Step out of London’s crowded Covent Garden into Rules and it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust. A melange of mismatched artwork crowds every available inch of wall space. Huddled along the red booths are groups of silver-haired men in elegant suits. Are these members of the press? Of Parliament? Somehow, I’ve stumbled into the shadowy back alleys of Mary Poppins and discovered Mr. Bank’s martini maven: a veritable orgy of expense accounts, bloody meats, and pressed napkins tucked deep into shirt collars.
Established in 1798, Rules is London’s oldest restaurant. The fare is traditional British with an emphasis on wild game, much of which comes from the restaurant’s own country estate. As I follow a tuxedoed waiter to my seat, my head turns at the sight of a giant cheese wheel resting on the bar. The menu reads like an irresistible novel, with descriptions that render me weak at the knees. I pour over dishes like “grey leg partridge” and “red deer hotpot.” A glimpse at the next table has my jaw on floor; my neighbors have just been served a whole roasted pheasant hen. I realize that dining at Rules is much like walking straight into Christmas dinner, circa 1800.
I begin with a hunting-themed house cocktail, the “Buckshot Bullshot,” a thick, red Bloody Mary with a shot of beef consommé. After agonizing over the menu, I teamed up with my equally-enthusiastic dining partner for a Rules requisite: rib of beef on the bone for two, served with roast potatoes, winter vegetables, fresh horseradish gravy and Yorkshire pudding.
The platter we are served is a feast fit for royalty. The grass-fed roast beef is served rare and succulent; one bite sends a river of savory juices running down my chin. The Yorkshire pudding is fresh, steaming and as light as a cloud. I drizzle white horseradish gravy over the beef, chasing each tangy mouthful with a fistful of Yorkshire pudding. Our neighbors at the next table have moved onto dessert, but I catch them stealing glances at our carnivorous jubilation. Here at Rules, every bite feels like a deliciously wicked indulgence.
Dessert is an apple, sultana and cinnamon crumble with custard. No one does custard like the Brits and Rules may serve the finest I’ve ever eaten. The consistency reminds me of an eggnog, not too thick or too thin. The custard’s bold vanilla flavor washes over the sweet, cinnamon-infused apple crumble.
A waiter appears as I scrape the last, lingering drops from the custard boat with a spoon. ”This is so delicious, I could just drink it,” I say. Without missing a beat, the waiter offers to bring me a pint glass of custard. I turned down the offer, but a part of me (not my arteries) wishes I hadn’t.
To say I’m impressed with this meal is a understatement. Rules has single-handedly delivered the best traditional English meal I’ve ever eaten, and one of my most memorable food experiences in recent history. Before leaving, I wander through the restaurant, taking in the sheer number of visual oddities – paintings, antlers and stuffed fowl, lining the walls. My final, lasting impression of Rules? A fierce, frescoed Margaret Thatcher, warrior princess, in full body armor wielding a sword. I’ll be back, Rules. I’ll be back.
Rules is located at: 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London