Rules may be my absolute favourite London restaurant. Which is why we took a 400 mile round trip on the train. Just to have lunch – there and back in the day. There would be many who would think that was plain daft – and, in truth, I wouldn’t really disagree with them. But it was a heck of a fun day.
As befitting the capital’s oldest restaurant, nothing has changed since we were last here. The same efficient, if formal, service. The room decorated with Victorian/Edwardian era photographs and prints. And, at the beginning of the festive season, the decoration was enhanced by extravagant swags of autumn greenery and Christmas lights – it looked lovely. And the same style of menu – traditional British foods cooked in a modern way. And, at this time of year, nothing says “British food” more than game – the main courses including wild duck, venison, pheasant and partridge, along with traditional favourites such as steak & kidney pudding (with or without oysters).
Potted shrimps were an excellent example of the northwestern classic. The shrimps bound with a shellfish flavoured butter and served with a little salad of watercress, pea shorts and fennel. The other starter was a well favoured pork terrine, using the endangered rare breed Middle White. There’s prunes cooked through the centre of the pate, providing a sweet counterpoint to the rich fatty meat. Cornichons decorate the plate as a sharp contrast. It all works and we both slather our starters onto toast.
Then there was a roasted crown of wild duck, cooked perfectly to medium rare but, disappointingly, no crispy skin. Puy lentils and braised chicory provide earthy accompaniments and a few slices of pickled pear give it a lift. A generous portion of cod, pan fried I think, was dressed with a creamy brown butter sauce. There’s more cornichons for piquancy; croutons for crunch and creamed potato for comforting softness. We both felt the plates needed a little more so ordered some buttered cabbage and dauphinoise spuds.
We’ll often pass on desserts but we’d travelled 200 miles for this lunch, so we were not going away short changed. Apple & pear crumble would have happily fed both of us but was happily hoovered up by the one it was served to. Lovely bit of cooked fruit in the bottom of the dish, topped with the crumble mix which included chopped nuts. And, in a plate reminiscent of school dinners of our childhood, a steamed syrup sponge. Lovely sponge surrounded by a lake of syrup sauce and a quenelle of double cream. And there’s a jug of excellent custard to pour over both plates – just as there should be.
We finished with espresso, hot and strong, before we waddled away in the direction of Neals Yard Dairy, just the other side of the market, to buy some cheese. During our various lockdowns, we’ve been buying cheese online from them, so it was nice to be able to get into the shop again. We didnt need too much - my Christmas online order is already in with them. So, just a bit of Gubbeen. And something properly oozy and ready to eat. They had a sampling cheese on the counter and it was delish - but they went to check and found they’d run out. So, they gave me the hardly used sample cheese, free of charge, which was really generous of them, I thought. Deffo one to keep an eye open for it coming back into stock - https://www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk/products/st-cera?_pos=8&_sid=a2e7aa80b&_ss=r