I last ate at Rules many years ago. I was taken there after a performance at the ROH where I had listened in awe as Placido Domingo sang Otello. It is a tribute to the food and atmosphere at Rules that I remember anything at all about the meal so entranced was I by the music. The man I dined with was wondrously old fashioned, indeed he wore opera slippers and a cloak, and he loved the service and attention to detail that Rules provided. He was also a committed gourmand and would never have chosen a place purely on the attentiveness of the waiters, so I expected, and found, the food to be good.
I went back yesterday for lunch with a girlfriend and it felt as if only days had passed since that late supper long ago. The red and gilt rooms, the black clad waiters, the general feeling of having stepped back in time were all exactly as I remembered them . I was tempted back to Rules by a review by Marina O’Loughlin , restaurant reviewer for The Guardian. I went with another Guardian columnist, wine writer Fiona Beckett, who much to her chagrin, was seated under a splendid but very odd mural of Margaret Thatcher. My being an ex Daily Telegraph writer meant I could only witness, rather than feel, her pain!!
We started with a cocktail me a Gin and It and Fiona a White Lady, this provoked the first of many benign but bufferish remarks from the two men eating at the adjacent table! The drinks were stellar, served in frosted cocktail glasses with all the swish and charm of old. Each came to the table in it’s own tiny cocktail shaker. The pouring of these drinks and then the anointing with the finest curl of lemon zest was itself a theatrical act.
Sadly the starters were less joyous. My potted brown shrimps were simply bound with mayonnaise rather than steeped in spicy, mace flavoured butter and a rather drear granary roll was served alongside when I had specifically ordered toast. Fiona’s ham hock salad was attractive to look at but a little too chilled for the flavours to shine.
Things looked up spectacularly when our main courses arrived. We, or rather Fiona had seen something she liked the look of more than the steak and kidney pudding she’d ordered and had asked if she might change her order. Anyone who has any knowledge of restaurant kitchens will know that the timing of the main going out is crucial and so the charming way the changed order was taken was a sign of a really grounded relationship between front and back of house.
It was the ruffle round the dish that held the cottage pie that had charmed us. Indeed there was a wonderful wave of nostalgia that we felt when my deeply succulent and richly flavoured braised brisket of beef arrived in one of those lovely old battered silver serving dishes. The vegetables also came in silver boats reminding me that whilst modern serving pieces are very smart these warhorses of the restaurant trade have a lasting charm.
The beef was fork tender and luscious, the serving huge another reminder, if the glance around the dinning room hadn’t been enough, that Rules is used mainly by men.
We drank a carafe of a “good lunchtime claret” 500ml of Chateau Le Pey which at £23.50 was towards the less costly end of the list!!
The sponge syrup pudding, for yes by now I was in full school dinner mode, was sumptuous: light, sweet and served with cream, custard and ice cream…..We halved a glass of Barsac to the Buffers delight then walked out into the sunshine, noise and bustle of Covent Garden only to discover it was 2013 after all!!
Rules 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB
020 7836 5314