There are an awful lot of words for 'hungry'. Having fasted since 9am in preparation for this meal, I was going through them all. Starving, famished, ravenous - you name it, I felt it.
 
It was one of those evenings when fate had it in for me. I appeared to press the 'red traffic light' button as soon as I approached a set of lights and directions from a well-known website was making the estimate of 24 minutes from home to food look increasingly optimistic.
 
It didn't help that the directions ended abruptly somewhere on the A41 and told us to 'use maps to get to the end of the route'. Well, thank you. If we'd wanted to use maps, we'd have used maps from the start.
 
We realised we'd gone too far, asked directions, were sent to a different pub, asked directions there, got re-routed several miles back to where we'd just come from and finally found the Calve-ley Arms. For some reason, there was a deer made of twigs covered with fairy lights by the door. We liked it.
 
The staff didn't mind that we were late. They must get a lot of customers who use this particular website. In fact, they seemed taken aback by the very sight of us - we lowered the average age in there by about 30 years.
 
We were shown to a cosy little candlelit alcove and given our menus. In an unusual move, my menu was pasted on to the inside cover of a hardback book entitled The Incredible Holiday Activity Book. Erica's was in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles annual. What with this and the fairy-lights-twig-deer, we thought we were in for an interesting evening.
 
The specials selection was vast, bigger than some places' main menus. It was mostly traditional country pub fare with the odd foreign dish thrown in and a huge selection of seafood, supplied fresh daily by Nick Brickland of Chester. One dish promised damson jam from the garden of the pub's neighbour, Barry. You don't get that at KFC.
 
Of the starters, I was smitten by the hot avocado and stilton - a popular choice, apparently - while Erica chose the butternut squash and ginger soup.

The busy, low-beamed room was packed but our alcove made us feel secluded and we didn't mind that the spotlight above the table had gone, despite the waiting staff 's repeated apologies. According to the calling card on our table, we could have enjoyed a game of cribbage, dominoes or bar skittles but we chose to sit back and people-watch. Soon, the whole place smelt of stilton - our food followed five minutes later.
 
I normally chuckle to myself when waiters say 'watch out, it's hot' when presenting me with a dish of bubbling food. Of course it's hot, I think, it's bubbling! What do you think I'm going to do, grab it? This time, the waiter didn't warn me when presenting me with my dish of bubbling stilton. So I grabbed it.
 
'Are you OK?' asked Erica, as I shook my fingers in that way we do when we burn ourselves. 'My goodness, that's rather hot,' I replied, give or take an obscenity or two. 'Well, it is bubbling,' she said. Shamefaced and sore-fingered, I tucked in.
 
It was worth the day-long wait, the tortuous drive and the wounded finger. It was rich, it was creamy, it was wonderful. It was served with crusty bread which was a delight to dip. Looking back from the vantage point of a couple of days later, I can say it was one of the best things ever to happen to my tastebuds. It even took my mind off my rapidly blistering finger. Erica was equally enamoured with her soup, which was smooth and flavoursome - complemented by the ginger but not overpowered.
 
Sadly, after such a grand start, the main courses struggled to compete. My lamb cutlets - served on a sizzling hot skillet, which I managed to keep my hands off - were tender and tasty but nothing special. They were let down by the chips, which weren't as crisp as I'd have liked, and I wished I'd followed my gut instinct and gone for one of the fish options. The staff had made a point of telling us when we sat down that any of the dishes could be amended to order but a hated mushroom found its way on to my skillet, despite my having asked for it without the blasted things.
 
To be fair, Erica's pasta Italienne was served without olives as requested. It too was nice without being Earth-shattering - admittedly, her soup was a hard act to follow. The pasta was one of few veggie dishes on offer but the chef will apparently cook them to order, a handy service in a vegetarian desert like Cheshire.

Having left four or five of my chips, I reasoned that I had plenty of room for a huge dessert. Erica called it a day after making a sizeable dent in a mountain of pasta which would have easily served two but I went for the pineapple and cherry upside-down pudding. It was a sweet and spongy return to form and a satisfactory end to a meal that had its ups and downs (some self-inflicted).
 
There followed a 20-minute wait for a coffee. I never know how to react when something like that happens. When do I say something without seeming impatient? What do I say without sounding like a moaner? Damn this famed British reserve. I finally plucked up the courage to ask and my coffee was there in a matter of minutes, accompanied by a mint chocolate, profuse apologies and no charge.
 
We were left with mixed impressions. The setting, the staff, the size of the menu and the quality of most of the dishes were definite plusses but my main course was nothing special and a couple of mix-ups were disappointing (if excusable). I'd go again, I'd just pick a less busy night and try a different main course - and rely on a different website to get there.

Factfile

* Calvely Arms, Handley, nr Tattenhall CH3 9DT
* 01829 770619
* Starters: Soup of the day £4.50, hot avocado and stilton £4.75
* Main courses: Pasta Italienne £7.75, lamb cutlets £9.95
* Dessert: Pineapple and cherry upside-down pudding £3.95
* Soft drinks: £5.30
* Total cost for two: £36.20
* Best bit: A truly outstanding set of starters ...
* Worst bit: ... let down by unremarkable mains.
* Would suit: A small group wanting a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and decent food.
* Wouldn't suit: A rowdy, impatient crowd of revellers.