October 13, 2009 / 3:32 PM / in 10 years

Tradition, writers and game at London's Rules

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It’s old, it’s grand and the food is traditional English. Rules restaurant carries on a 200-year-old tradition celebrated by authors, actors, the wealthy and diners keen on seasonal game.

Located at Covent Garden, the restaurant which bills itself as London’s oldest has been owned by only three families since the wayward Thomas Rules surprised his family by opening an oyster bar in 1798, which became popular with the British capital’s “rakes, dandies and superior intelligences...”

The dining institution where Graham Greene spent his birthdays and where heroine Sarah falls in love over a war-rationed plate of onions in Greene’s “The End of the Affair,” Rules has been reviewed by literary heavyweights such as Kingsley Amis, defended by former poet laureate John Betjeman and frequented by Edward VII and his lover Lillie Langtry.

Rules has public and private dining in its Betjeman and Greene rooms, a cocktail bar and an extensive game and English food menu that continues to appeal to the famous, literary and theatrical out for dinner in London’s West End.

“It’s still very much a green room,” said Rules Managing Director Ricky McMenemy. “So it’s very much used by the literary set and the theatrical set.”

He said the English country house feel of Rules is meant to recreate a gentle atmosphere that has been lost to much of modern life.

Sit down to steak and kidney pie in an environment that has also welcomed Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells, as well as appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, John Le Carré, Dick Francis, Penelope Lively and Claire Rayner.

The history of the English stage adorns the walls of a place that has hosted greats such as Laurence Olivier and film stars such as Buster Keaton, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore.

Drawings, paintings and cartoons on the walls have captured the lives of many of its patrons. Betjeman described the ground floor interior as “unique and irreplaceable, and part of literary and theatrical London.”

But don’t let all the famous hoopla bamboozle you to the other charms of Rules.

The restaurant owns its own country estate and offers a menu stuffed with game and which enjoys a royal connection.

Potted shrimp, Welsh rarebit, wild rabbit, game soup with quince jelly, oysters from heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall are just a few of the starters.

Main courses include the expected steak and kidney pie as well as beef, but also pheasant pie, pheasant curry, venison, lamb, hare, grouse, partridge, woodcock, snipe, teal, Dover sole and wild sea bass.

“We specialize in game,” McMenemy said. “We probably sell more game than any restaurant in the country.”

He said that Rules is also popular with tourists and does a thriving trade with professionals and the discreet diners of the aristocracy and establishment in its booths and private dining rooms named for Betjeman and Greene.


35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB


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