IT WAS all going so well. The Royal Oak at Bovingdon Green near Marlow was riding high after being named Bucks Dining Pub of the Year 2019 by the Good Pub Guide, to the delight of its local fanbase, writes Sandra Carter.

Then last September, a disastrous fire upstairs gutted the roof, causing its closure.

They hoped to reopen this May… but of course that couldn’t happen.

Laura, general manager, says: “It was wonderful to finally reopen in July and welcome people back in. And it has been busy ever since.”

There’s a lot to like at The Royal Oak.

The garden, for a start: it’s huge, with a sheltered terrace (just about to have a cover put over and cosy blankets added), and two spacious lawns with plenty of space for distanced tables.

The perfect spot for a drink or al fresco dining during warmer weather. There’s even a roomy yurt for parties, when rules allow.

Inside, the usual Covid precautions are carefully followed, with widely spaced tables.

The pub manages to marry the charm of a historic pub - old beams, traditional materials - with a very upmarket take on food.

It even manages to find a bonus in the latest restrictions: “Our kitchen is small and chefs must be distanced, so we offer a smaller menu but it now changes weekly,” Laura says.

“We’ve always made a point of cooking seasonally and locally and now we can be even more flexible.”

So, lunch, and our menu offers five starters, five mains and six desserts - not so small.

My choice of main is pan-fried Cornish hake and it’s beautifully cooked, alongside a creamy watercress risotto with butternut squash, a tasty parmesan crumb adding a punch. This unusual combination really works and it is delicious.

With the weather turning cooler my husband takes the rare opportunity to enjoy braised pigs’ cheeks - very tasty and tender, he declares, with mash, broccoli, a moreish cider jus and the crispiest onion rings.

We notice a side dish of courgette fries with honeyed yoghurt and give it a try.

Totally delicious - we are told later that it’s proved a hit with regulars.

Fish-finger-sized chunks of courgette in the lightest crumb coating and deep fried, with a honeyed yoghurt to dip - it’s our new favourite too.

Chefs here not only go to great lengths to source as close by as possible (the back of the menu has a long list of local suppliers and the mileage), they also grow some produce, keep a beehive in the garden, and forage.

Rosehips from the woods across the road create the compote that adds tang to my dessert of lemon posset with lavender shortbread. I’m not sure the compote is worth all chef’s efforts (though perfectly pleasant) but the posset is dreamily good.

So welcome back, Royal Oak.