Gold Award

SquareMeal Review of Rules

Gold Award

“The oldest restaurant in London still does it well” say admirers of this immensely “comforting” piece of living history in the heart of Covent Garden. Regulars may claim to have “been coming here for years” but even the lifespan of its most loyal customer would be but a blink of the eye in Rules’ 222-year history.

The restaurant was founded by Thomas Rule as an oyster house on this Maiden Lane site in 1798 and has only been in the ownership of three families ever since. Its list of famous patron is equally as old school – think Charles Dickens and Charlie Chaplin – while the last celebrity to be spotted at Rules was probably when Downton’s Lady Edith lunched here.

Rules looks every inch the heritage act. Clocks chime on the quarter hour, their tinkling muffled by the crimson and gold carpets and the squeak and creak of the velvet that lines the ultra-discrete booths (no wonder Graham Greene set The End of the Affair here). It’s undeniably touristy, but slick service from staff for whom “nothing is too much trouble” and, especially, some top-notch cooking of “serious food – not fancy, just lovely” ensure that Rules is worth a visit even if you’re not in London just visiting.

The menu is a best-of-British run-down majoring in native oysters, Belted Galloway beef, pies – fish, or chicken, leek and mushroom – and what the place is most famous for: game in season, brought down from the restaurant’s own Teesdale estate in County Durham and washed down for preference with something red from the Rhone-speciality wine list.

Belt-loosening classics of the sort you rarely see any more are the best things to eat here. Steak and kidney pudding disgorging its steaming, gravy-enrobed morsels from within a suet crust, say, or classic puds such as a shimmering syrup sponge served with custard poured from a silver boat are typical of the “hearty English food served in great surroundings”.

Lighter appetites, meanwhile, are accommodated by the likes of dressed crab as white as snow, creamy scallops with a wintry salad of celeriac and apple or Dover sole, grilled or meunière and seamlessly filleted from the bone.

It won’t be to everyone’s s taste (or budget) but, say fans, “nowhere tops Rules” – “no wonder this restaurant has survived hundreds of years”.

Good to know

Average Price
££££ - £50 - £79
Cosy, Luxury, Quiet conversation, Quirky, Romantic, Traditional, Unique, Widely spaced tables
Food Occasions
Dinner, Lunch, Sunday roast
Special Features
Wheelchair access
Perfect for
Birthdays, Celebrations, Child friendly, Romantic, Special occasions
Food Hygiene Rating


Nostalgic, traditional, and full of pomp, this splendidly antiquated institution purrs along like a vintage Rolls Royce, serving the kind of Bulldog British food that makes tourists dewy-eyed with admiration. Specialising in game, oysters, puddings and pies, Rules' menu isn't designed with vegetarians in mind, but one would expect nothing less from London's oldest restaurant.

Opened by Thomas Rule in 1798, Rules would no doubt still be familiar to former patrons such as Charles Dickens, who looks down over the plush, panelled dining room from walls crowded with old sketches and paintings. A wonderfully soothing atmosphere pervades the whole place – no wonder several scenes from TV’s Downton Abbey were filmed here.

There’s consistency across the board and quality is guaranteed, especially if you are feasting on confidently rendered staples such as Dorset crab salad, chicken and ham hock pie or roast tranche of turbot with hollandaise. Game from the restaurant’s Lartington Estate is a real draw in season, when specials such as braised pheasant with lentils or roast grouse with game chips, bread sauce and redcurrant jelly make their time-honoured appearance.

Desserts are mostly dear old friends such as bread and butter pudding and apple crumble – all served with custard, naturally – while the wine list is stuffed with bottles from Old World producers. There are also various house cocktails dedicated to royal spouses, including The Duchess of Sussex.

Expect to be treated like an old friend from the moment you're greeted by the top-hatted doorman to the moment you leave, sated and satisfied with a big smile on your face, whistling Rule, Britannia! under your breath. 


35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7LB

020 7836 5314 020 7836 5314


Opening Times

All day
Mon 12:00-22:30
Tue 12:00-22:30
Wed 12:00-22:30
Thu 12:00-22:30
Fri 12:00-23:30
Sat 12:00-23:30
Sun 12:00-22:30


Share your thoughts with other diners

Write a review

25 Reviews 


10 January 2023  
Food & Drink 1.5
Service 3.5
Atmosphere 2
Value 2

Visited at lunchtime.  Main course steak and kidney pudding inedible. Pudding dry, like marzipan. After complaint was not charged. Welcome but not the point. However food obviously not cooked to order and wine list ridiculously expensive to accompany what was on offer.  Pleasant surroundings but the establishment is taking the mickey out of the public.  Won't be coming back.

Colin M

26 July 2019  
Hearty English food in great surroundings.


28 June 2019  
Great service, food and taste of old world dining.


28 June 2019  
Always special. Great food and service. Wonderful atmosphere and a comforting place to spend an evening. Wherever else I eat, nowhere tops Rules.

Claudia F

28 June 2018  
Always great quality food, nice wine list, excellent service, traditional decor, confortable tables, typical English ambience, fair price.

Jane T

27 June 2018  
I've recently had the great pleasure of eating at both The Ivy (Covent Garden) and Rules. Of the two - I much prefer Rules! The Ivy is a place to see and be seen and holds a level of tension (to me, at least). Rules is a place to relax, have great food and wine, and while away the time in comfort. Such a wonderful environment - you feel like you belong there and it's very easy to imagine yourself 300yrs ago doing exactly the same thing! The food is excellent, the wine list very good, the staff unobtrusive but there when you need them, and the prices are not ridiculous. You feel special, eating at Rules - you feel like a special and honoured guest. I will be going again!

Neil S

27 June 2018  
Quality always guaranteed.

Louise C

30 May 2017  
Timeless classic, can't go wrong.

paul W

11 May 2017  
Great food and ambience.

Julie C

05 May 2017  
As the oldest restaurant in London, Rules combines history and old-fashioned British charm with impeccable service, traditional dishes (their steak and kidney pie is to die for), and game from their own estate at reasonable prices. You just cannot beat a meal at this wonderful restaurant if you are looking for an English restaurant.
Book a table

Call Rules to make a booking on:

020 7836 5314 020 7836 5314

Visit their website

Sorry, you cannot spend SquareMeal vouchers here yet.

Other restaurants we like near Rules

Big Easy Covent Garden
Covent garden

Big Easy Covent Garden

Benihana Covent Garden
Covent Garden

Benihana Covent Garden

Cinnamon Bazaar
Covent Garden

Cinnamon Bazaar

Check availability