Rules is the quintessential English restaurant, specialising in preparing the highest quality meat, game and fish for the moneyed classes. Tucked down a Covent Garden back street, it was founded during the Napoleonic wars in 1798, making it the oldest privately owned restaurant in London. They even have their own country estate in Lartington, Teeside from which they source much of their produce. What better place then to treat my old mate Andy on the occasion of his 40th birthday.
After gaining admittance from the top-hatted doorman, we were advised by the accommodating Maitre d’ that our reserved table would not be ready for a few minutes so we adjourned upstairs for some pre-prandial martinis in the plush surroundings of the cocktail bar. Mr Silva the head barman made us feel very at home and mixed us perhaps the finest dry vodka martini I have ever had.
After a short while our table was ready so we moved downstairs to the opulent dining room. The decor is in a brasserie style with lots of red velvet, dark wood and stained glass. On the walls, old prints, deer and antelope skulls compete with many other kinds of eclectic memorabilia collected over the last 200 years. As well as various kings, notable customers have included Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Graeme Greene, Evelyn Waugh, John Le Carre and Dick Francis, and consequently the restaurant has been mentioned in several novels. Because of its history Rules could easily be a tourist trap but, while you might hear the odd America accent, it seems to have avoided being overly commercialised. Indeed, many Londoners have never even heard of it, unless they have a fair bit of disposable to burn that is. The table next to us were bemoaning the fact that mummy had been worried about the health of the family dog so she had sent it urgently to the vet, by helicopter!
To start proceedings we decided to compare the two kinds of oyster on offer. We found the Maldon Rock oysters to be much sweeter and creamier while the West Mersea Native variety had a firmer texture. Both benefitted from the wonderfully pungent shallot and red wine vinegar dressing that came in a gravy boat on the side. It was at this juncture that we had our only disappointment. The bottle of Sauvingnon Blanc we ordered was not chilled enough so we sent it back and went instead with an excellent Albarino from Galicia. This was also a good match with my Ham Hock Salad with Quail’s Eggs, Chickweed and Split Pea dressing and Andy’s Duck Egg Mayo with Wild Watercress.
For my main I got the Whole Grouse with Game (parsnip) Chips, Bread Sauce and Savoy Cabbage. The bird was seated on a piece of toast covered in delicious grouse pate. My friend had the more interesting looking Roast Salt Marsh Saddle of Lamb with Carrots and Rosemary Mash. The wine was a great Tempranillo from Ribeiro del Duero which also went well with the complementary spoonfuls of Cropwell Bishop Stilton we wheedled from our kindly waitress. To finish, my Perry Jelly with Poached Pears and Pear Ice Cream was wonderfully clean and Andy’s Sticky Toffee Pud with dates and walnuts was rich and full of flavour. These went down with two glasses of excellent Sauternes dessert wine (Chateau Rolland A.C. Barsac 2003). A fine end to a fine meal.
Rules is not cheap of course, expect to go into three figures per head if you’re doing it properly, but the service, surroundings and the food are exemplary and we left glowing with contentment. All you need to do is find a special occasion.