Founded in 1798, Rules is London’s oldest restaurant. It was opened by Thomas Rule as an oyster bar that also served traditional British dishes. Adhering to ye olde “ain’t broke, don’t fix” philosophy, the restaurant still offers many of those dishes today at its same Maiden Street location near Covent Garden. In fact, very little has changed at Rules as the utmost efforts have been made to lovingly preserve the original features in its main dining areas and cocktail bar. Kings and queens may come and go. Nine monarchs actually have reigned since Rules opened its doors. But this institution remains a constant.
So does Rules rule? Well, you’re more likely to visit this old school eatery for the novelty of simply being able to say you ate at London’s oldest restaurant than you would be to visit just to eat the food itself. That said, it’s a very good place to sample traditional British cuisine at its best. Visit during game season and you’ll really be in luck. Rules specializes in game and even has its own estate, The Lartington Estate, in northern England where it sources much of its meat.
Over the three-hundred plus years of its existence, Rules managed to build up an impressive roster of noteworthy regulars. Henry Irving, Laurence Olivier, and poet laureate Sir John Betjamin were all huge fans. Celebrities known to enjoy Rules these days include Nigella Lawson and food critic Jay Rayner.
Perhaps the appeal of Rules was best summed up by writer Graham Green when he said this of his favourite restaurant:
There are some restaurants that give one a sense of being at home, more at home than in a friend’s house, welcome, at peace … Rules is not just cosy, it has an air of voluptuous indulgence that makes the whole experience of going there feel slightly illegal. Having tramped long sunless streets on the edge of Covent Garden you come off gaunt Maiden Lane into a wave of warmth. Even though it’s only lunchtime, it already feels like twilight. Everything is effortless: unobsequious waiters and waitresses hover discreetly, slide off your coat and take your bags.
The wait staff is still just as unobsequious as in Greene’s day, which essentially means they do a great job serving you politely, promptly and impeccably. You’re in good hands here and you’ll be made to feel welcome and as an important a guest as any of the who’s who of diners listed above.
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photo: Chris Osburn