Everything has a beginning. As one delves into London’s rich choice of classically elegant hostelries, one might as well begin with the oldest existing restaurant in the metrop: Rules. There are many iconic Golden Age restaurants and bars, up and down the West End, but none is more quintessentially of London than Rules.
That sort of heritage is, of course, both a blessing and a challenge for dedicated ‘unfollowers of fashion’. It is all too easy to be swayed by the mere longevity of the place, founded as an oyster bar back in 1789. And, naturally, a place like Rules will always attract a fair share of the profitable but dull luxury tourist trade. Equally, the contemporary infatuation with ‘authenticity is often at odds with objective quality. Rules is the real deal; unassailably authentic. That, too, could overshadow its intrinsic qualities.
Let us not make the mistake, however, of damning with faint praise the achievement represented by an establishment like Rules remaining successful in the 21st century. Let us, instead, be frankly grateful for the skilful and respectful cultivation of enduring values. Rules is not a business that trades on tradition; it is tradition. The sort of tradition that Mahler described as the fire preserved, not the ashes worshipped. From the lightly-worn mantle of tradition to the iconic British cuisine, Rules endures and flourishes.
Rules’ bar, ‘Upstairs at Rules’, is on the second storey and can be entered via a separate doorway. It is the sort of civilised and atmospheric watering hole that, in a lesser place, might tempt you to entirely forego the restaurant. The perfectly maintained, late-Victorian décor scores extra points thanks to the actually comfortable and well-placed seating and working fireplace.
The main restaurant at Rules is a post-graduate course on how grandeur need not come at the expense of charm and warmth. Particular note might be made of the profusion of historical celebrity prints, the immaculate state of the red velvet seating, the gleaming wood… The menu at Rules is proudly and traditionally British, with an emphasis on beef, game and North Sea fish, served in a traditional style. The pricing clearly places Rules in the ‘special occasion’ category, as you would expect.
34-35 Maiden Ln, Covent Garden, WC2E 7LB
020 7836 5314