Those of you with long memories may recall that the Roebuck used to be quite an odd sort of place, run by a couple of ex-theatrical types, with a mini-theatre in the back where they used to stage occasional entertainments. Pieman visited it once several years ago, just to see what it was like, and never went back, which says a lot. However, the place has been taken over by new owners, and after a complete refurbishment it re-opened about a year ago, and it is now very smart.
On arrival 10 thirsty men immediately wanted a beer, and were confronted with quite a choice: Wallops Wood 4% (relabeled as Roebuck Ale) and Swift One 3.8% from the ever popular Bowman Ales, London Pride 4% and HSB 4.8% from Fullers, New Forest Ale 3.8% from the Downton Brewery, and Skew Sunshine Ale 4.6% from Suthwyk Ales. It's unusual for a pub to have such a wide choice of real ales available on draught, and the Roebuck is to be congratulated on this. All the ales that we tried were in very good condition and served well. But unfortunately Tall Paul (our Guinness drinker) was disappointed as they were unable to provide him with any Guinness as they were between barrels, and they had no bottled or canned Guinness available either. Now Tall Paul is not one to panic when things like this happen, so he asked for a Peroni instead, and they were out of that as well! Unfortunately this incident spoilt our appreciation of the beers in this pub, which would otherwise have been excellent, and has been reflected in our scores for the beer.
The pub has been completely renovated and is now very smart inside. There is a dining room for normal customers, but we were pleased to see that we had a separate private room to ourselves, with a table for 10, and several easy chairs and a sofa for us to relax in as we waited for our pies. This used to be the room where the mini-theatre was. It's now a very comfortable room reserved for discerning gentlemen.
Now for the pies: We had a choice of Steak & Onion Pie or a vegetarian pie. Of course we all chose the Steak & Onion Pie.
We had individual pies, and you can see from the photos that they were rather an unusual shape, being a lot taller than the average pie. This is fine (we like a bit of variety), but in order for the pie to keep its shape and not collapse the chef had to use a cold water short crust pastry to give the pastry some strength and rigidity. Nice try, but unfortunately we felt that the pastry was too hard and curiously rather tasteless, so this spoilt the pie. On the other hand the Steak & Onion filling was excellent - lots of lean tasty chunks of steak. The pies came with mixed vegetables (cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot) and a choice of chips or mashed potatoes, which were all very nicely cooked. We'd asked beforehand that the gravy be served separately in jugs on the side, which is how we prefer it, but we may have caught them out here as it seems they only had 3 very small jugs available, so we had to keep on asking for refills (not a real problem, though). Despite our reservations about the pastry, we all enjoyed our pies. We noticed that our guest, Mike, who is still on his vegan diet, was first to clear his plate.
For puddings we had a choice of Warm Chocolate Brownie, Bread & Butter Pudding, Rhubarb & Frangipane Tart, Strawberry & Rose Water Eaton Mess, or Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce, all at around £6.50. Although we don't normally judge the puddings in our reviews, these puddings were all really rather good.
The pies were £11.50 each, which is not unreasonable, but the beers were a little expensive at around £3.80/pint. The pub has been totally refurbished and is now very smart. It looked quite busy in the dining room, but we had a room to ourselves and it wasn't at all noisy. Some of us liked having a room to ourselves because it meant we could let our hair down without annoying other customers, but others complained about the lack of atmosphere there, so you can't please everyone, and we had problems judging the ambience, but the service was good, the delightful barmaid coped well with us, the facilities were clean, and generally we were very impressed by the place.
Scores for The Roebuck Inn (Max 5 in each category - total 25 overall)
Pastry - 3.42
Filling - 4.40
Beer - 4.07
Ambience - 4.08
Value - 4.17
Overall - 20.10
Sadly, we really didn't like the pastry, and the beer score was marked down because of the Guinness problem, and the Roebuck Inn has suffered as a consequence. It's score of 20.1 puts it in 6th place (out of 7) in our rankings of the pubs that we have visited so far this year, only just beating The Robin Hood. However, this does not mean that we did not enjoy our meal here, and we can still recommend it as a good place to go out for a meal. Presumably the Guinness problem was only temporary, and although the pie was not to our liking we did notice several other interesting items on the menu, which might make a visit worthwhile.
We found the walk along the Mean Valley Way seemed quicker on the way back, and popped into The King's Head for a quick one while we waited for the bus back. The King's Head is a nice enough pub, but they don't do pies there. And it would have been just a quick one if we hadn't missed the bus.