If you like busy pubs, look no further than The Roebuck, just north of Wickham.
But this kind of busy isn’t the usual people crush - this pub’s busyness is found in its very distinctive look.
There are china artefacts – horses, dogs, animals in human costume, jugs, vases – in every nook and cranny of the three-roomed tiered pub.
Below the vivid shiny green ceiling are plates on vivid-patterned wallpaper, cut-glass pendulum lamps, shades and baskets of dried flowers.
They all clash – or delight, according to your taste – with the swirling carpets and differently-patterned curtains.
Past the bar area are two pianos, one black, one baby grand white, and further decorations in glass cupboards: stage jewellery displayed on black.
The latter gives the game away, the owner being panto dame Mark Squires, now in his 10th year as pub landlord. On Fridays, Mark can be found playing show tunes, while tribute acts and musicals are other highlights.
The dining area sported reserved signs on each table, but only three were taken and no other diners flocked in.
Service by Steve was exemplary. Soon, I was seated at one of the ‘reserved’ tables with sparkling water and a glass of wine.
The menu is ambitious: pigeon breast and smoked bacon on a crouton with port and onion chutney; pan fried black pudding and queen scallops with Pernod vinaigrette; goat’s cheese, red onion and beetroot salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar are some starters (mostly London-priced at £6–£7).
Move on to lamb fillet with risotto, onion, green peppers, tomato, garlic; red wine jus; fillet steak, king prawns, curry sauce, onions, bean sprouts, spring onions, mushrooms, peppers and al dente noodles or halibut, salmon, smoked haddock and monkfish mixed fish grill served with a poached egg and Hollandaise sauce (around £17-£19 for these very busy dishes).
There are steaks too at hefty prices. For those with less deep pockets, there’s the bar menu including Roebuck game pie with venison, pheasant, rabbit and pigeon; steak and Guinness pie with onion, carrot and mushrooms and others, all mostly around £10.
I played it safe, my choice being the beer battered cod fillet with chunky chips and peas.
The greasy batter wasn’t very crispy and the fish tasted like it may have been farmed Icelandic cod instead of Atlantic (it’s more watery). A chunky, golden stack of fries were more crispy than the fish batter.
A glass of Sauvignon Blanc yielded a pale imitation of a pleasing one. Finish with lemon dream, vanilla sponge filled with lemon curd and creamy lemon mousse, with fresh cream and ribbon lemon piping.
There’s also fruit crumble and custard or Terry’s chocolate orange cheesecake with orange curd.
I had Southwick’s Bere ice cream, and fine and dandy it was too.
I bet The Roebuck is a fun place to be on those music nights, but I’m afraid the food doesn’t hit the mark with sufficient pizazz.
My bill came to under £20 not including a tip.
The Roebuck Inn, Kingsmead, Wickham PO17 5AY,
Open 11am-2.30pm and 6pm-10.30pm Mon-Sat (Sun – all day).
FOOD Three stars (out of Five)
SERVICE Four stars
ATMOSPHERE Three stars
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: Exit the M27 at the Wickham turnoff and follow the road to Wickham until the town roundabout. Take the second exit for the pub and it’s up the road on the left. Parking is available.