I then had a phone call from the Black Bull's landlord, Bill Dear, to let me know (in entirely friendly fashion) that he and partner Maggie had been upgrading the food offer and suggesting that Jane and I give it a try. As Willingham is literally down the road on which we live, off we went one Friday night.

The Black Bull stands on the crossroads at the south end of the village. It's a post-war building which would never win a beauty contest, but don't let that put you off. Inside, openings have been created between the small lounge and even smaller public but the section of wall which once held the fireplace remains to break up the space. Three tables were set for food in the lounge area whilst a healthy gathering of locals occupied the public.

This is a Greene King pub and we had a choice of IPA from the pump or Abbot fetched from a cask in the cellar - so we had one of each. The IPA was a reminder to me that this can be a jolly good beer when well kept (many pubs sell it too "young") while the Abbot was superb, with the vinous flavour you get too rarely with it nowadays. There's another pump which sometimes has a guest beer.

There are two menus - the main one and Maggie's Specials. The former contains 16 dishes, mostly "pub classics", but also the likes of Mississippi-style Chicken and Braised Liver. Prices range from 6.95 to 9.45. We chose, though, from the eight offerings on the Specials menu, where prices are a little higher (8.95 to 12.95) and include various steaks, pies and a tempting Lamb Shank. However, I plumped for Italian Meatballs and Jane selected Steak & Ale Pie.

My meal arrived in a big dish with eight chunky meatballs well-smothered in sauce and sitting atop an ample portion of spaghetti. The meat was lamb (which I love), very smoothly textured and full of flavour. The rich tomato sauce was distinctly spicy, offsetting well the more subtle, herby meatballs. The perfectly cooked spaghetti was in more than sufficient quantity, which didn't stop me polishing it off, along with the accompanying garlic bread.

Jane was equally enthused by her pie. Again, the plateful was generous. The large pie had thin shortcrust pastry rather than the stodgy stuff you often get and was packed with very lean, well-cooked meat in a tasty sauce in which Jane detected a welcome hint of horse-radish. Accompaniments comprised a mound of smooth mash, peas, carrots and oodles of gravy. Lovely stuff.

Sweets are all 3.95. We were too full for the hot pudding options so I had Belgian Chocolate Bombe and Jane, Charlotte Royale. Though no doubt bought in, both were a cut above the standard of dessert which this column has recently grumbled about. What's definitely home-made is Maggie's Sherry Trifle, normally only available with Sunday lunch, but which Bill brought us a sample to try - delicious.

Bill and Maggie have been at the Bull for three years. Both had health problems (since happily resolved) in the early part of their tenancy but are now getting close to where they want to be with the pub. They do evening meals Tuesday-Saturday, 6 - 8.30 plus lunchtime food Wednesday to Saturday, 12 - 2 and Sunday lunch (8.95) 12 - 3. As we discovered, there's nothing "grubby" about the food here - I reckon it's on a par with the best we've had recently in the area's pubs and a lot better than many. What's more, the place has a really friendly locals atmosphere - definitely a community pub first and foremost and all the better for it - highly recommended.