THE New Calley Arms is currently the highest-rated pub in the Swindon area on Trip Advisor and the fourth best-rated eatery overall around town, plus it placed highly on the Adver’s 2018 list of the 10 best places to eat in Wiltshire.

This high praise intrigued me so I drove up to Wanborough to see if the pub's grub lived up to all the hype. The warmly-lit glow of its rustic interior felt very welcoming on such a dark and cold night. As I entered, a gaggle of regulars briefly stopped their animated conversations to turn and look at this strange newcomer, smile and nod.

Co-owner Barbara Lockwood recognised me as I'd interviewed her for an article about the improvements she and her son Jon Beeden, who also owned the pub, had made since they took it over four years ago. Barbara asked why I was here which led to a minor ethical dilemma. These food reviews are supposed to be done without any of the staff knowing that they're being scrutinised, so I basically had to lie, perhaps rather unconvincingly, to someone who trusted me, a former crime scene investigator no less, about the true purpose of my visit.

I think I got away with it.

Most of the tables were already reserved but there was a small one by the bar that was quickly made ready for me. While I settled into a creaky but comfortable wooden chair, Barbara made small talk and rattled off a list of specials - fish, pies, ribs, each accompanied by all sorts of sides - and though I didn't catch every detail, I did hear the word 'rib-eye'.

The regular menu tempted me with lamb shank in a mint and rosemary gravy and mashed potato (£13.50), 'Colonel Calley' beer battered cod and chunky chips (£11.50), and spicy chilli with rice, tortillas, sour cream and guacamole (£11), but I decided to go with my gut and try the rib-eye with onion rings, tomato and a side of veg (£12), ordered medium-well.

Before it all arrived, I received a small dish of mini cheddars with two dips - hummus and cream cheese with sweet chilli - to nibble on as cooking the freshly-prepared meals can apparently lead to a bit of a delay, though it seemed to me that the main course arrived fairly promptly. I've been kept waiting far longer for far worse food elsewhere.

Truth be told, I'd only felt slightly peckish when I first got there and, when the bountiful plates of food and sides landed on my table, briefly feared that I had filled up too much on mini cheddars, but the first bite of the succulent steak made me realise I had quite a hefty appetite after all. The steak was juicy, with pangs of pepper and charcoal, and not tough or chewy, much more on the medium side than the well but all the better for it - I defer to the chef’s wisdom.

The enormous onion rings were crispy and flavourful, the peppercorn sauce made even the gristle and fatty bits of the ribeye taste great, though I did have to take a break at one point.

Apart from the near-faultless food, my favourite part of dining at the New Calley Arms were those pauses, the times where I could relax and look out from my vantage point at the pub's patrons laughing and joking and coming and going, at the families on the other tables enjoying their food just as much as I'd enjoyed mine, at the staff rushing around carrying plates towering with food, and at the dogs gratefully receiving plenty of attention from punters passing by them.

One group brought their files and laptops with them to hash out the details of a planning application over a meal though, despite my best eavesdropping efforts, I couldn't find out what exactly they were planning.

The background noise was consistently high but never overpoweringly so, the section I sat in was cosy and smelt like a fireplace in an old cottage.

Guests on a neighbouring table declared themselves defeated by the main course and I knew how they felt. I'd left two of the onion rings, barely touched the side dish of veg and, though it pained me to admit, I couldn't find any room for the chocolate brownie, honeycomb cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate and hazelnut slice, Bonoffi pie or apple tart (all £5 each) on the dessert menu.

This was my first meal at the New Calley Arms but it won't be the last.