fish too big, more the size of sprats, in a coating of crunchy breadcrumbs. These were tasty tiddlers, lightly coated in flour. For Rosemarie, there was a big bowl of superb spinach and potato soup – the last of these before the kitchen moved on for the day to tomato and basil. It was deep green in colour, and well-seasoned. With it came a couple of cake-like slices of near-black Guinness bread, one of the menu’s Irish touches. Most would love it (I did) but Rosemarie didn’t as it contained a lot of caraway seeds. Its arrival was the cue for my impromptu performance (my companion has much to endure) of Miss Hooligan’s Christmas Cake, a folk tune recalled from childhood: There was caraway seeds in abundance,/Sure ’twould build up a fine stomachache,/’Twould kill a man twice after ’ating a slice/Of Miss Hooligan’s Christmas cake.

Her main course was not entirely to her taste either, because the meat in her Oxfordshire beef and Hobgoblin pie was a cheap cut that really needed a lot more cooking. The crispy puff pastry and gravy were excellent, though – the latter of a special sentimental appeal since the beer used in it was ‘invented’ by our great friend, the late Chris Moss, founder of the Wychwood Brewery. It was in his boat, the Baldur, that we travelled on those trips to The Queen’s Arms mentioned earlier.

My main course was a generous bowl of “My Mum’s Irish Stew”, the maternal variation being the addition of parsnips (and I think a chunk of two of turnip) to the usual blend of lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions and parsley. It came with more Guinness bread and I ordered a pot of (excellent, golden) chips. To finish, Rosemarie enjoyed a slice of gooey raspberry, plum and fig tart with a very sweet orange cream. I had a fancy for a taste of cheese. Though this was not on the menu. Lovely Liz negotiated with the kitchen for a couple of slices of Applewood smoked cheddar. Checking the bill later, I noticed I had not been charged, but whether this represented a generous offering ‘on the house’ or merely an oversight, I am unsure.