Before going off to see the antics of Nell Gwynn and Charles Stuart, DonQui thought it would be a good idea to have a proper lunch.
And what could be more appropriate than Rules — possibly London’s oldest restaurant although the title is contested by Simpson’s Tavern and Wilton’s.
Opening in 1798, Rules is probably the closest one can get to a restaurant of Nell’s time, not that they really existed back in the 17th century. Nell would have frequented taverns but the concept of a ‘restaurant’ did not really come into being until after the French Revolution. One theory is that in the revolution the chefs of headless aristocrats found themselves out of work and therefore started to set up on their own.
Started as an oyster bar by Thomas Rules it then expanded to include more substantial fare. Contemporary writers mention ‘rakes, dandies and superior intelligences who comprise its clientele.’
‘Just the sort of place for me’, DonQui thinks.
Serving proper food such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, rack of lamb, pies and a wide variety of game, Rules is not the sort of place to bring a vegetarian, some Californian on a weird faddish diet, nor someone who is in a hurry. It is the sort of place to go to if you are looking for a long leisurely meal and old-school atmosphere.
DonQui booked in for a late lunch at 3:30, leaving plenty of time to build up an appetite before, and plenty of time to linger afterwards. He was surprised that even at this hour the place was full, with waiters in black and white weaving their way around tables of casually well-heeled patrons.
With a lovely glass of bubbly Crémant de Bourgogne to sip on while he contemplated the menu, DonQui sees that meat from rare breed, slow maturing cattle is on offer. With Duchess on hand to help out, rib of beef for two seemed just the ticket. After an appetite warming partridge salad to start with, DonQui was ready for the main event.
Although he was well aware that Rules tended to go for old fashioned large portions, he was not quite prepared for just how much food arrive at the table.
It certainly looked good. So DonQui took a sip of Côtes du Rhône to fortify himself, girded his loins, and prepared to do battle.
The beef, served along with the bone it was carved from, was delicious with a nice charred, salty outside while remaining rare in the middle. Ordered medium-rare it was on the rarer side of medium which was fine for DonQui but a little too visceral for Duchess. Fortunately there were sufficient outside pieces of greater doneness which suited her tastes. The Yorkshire puddings were magnificent as were the accompanying spinach and dauphinoise potatoes. DonQui is not keen on horseradish but Duchess, who is, assured him that it was creamy with just the right amount of bite.
Service was professional, helpful yet unobtrusive and the bill was… well… as magnificent as the food. Even by London standards Rules is not cheap, but then it is an experience as much as a place to eat.
Resolutely old-fashioned and English, in DonQui’s opinion Rules is a wonderful respite from the modern world’s obsession with the new, fast and transient. It is well worth saving up a few shekels for the occasional visit.