Rules is the restaurant where Edward VII ate himself to death and, in a way, it looks like him. It is spacious and regal and covered in velvet. His personal dining room upstairs is a cocktail bar now, with a lump of Stilton as focal point and memorial. Downstairs there are stags’ heads and a painting of Margaret Thatcher as Britannia, with pointy breasts. From a distance, it looks as if she is topless.
The customers are the sort of people who like to watch powerful women topless. That is, they are powerful men, in groups or, quite often, alone. Rules has single booths for these lonely creatures — well, they can accommodate two small people, or one very fat man, and it is always one very fat man who is there, wiping the blood from his mouth with a blinding white napkin. They all have grey hair and grey suits and grey newspapers. But the waiters are camp, and this leavens the atmosphere; should a psychotic customer attack you, a melodramatic waiter would throw himself in its path, screaming ‘No’. There are also tourists who have lost The Lion King and seem bewildered, and toffs, who come here because the menu, with its lumps of meandering cow, reminds them of home.
Rules has been here since 1798. I once tried to calculate how many cows had been slaughtered for its kitchen, but when I got to 77,000 I gave up. They specialise in British Food. Not Crappy Modern British Food with its insincerities and collusions and fears — yes, I’m comparing Rules, though very subtly, to Nick Clegg, who I would quite like to eat, and fiscally speaking, may soon have to — but proper, earthy, beastlike british food. The type of food that would, were it still alive as it came to the table, eat you and then lick its own face, bellowing and snorting like a newspaper editor.
So, here we have the Disney Pantheon — hare, deer, woodcock, pheasant and pigeon. It is solidly but not thrillingly done — too much flair and we wouldn’t be in England. We’d be in France and that would be awful.
My beef on the bone is dense and pink; the blood explodes in my mouth. It is not brown, which is good, because people who like their beef well done should be made to eat tyres. It comes with a yorkshire pudding so tall I can’t really see the restaurant beyond it. It is like going blind but eating the blindness. The blindness is soft, light, crunchy; a meringue without sugar, the size of a phobia. The potatoes dauphinoise are gurgling with butter and cream. The carrots are plain and steaming – proper carrots, not pretentious ones, because some vegetables just need to be left alone.
My friend Paul, who is a comedian, eats a woodcock. It comes on a silver platter, and it has a head. It looks completely revolting and he turns it over and fillets the organs, because he is half mad. He says he loves it. I have never been afraid of him before.
Pudding is saner, because I am not chewing my bones, like Jeffrey Dahmer, and Paul is not eating a liver, like Hannibal Lecter. Is there a connection between the love of kings for this restaurant and the way we devour living things here? It feels tyrannical and visceral. I have golden syrup pudding — a dome of sponge doused in custard; pure sugar, uncut. Paul has a too-big slab of lemon meringue pie and we can almost smell the flame-thrower that burnt the meringue. They leave the food alone here, which is why it comes to you almost snarling; it feels more like death than eating, as Edward VII would know.
Do I recommend this restaurant? From a pool of blood I say — yes.