RULES: NO GROUSE BUT NOTHING TO GROUSE ABOUT
I had booked Rules for Sunday lunch in the middle of last week. Yesterday, when I first heard the news about Tony Finch and was laid low with a flu bug, I scarcely felt like eating at all, let alone at one of the great institutions of London.
But, this morning, I awoke feeling much improved and thinking to myself that the one thing Tony would never deny anyone was a damn good meal and a good bottle of wine. So, off we went
It’s easy to dismiss Rules as a tourist trap. Certainly it depends on a lot of visitors for its custom, but it also attracts a lot of locals for special occasions and a great many regular customers. The clientele should not detract from the fact that Rules does a great number of things very well and that any restaurant that has access to the game and ingredients they have, is always worth considering. Every city has a restaurant like this. In Madrid, it is Botin. In NYC, it is Pete Luger’s. Dismiss them if you will but there is a reason why they have been there so long. Usually because they specialise in one or two things and have been doing them well for, well ever.
We had not been for a couple of years and it is safe to assume that little has changed in that time. In fact not much has changed in the twenty years since I first visited nor indeed, I imagine, in the 200 years it has been open.
Specialising in game, Rules has access to immaculate ingredients which it does precious little to. There is nothing wrong with that and, if you don’t try to go too far off piste, it provides a haven of civility from the increasingly desperate world outside.
Of course, at this time of year, there is no game, but the menu still has much to offer and, after the obligatory pint of beer in a silver tankard, HP started with a large salad of Cornish crab while I had a slice of a potted shrimp terrine. Both simple and excellent. The crab in particular was a winner and came with some pre buttered soda bread which HP used to wipe out the shell.
They offer a wide range of wines by the 50cl jug and we chose a decent chardonnay which worked well with both starters.
Given the no game scenario, both of our attention was drawn to the offer of a “hand raised Beef & ale pie” on the short list of specials. Very good it was too. Fabulous cold water pastry stuffed with large chunks of meat in a very rich gravy. With some crunchy chips, hot horseradish and buttered cabbage it proved to be a perfect Sunday afternoon lunchtime dish.
The only downside was a parsimonious portion of purple sprouting broccoli where two small stems for £3.75 gave ammunition to those who might consider this a rip off to ensnare visitors.
If there is one reason to visit Rules, however, it is for the desserts. Their sticky toffee pudding is the ne plus ultra of great British afters and the promise of it even managed to persuade HP to veer from his normal path of ice cream. It was good, especially when doused with a lovely creamy custard. Better still was my own Golden syrup sponge which got an equal soaking.
The bill without coffee came to £150 including service and a very decent bottle of Gigondas.
So, is Rules a tourist trap? Lots of tourists there, certainly along side the locals and regulars. Trap? I don’t think so, it's certainly not cheap but, prices are about standard for this level and location in London and the food, while simple smacks of a place that does not try to move to far from its realm of expertise.
Everyone there seemed to be having a damn good time. The roast belted Galloway beef for two with humongous Yorkshire puddings we saw at a neighbouring table almost made us think about trying that instead of pudding and the service was efficient without being overly formal.
Like The India Club a short distance up the road, Rules just is. It remains unapologetically stuck in its ways and, on this visit, it has precious little to apologise for.
I think Tony would have approved