The history of England is written in its pub names.
 
That sounds very profound, and I may not have thought of it myself, but there's a lot in it.
 
Names on the signs all over England recall ancient battles and disasters, hunting and other vanished sports, nature and the exploits of fugitive kings, and one diligent researcher reckoned that most of the White Horses were found in the Saxon east of the country, while Black Horses shadowed the knights of King Arthur in the Celtic western half.
 
The wars of two centuries ago are remembered in a triangle of pubs on that vague southern line where Cheshire meets Shropshire, with the Salamanca and the Bhurtpore linked by the man who fought at both of them, Lord Combermere. His equestrian statue stands in front of Chester Castle, decorated with a list of many victories in Spain and India.
 
Just off the main road from Whitchurch to Nantwich, on the turning towards Stone and Newcastle, you will find the Combermere Arms, bearing the quarterings of the old Cheshire family that produced Sir Stapleton Cotton, whose seat as Lord Combermere is nearer Whitchurch at Combermere Abbey.
 
He led the British attack at Salamanca where Willington defeated 'forty thousand Frenchmen in forty minutes' as their commander ruefully admitted. He was also in charge of the assault on Bhurtpore a decade later, with many accusations to follow that he had kept more than his fair share of the loot.
 
He died at a ripe old age in 1865, when his third wife remarked that she had kept him going on Old Sherry.
 
But enough of history, now for food! The Combermere Arms needs its large car park, which was doing well when we arrived at 7pm on a wet October evening. By the time we left, after prompt service and hearty appetites, it was deservedly packed, with two days to go before the weekend.

The interior leads from one large wooden-floored room to another, with comfortable upright chairs, and all the pictures on the walls that an old pub should have, although I didn't spot one of Sir Stapleton - he may yet be lurking in some unvisited corner.
 
Although it's a considerable space, and we were among the firstcomers, the pleasant noise of people enjoying good food and friendly company built up through the evening, with plenty of obvious farming families and groups of newer country settlers.
 
The young staff give a cheerful welcome. There are lots of specials and a wine list chalked up on boards but the one minor surprise was that the menu asks you to go back to the bar from your table to place your order, which may detract from the feeling of being one of the lords of creation that a restaurant should offer, even if the exercise does you good.
 
Sue and I dithered around the starters with neither of us shifting from crab cakes with chilli sauce. It proved to be an outstanding choice, very much the rapier rather than the bludgeon; delicate and tasty, with the thought of another six to add to the actual pair providing the only criticism.
 
Spring roll or a black pudding terrine looked equally tempting, and I may devote future visits to a thorough study, if I can keep away from those superb crab cakes.
 
When it came to the main course, we did manage to differ, both fancying venison before Sue did the decent thing and chose shoulder of lamb.
 
All this was supported by a bottle of Chilean Aresti red, which we have enjoyed before and will again, because that curious long thin coastline never seems to get it wrong.
 
At £14.95 this was one of the cheaper reds on a thoughtful list, round and fruity, but without any of that wallop of tannin that often disfigures Australian wines, or a good many Spanish, to my prejudiced mind.

My venison proved to be rich and tender, with a splendid port gravy such as Sir Stapleton would have enjoyed at one of the dinners he hosted when he founded the Cheshire Show in 1838. Mine was served with a fondant cylinder of potato and a delicate selection of mange tout peas, celery and lettuce which provided just the subtle framework you need for a dominating meat.

I was going to suggest that they wouldn't have fancied French-influenced trimmings in those days - after a war lasting twenty years - but those were the times when all prominent Englishmen felt they should be able to speak French, and greatly admired everything about their gallant enemy, so you never know.
 
Our main courses saw the usual exchange of tastes that feature when long married couples go out together, showing me that Sue's lamb was just as special as my venison, if not more so. She enjoyed the backing of new potatoes, parsnips and carrots while sampling a taste of my fondant for comparison.
 
Each course brought a charming query from the young waitress as to whether we were happy with it, but she needn't have bothered when the plates were quite bare!
 
I must admit that after that splendid centrepiece, I could have skipped desserts, but being dedicated to my work, I steeled myself to try the sticky toffee pudding, with Sue choosing the crème brûlee, a sweet that provides a stringent test for any establishment, being difficult to make, and likely to attract useless extras to conceal any lack of knowledge or skill with the hand-held flame that creates the surface crust.
 
We needn't have worried. The crème proved to be a work of the chef 's art, with a flawless crackable skin, and no silly bits of fruit, biscuits, or fragments of parsley that so often disfigure classic French simplicity.
 
The same goes for the sticky toffee pudding, which some notable French expert listed recently as one of the great British puddings, adding that the vanishing spotted dicks and syrup tarts were one of the great and little known triumphs of our island cuisine - little known on the continent that is, where they still imagine we survive on boiled beef and carrots.
 
A pleasant cafétière of coffee rounded off the proceedings, leaving me with that one problem that I couldn't find anything important to grumble about!
 
All in all, the Combermere Arms was outstanding, and provided as well designed and well prepared meal as I've found in years.

Factfile

* Location: The Combermere Arms, Burleydam.
* Lunch from noon, and dinner from 7 pm until 9.30pm.
* Tel:01948 871223.
* Best thing: Outstanding food and a happy atmosphere.
* Would suit: Anyone from a hearty to a gastronome.
* Worst thing: Give me time, there must be something...
* Bill: Two dinners, a bottle of wine and one coffee, cost £67.60.