A risky one, this one. The doors to Rules of Covent Garden have remained open for over two centuries, inside of which, during this time, some of the best advertisements for British cuisine have been served. ‘London’s oldest restaurant’ hardly needs further endorsement. That said, dissidence has emerged that hubristic staff and complacent cooking are detracting from this venerable institution’s reputation.
Dining here in early mid-October is significant, the pheasant season has begun, and the menu duly indicates that its availability is seasonal. To my dismay we were still too early, I reminded the waiter that the season had opened, but he rebuffed me keenly with the argument that at this stage the birds were not fleshy enough for consumption. An excuse to go again, at least.
The interior requires no introduction to those even vaguely familiar with the establishment. As much due to its lack of alteration as the impressive array of busts, art and ornaments that adorn every inch of wall space. The only thing that could possibly distract you is the menu, a glorious thing it is. Few menus, fewer still British ones, would come as close to eliciting a tear from its duct.
Following much deliberation the rabbit came my way and the crab to Sue. Eating bunny-meat reminded me of the importance of treating our taste buds regularly, moreover what impressed me was that the taste improved the more I ate. This is rare, normally each mouthful of a fillet of beef or indeed crab is akin to hits of a drug. The first hit is the most powerful, with satisfaction diminishing as satiation increases, not the case here.
Rules is extolled for its British cuisine, yet it is not above borrowing from abroad. Venison Osso Bucco was one such dish, hardly a controversial dish but new to me at least. Not enough flavour from the meat permeated the sauce and presentation was a little too close to Sunday pub lunch, but let’s not get too finicky. The lamb on the other side of the table received hearty approval, I duly sampled, its texture was delicate which lamb seldom is and ought to be, otherwise excellent.
Also excellent was the service, perhaps perfect even. Rules management has found (or maybe invented / cobbled together in the style of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster) a waiter that was knowledgeable, charming and who served optimally – any more service and it would have become servile. His recommendation of wine was accurate, the wine list itself is the liquid literature equivalent of pornography, London offers much more exhaustive and varied wine lists, but this one was apt for the menu.
Reports of supercilious waiters and suspect fish options circulate, amongst other grievances – the British cannot let a good thing last – although none of these issues were evident to me. Sunday lunch never tasted so good, or cost so much.
4 parsnips out of 5
35 Maiden Lane, WC2