Rules – London, England - Gastro Obscura

Founded in 1798 by Thomas Rule, Rules is now widely considered to be London’s oldest restaurant. It has spanned the reigns of nine British monarchs and is only slightly younger than the United States. And in all that time, Rules has been owned by only three families.

The restaurant has been operated continuously since it opened. Not even World War II could shake the resolve of Rules: The owners reinforced the structure with thick wooden planks to guard against the Blitz, and served the compulsory rationed meals at five shillings apiece, as well as non-rationed game such as rabbit, grouse, and pheasant, which remain on the menu to this day.

Over the years, many a stalwart of British culture has dined at Rules. Notable regulars once included Henry Irving, Laurence Olivier, Charles Dickens, and H.G. Wells, and the restaurant has appeared in novels by literary luminaries such as Graham Greene, Dick Francis, and Evelyn Waugh.

More recently, Rules has appeared in the James Bond film Spectre (a scene which sees M, Q, and Moneypenny meet at the restaurant) and in three episodes of Downton Abbey. Many more stars have undoubtedly eaten at Rules, but the management and staff are famously discreet.

As you may have already guessed, Rules is a bastion of Britishness. For some, especially the younger crowd in England’s capital, it might come across as too stuffy (the restaurant’s large mural of Margaret Thatcher in a full suit of armor doesn’t exactly cry “liberal hipster street-cool”). But if you’re growing tired of fancy fusions, juniper lattes, and meat-free “bleeding” burgers, Rules’s old-school sensibilities might just be a breath of fresh air.

The menu focuses heavily on classic English-game cookery, including partridge, venison, wild duck, rabbit, oysters, pies, and puddings. And if you think all this historic, upmarket finery is going to cost a fortune, you’d be wrong. Rules is surprisingly affordable, at least by London standards: You can get a steak-and-kidney pie for £21.95 (about $28) or a pan-roast breast of pheasant for £22.95 ($30).

Head upstairs and you’ll find the restaurant’s newly-refurbished cocktail bar, with its plush red seating and dark wood bar. This was once King Edward VII’s favored spot for clandestine liaisons with his mistress Lillie Langtry. Today you can relax in the sumptuous surroundings with “The Duchess of Cambridge” (a cocktail of pink pepper gin, vodka, and Lillet) or “The Duchess of Sussex” (cognac, elderflower liqueur, and champagne nectar), or simply kick back with Guinness on draft—served in a silver tankard, of course.

Know Before You Go

Rules is located halfway down Maiden Lane, between The Strand and Covent Garden.

The dress code doesn’t require a jacket or tie, but smart dress is preferred. Anyone in shorts or sportswear will not be allowed in. 

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