Amongst her many inane witterings, Kate Moss once said that she lives by the motto that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”. She has obviously never tasted grouse.
I am sure that the Daily Heil would argue that the Croydon Cretin’s utterance has led to an increase in teenage anorexia, rioting in her home town in protest and foreigners taking our jobs purely out of spite, rather than us Brits being too lazy to plaster a wall. Frankly I don’t care: Ms. Moss, who’s sole addition to the sum of human knowledge is to look good topless, will no doubt be a young, beautiful and (aided by the cocaine and fags she has ingested) very skinny corpse. I, on the other hand, intend to die old, fat and curmudgeonly, having partaken of as much fine food and quality wine as I can afford. Grouse is top of my list, grouse season is upon us and, despite other reservations about Rules, they sure know how to cook the succulent young birds.
The splendid thing about Rules is that it has withstood the ravages of food fashion through the centuries. Pretenders and pretentions have come and gone, but Rules remains true to its British roots: all steak and kidney pud and game.
The room itself is a splendidly ornate affair, oft seen in Parisian brasseries, but rarely seen in London. Lots of stained glass and lots of pictures of hunting parties, displayed en masse, like the smaller rooms at the Summer Exhibition, accompany antlers. Lots and lots of antlers.
Service is of the old fashioned sort; stiff rather than rude, formal rather than brusque, but certainly a lot friendlier than I remember, and others seem to have had. The wine list too is traditional: on the red side there is little of that New World stuff, just good old-fashioned Burgundy, Bordeaux and Rhone. The white is more interesting, with Austria, Greece and some out of the way French regions, mingling with the Chablis and Grand Cru Burgundy. I often find this with what I’d term Red Wine Restaurants. You know, ones where you want meat rather than fish. They will then go and put some interestingly tempting whites on the list, just to throw you.
Undeterred by this onslaught of white wines, it was grouse that I came for and grouse that I had. Now I know my grouse. And the Rules’ ones are pretty fine fellows, done the traditional way: roast with bread sauce (I can do without the redcurrant jelly. I have never seen the attraction of fruit with meat, other than perhaps Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston) and, perhaps a nod to modernism, some parsnip shavings rather than game chips (posh crisps to you and me). For me, the bread sauce needs to be a bit thicker: it shouldn’t coat the back of a spoon, it should hold it upright. This is but a small trifle of a complaint, mind you, when the juicily beast, perfectly pink breasted, is the main show, brought to the table in its own copper platter, bits of thyme protruding from its derrière, a crisp bit of fried bread with the beast’s innards pated on top.
I shouldn’t forget, in my grouse musings, to mention both the starter and the desert, and indeed my companion’s pie. My Desert Island Discs’ luxury (along with a record player, which it always seems odd that nobody is offered; if I have six records, at least let me have something to play them on) would be a meal starting with potted prawn, moving through roast grouse and ending with stilton. They are all here at Rules.
The prawn is good, not the best, lacking a little in punch, missing a bit of nutmeg. The stilton, however, is magnificent: when it says stilton, that is what you get. A whole stilton and a spoon. And should you not fancy game, the pies are a joy. Juicy, packed with beef, kidneys and lots of gravy, with a crunchy/chewy crust. No mere jus here; no thick, highly flavoursome and most definitely gravy.
Rules isn’t, and I’d guess never will be, the most hip of places to go: if you want hip in Maiden Lane, go to Da Polpo opposite. If you want good, British food, in convivial surroundings, it is hard to beat and, with the addition of the bar upstairs, a great, club like place to sip a cocktail before.