Saturday, 11 December 2010
Rules Restaurant in London is one of the finest culinary experiences available to an individual of Edwardian inclinations (described as a haven of "porter, pies and oysters"), but sadly it is one that I have not yet experienced. The reasons for this are a bit inexplicable, despite having spent large blocks of time in the Imperial Metropolis. It is certainly not down to lack of desire, but perhaps lack of will, or more particularly the lack of the right dining companion(s) at the right time.
The Restaurant, tucked away on quiet Maiden Lane (steps away from the less grand, but equally iconic, Maple Leaf Pub replete with stereotypical Canadiana -- canoes, replica grizzly bears, models of lumerjacks and the like) is the oldest in the city. It opened in 1798, and has passed through relatively few hands since, maintaining the sterling quality of its food, ambiance, and service.
As stated in the history section of the Restaurant's website, it has long been "crowded with writers, artists, lawyers, journalists and actors. As well as being frequented by great literary talents – including Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells – Rules has also appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, John Le Carré, Dick Francis, Penelope Lively and Claire Rayner."
Edward VII, for whom the Edwardian age was named -- and no stranger to a surfeit of fine food and drink -- was a regular habitué. Great actors of the stage and screen such as Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, and John Barrymore have also eaten there. The literary and theatrical history of the restaurant lives on in the series of sketches, pictures, and caricatures that line the walls. [Below]
[Pictures property of Rules Restaurant, Rules website: www.rules.co.uk]
Today, Rules is commonly described as one of the prime servers of "British food," which often becomes conflated with ideas about modernity versus "tradition." No matter how pleasurable the experience of Rules, I would dispute the notion that "British food" somehow equals "tradition" or "the old." British food does not merely consist of rich Edwardian dishes of game, sausage, meat, oysters, and thick cream sauces. The spirit of Rules and hearty British food lives, necessarily diffused, in other locales -- some dark-paneled and traditional, others bright, airy and modern. No other cuisine is so relentlessly pigeonholed into some particular notion of aesthetic appeal; nor should British food be. Nevertheless Rules remains the gold standard of this ideal, and one day -- soon one hopes -- the Idle Historian will partake of it and report back with pleasure.