THE world of pubs seems to divide neatly into two distinct categories: The 'Cheers' type, 'where everyone knows your name;' and the anonymous type, which is no less welcoming, but where everyone's a stranger.
But I like to think there's also a third type - a place where everyone knows everyone else's name, apart from yours.
And with that in mind, I suggested the Bird in Hand in Guilden Sutton, to husband, P, for a Saturday night supper.
Guilden Sutton is a commuter village, two miles outside Chester. I know it well, having spent the last nine years commuting to it, not from it, in order to take the children to school.
'Great idea,' said P, then immediately backtracked. 'But then again, it's always so busy - or so I've been told. I don't think they'll be able to squeeze us in at such short notice.'
Now that's strange, P doesn't normally make a fuss regarding my choice of venue, he's usually happy to accompany me wherever we go.
I frowned. 'Well, I've booked it.'
'Oh,' he said, avoiding my gaze.
I nipped upstairs to change, pondering his reluctance.
The Bird in Hand is tucked away, at the end of a no-through road. From the chat at the school gates, I've heard that it's popular with out-of-towners as well as locals and it's a gastro-pub, if ever there was one.
Sue Parry is the driving force and she was behind the bar when we arrived. I recognised her straight away - she has a daughter at the school in year 5. She smiled warmly back at me, with a look of recognition - or at least, I thought she did?
There were 'reserved' signs scattered all over the chequered table cloths. Our table was right next to the door, but it was a while before I sat down.
'Good job the children aren't with us,' said P, scanning the room. I nodded. The nine-year-old insists on a description of every dish on offer before he makes a choice, so by my reckoning we'd be here 'till a week on Tuesday.
Not only is there an extensive à la carte menu, there's a specials board for starters, a specials board for mains, 'authentic homemade' curries on another board, plus boards with a wine list on, and a board for puddings.
'Well I fancy fish,' I said, looking bemused.
'Well, that's just a choice of 10 dishes then.'
In the end, I couldn't narrow it down any further than two, so I had smoked salmon and prawn rosti with lemon and dill mayo (£5.50), followed by Thai ginger fish brochette with lemon and coriander rice (£5), both from the starter specials board.
My 'starter' starter had everything I liked; smoked salmon, prawns and potato rosti - although I wasn't sure if the rosti worked that well. The fish and mayo alone were quite sufficient.
P's warm crab cake with lemon and chilli tartar (£5.70) continued the fishy theme and was the more successful of the two starters - at least for me. Crab can be such an overwhelming flavour, but here there was just the right proportion of crab meat to potato, although P would have preferred a little more crab.
My main course 'starter' consisted of pieces of cod, marinated in spices to give it a tandoori look, then threaded on to a skewer. Just enough pieces to make a bracelet rather than a necklace and it was gone in a jiffy.
It had a lovely, delicate flavour, but was a bit on the dry side, so I had to have a few extra slugs of wine to help it on its way.
But that was no hardship. The French house wine was good and excellent value at £8.45 a bottle, red or white. The beer apparently, was even better.
'Timothy Taylor and Flowers Original - two of my favourites and they have guest beers on from time to time,' said P, with authority.
I was too busy returning a stranger's smile to comment. 'I think that chap at the bar just said hello. I don't know him, do you?'
But P didn't look round. He was concentrating on his half crispy roast duckling, with Morello cherry and Cox's apple compote (£11.90), which came with a dish of perfectly cooked vegetables; courgettes, carrots, new potatoes and sugar snap peas.
I had one of those 'I wished I'd ordered that' moments and even more so after I'd tasted it. Incidentally, why is it when you eat duck in a restaurant there's always much more meat on it than when you cook it at home? Do they send the skinny ducks to the butchers and all the fat ones to commercial establishments?
As this was an informal place, P sat beside me while we chose dessert and we took the opportunity to observe other diners, some of whom had a rather outré fashion sense.
'Quirky,' I said, charitably.
'Charity shop,' said P, cruelly.
We listened as she read the dessert choices out loud from the board next to us, marvelling at the floral blouse, stripy trousers and Ugg boots ensemble.
But I'd already made up my mind. Duo of raspberry and Baileys brûlée please, while P chose rhubarb and cinnamon cheesecake.
Both were homemade (as are all the desserts) and presented fetchingly on large plates with artful dribbles of crème anglais and spun sugar 'hats' set at jaunty angles. (I'm sure it won't be long before there's a college course in pudding presentation, with The Bird in Hand just one of many Chester establishments gaining a distinction.)
They both tasted as good as they looked, but I'm afraid I can't report how much they cost. I was so swift to order, I forgot to ask.
'They do steak nights apparently,' I said, as we settled the bill.
'I know,' said P, nodding at another stranger on the other side of the bar.
And then the penny dropped. 'You've been here before, haven't you?'
'Every Friday, while waiting for our son to finish Junior Club,' he said, which by my reckoning (once a week for two years) makes him a regular.
So then, there must be a fourth category of pub - one where everyone knows your husband's name, but nobody knows yours. And with that, the barmaid announced it was lovely to meet me 'at long last'.
Location: Church Lane, Guilden Sutton, Chester CH3 7EW. Telephone 300341 - it is usually advisable to book.
Open for lunch and dinner every day, except Tuesday.
Price: About £50 for two, for three courses, a pint of Timothy Taylor and a bottle of house wine.
Best thing: The choice - there really is something to suit everyone's taste.
Worst thing: The 1980s-style decor is looking a little tired.
Would suit: Regular diners-out who would like something different every night of the week.