Sunday, December 30th marked a big anniversary for us – two years since A and I first met through Guardian Soulmates and almost that long since we started writing the Second Bites blog. We still love exploring new food and restaurants together and hope there’ll be many more fun meals to come. To mark the occasion we decided to splurge on something a little bit special and booked a table at Rules, the oldest restaurant in London. Rules is much in demand, especially in December, it’s best to book in advance. Otherwise, like us, you end up with a slightly odd time slot. Although I’m happy to eat lunch at 2.30 any day if the location is as delightful as this.
A time apart
So, a second year anniversary for us and a mere 220 year anniversary for Rules! Established in 1798, Rules was a fledgeling oyster bar when Napolean opened his campaign in Egypt. Diners over the years have included HG Wells, Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales who dined with Lillie Langtry to the delight of the London gossips. It feels that little has changed over the years; there’s a sense of being part of history here, and that’s accentuated by the pictures and memorabilia that line the walls.
We could happily have spent hours in Rules but our dining slot was limited to a mere two and a half hours, which simply flew by. A word to the wise: we didn’t know about the first-floor cocktail bar, which is open to diners before and after their meal. To be recommended if (when) you need time to sit quietly and digest.
On to the menu, and at Rules it’s all about the meat so vegetarians and vegans beware! Here they specialise in traditional British food, and the menu features beef, lamb, rabbit and an array of game, much of it from the Lartington Estate in the North Pennines. Fish is also on offer in a very traditional way, with oysters, salmon and Dover sole. After much deliberation, we shared a starter of potted shrimps with toast. Simple and delicious.
A plentiful feast
We chose a red wine to accompany our meal and shared a bottle of Côtes du Rhône ‘Est-Ouest’. It was at the bottom end of the price list, and the quality was superb. For his main course, A. went for the steamed steak and kidney suet pudding accompanied by red cabbage. I chose the daube of beef with carrots, prunes, bacon and creamed potatoes. Both were substantial, to say the least.
I loved my slow-cooked beef cheeks, although I’m rather out of the habit of eating so much meat. A. reported that he rather regretted not going for the steak and kidney pie with a pastry crust, but only because he missed the gravy being integral to the dish. The delicate suet pudding case was tightly packed with chunks of steak and just the right amount of kidney, and there was a tasty gravy served alongside. There wasn’t much evidence of either dish at the end though, so I think we did it justice.
We set out with the intention of saving room for pudding and just about succeeded, although this was easier said than done with dishes so plentiful and rich. We were determined though and after a pause to chat and reflect we moved on to the serious business of choosing. Again, the options were mouth-watering and I could happily have eaten any of them. There was an interesting burnt Cambridge cream, and A. had to struggle to resist the Rules golden syrup steamed sponge.
In the end, I chose a hot ginger cake and A. had the brioche bread and butter pudding with custard. I’m told the brioche confection was a joy, but also that A. had a little bit of pudding envy, and I don’t blame him. My ginger cake was a melting middle pudding with layers of textures and flavour, and a chunk of stem ginger at the heart. With a spoonful of fig jam and a good dollop of clotted ice cream. I was blown away, it was scrumptious and I can still savour the memory of eating it as I write this.
The whole experience at Rules, from the liveried doorman to the friendly waiting staff, the unique setting to the superb food and wine, was a joy. We’re making a resolution to visit more of London’s older establishments and look forward to reporting back in 2019.
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Rules is a London institution and we heartily recommend it to Londoners and visitors alike. Come for a celebration or, if your pocket allows, just for the sheer hell of it. At near on £140 for two it certainly wasn’t cheap, but well worth it for the experience.
Loo Review (PMC Rating): ★★★★☆ Nicely done and spotless, but we thought they were slightly out of step with the main restaurant.
Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, WC2E 7LB Sunday, 30th December 2018