The day: 15th June 2007, Lunch.
The place: 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB (tel: +44 020 78365314)
The venue: Rules restaurant
The food: Traditional British.
The drinks: Nice and reasonably priced list, strong on French (Burgundy and Rhone Valley), available also by the (250ml) glass and the (50ml) jug.
Question: What do you do if you are on your own in Central London, you are hungry and in the mood for a good meal, and it’s already 2.40 pm when most fine restaurants are closed?
Rules, the oldest English restaurant (est. 1798!!) is open non-stop all day. Man was without Woman in London, however she has been to Rules several times. Moreover, this was the perfect chance to test our brand new teleflavourone (£19.99 at an electrician near you for the basic model): a device that allows you to beam flavours to a remote receiver while you are enjoying them. Seriously. Very handy. So this report is written together by Man and Woman, as always. Another report will however follow in the Summer after a joint visit.
The interior is decadent, warm, rich, the walls filled with old paintings, hunting trophies, mirrors, old clocks; the colours deep purple, dark brown, gold and yellow.
Confusing but charming in the manner of the house of a keen collector (vaguely reminiscent of the style of Sir John Soames’ house, for those of you who have been there).
From the moment you are welcomed there is an air of easy-going and non-stuffy formality. The crowd is pleasantly mixed: at lunch especially you’ll find yourselves brushing shoulders with crisply dressed professionals (mainly lawyers), sportily dressed tourists and maybe some eccentric elderly well-to-do. There are some private rooms upstairs for functions and VIP lunches – this is also a place for the great and the good of the establishment.
In the large main room for the mere mortals the tables are well-spaced in some areas, less so in others. It is really a perfect place for the solo visitor: they have dedicated tables for one, sufficiently spacious but where it is impossible to fit another chair, and secluded in a way that you really feel ‘at home’, you could read a paper or a book without feeling self-conscious. As you can see, the other side of Man’s table was the back of the seat of the oher table:
The head Chef is Richard Sawyer, but this being an all day operation in a large restaurant, the number of staff is very large. On the menu, Rules specialises in game and traditional pies (it has its own estate for game), but you also find other meats and classics such as roast beef with Yorskhire pudding.
Man starts with a Wild mushroom and bergamot soup.
Rules’ soups have their own style: uncompromisingly thick and rich, smooth and hearty at the same time. This one was no exception. The mushroom flavour was very strong, well supported by the dense, fat structure. You can already feel the cholesterol rising in your blood stream, but this is a very, very satisfying start.
Man continues with Highland Red Deer Loin with a wilted salad of pear, walnuts, chicory and stilton (requested to be cooked medium-rare).
Great, great flavour and texture in the deer, gamey, succulent but just rightly resistant to the bite. The loin came coated in a thin film of Stilton (or did you think the red deer had green meat?), adding richness, but the cooked green apple on top provided perfect bitterness to cut through. The wilted salad was a very successful complement, giving moisture to the ensemble and creating a nice range from bitter to sweet flavours: it would also have been a good dish in itself. Woman, from the flavourone, starts to salivate….
Man concludes ‘lightly’, with Mixed Summer berries and rosewater jelly.
A perfect finish, the jelly delicate and refreshing, and the berries very good.
For wine, Man chose a 250ml glass Pinot Noir Domaine de Valmoissine 2005, Louis Latour (velvet in the mouth) at £10.95. With this, a microscopic bottle of water at £1.80 and service charge at 12.5 % the bill came to £53.94, so meeting broadly the £100 rule for two.
The service was kind and mostly correct, French style, but with one major gripe: they do not show the wine bottle to you, the glass just arrives having been filled elsewhere. And, moreover, the glass is just too full. Due to staff rotation, there is also that typical Rules phenomenon, the disappearing waiter – just when you thought you were establishing some kind of rapport, he or she is gone and another one starts serving you.
Rules has had its ups and downs over the years (it has had more than two centuries to do so!) and now it definitely seems to be on the up. Gone are the days of grumpy service for which it was ‘renowned’. The whole operation has adjusted to the times (even the website has been revamped), and it is a little miracle of logistics with legions of staff working in it and enormous numbers of customers served daily. The raw materials are spectacular. The cuisine is traditional and relatively straight, but executed to high standards and with a distinctive richness. One always feels relaxed at Rules: It is a great place to go, alone or in company.