THE decision to visit Wichelstowe’s first canalside local was one of those spur-of-the-moment things you’re glad about afterwards.

A group of us had spent the Sunday morning and some of the afternoon strolling through snow-blanketed countryside.

“Shall we get a late lunch?”

“Sounds good. Where?”

“That new place?”

“Might as well.”

We ended up staying for several hours, such was the quality of the food – and the espresso martinis.

I’d advise booking a table if you want to be sure of dining. When we visited, every table in the dining area was taken, and it was a case of first-come, first-served at the other tables.

Fortunately, another group left their table not long after we arrived.

We were greeted warmly on arrival, and the service throughout our visit was friendly and very helpful. When one of our group inadvertently knocked over a drink and some of it splashed her almost-finished main course, a member of staff was on the scene within seconds to help clean up, and offered to replace the dish. She declined, but did accept the offer of a free dessert to make up for the upset.

Having said that, some of the people staffing the - admittedly busy – bar seemed overwhelmed at times, and there were some long waits. This can probably be put down to the fact that the place had barely been open for a couple of days when we visited, and they were still getting the feel of working there. I wouldn’t be surprised if my 7/10 rating is already out of date.

Our relatively brief wait for a table gave us the chance to explore the place. The most striking features in the dining area are the individual booths modelled on the interiors of canal boats, which come with their own beer pumps. In a continuation of the historic canal theme, the front of a boat protrudes from the building.

Overall the interior, with its metal, wood, old machinery and photos of the company’s founders, manages to be simultaneously historic, industrial and homely. Old books jostle with artefacts for space on the selves which line much of the wall space. It’s a big place, but thanks to the décor it’s never barn-like.

And the food?

Uniformly excellent. I give it a nine only on the basis that a 10 would mean utter perfection, and I have no idea what that might be.

We began by sharing a couple of the very generous starters.

The whitebait with tartare sauce (£5.75) had just the right consistency, with a satisfyingly crispy exterior and succulent flesh.

The menu promised that the tiger prawns with sourdough and garlic mayonnaise (£9.25) came with lashings of garlic butter, and nobody who tries the dish is likely to disagree.

The easy-to-peel beasties were firm, addictive and altogether wonderful.

They are highly recommended, so long as you avoid breathing on painted surfaces for a few hours afterwards - unless you actually want to strip them, of course.

When the time came to order main courses, two of us opted for burgers, both of which were huge, well-flavoured and came with generous helpings of fries.

The signature H&W burger (£13.50) features Monterey Jack cheese, caramelised streaky bacon and the firm’s own sauce, while the smoke and spice burger (£14) has ‘nduja, sauteed onions and paprika mayo.

Our other three mains were salmon pave (£14.25), stuffed roasted aubergine (£10.50) and steak frites (£14).

Not a single one of us had anything negative to say about so much as a morsel. Ingredients are well-chosen, and the ethos is clearly one of not compromising in any way on quality.

This is not a cheap menu, but I’ve eaten in some far more expensive places and not felt nearly as happy.

Deciding that we might as well say for the long haul, and having sampled those espresso martinis (£8) I mentioned, we ventured among the desserts.

Everything on the West Country cheeseboard (£7.25) was a hit, but the Somerset Capricorn goat cheese was the star of the show.

The lemon tart (£6.50) came with raspberry coulis and fresh berries, and was a real livener.

Chocolate and coconut torte (£6.25) was as rich and luxurious as it sounds, while the three scoops of ice cream (£5) were delicious and came with more choices of flavour than can be listed here.

One of the best tests of a new dining venue’s merits is whether you’d happily recommend it to a friend.

Hall and Woodhouse passes with flying colours.