Thursday, 3 December 2009
Rules, Covent Garden (revisited)
I don't often do this. I have done this of course, occasionally, for restaurants which on return visits have proved themselves to have significantly improved, or at least shown that the first was an unfortunate fluke. And I don't subscribe to the (largely American, or at least New York) view that in order to fairly assess a restaurant you have to visit multiple times - nobody (at least nobody normal) obsessively visits a place twenty times just to check if it really is as crap as they think it is. If it's not good they will never go again, and if it is, they'll tell their mates about it. Restaurants are only as good as their last service, and I quite like that control factor - it seems fair and squarely based on the habits of the average punter.
But you'd think with a score of 9/10 there wouldn't be much need to re-review Rules. 9 is as near as dammit, and why not leave it at that - I'm only opening myself to criticism if someone pays a visit on the back of my glowing write-up and then doesn't enjoy every bit of it as much as I did.
Well, two reasons.
Firstly, I wanted to give Rules 10/10 after my first visit but stupidly thought that with El Bulli looming the week after I may need some room to manoeuvre. But as much as I would like to think the scores I give are "absolute", the universe in which the scoring system operates is essentially, necessarily as fickle as my own fads and preferences. "What if I think this restaurant is perfect, and then El Bulli is more perfect?" went the reasoning. It was a mistake to think like this in the first place - there's no shame in flexibility. And anyway who cares, it's not like an angry mob is going to burn my house down if I get it a point or two wrong. Get over yourself, Pople.
Secondly, and most importantly, Rules really is that good. Everything I've ordered and eaten myself, or nicked off someone else's plate over the two visits (possibly around 12-14 dishes in total) have been consistently, giddily delicious. Last weekend I went with a few friends for a birthday meal and tried first the Crisp Wild Rabbit, boasting robust flavours and some fantastic texture contrasts; the Pheasant Pie, a seasonal speciality shot through with earthy morel mushrooms and a tangy white wine sauce; and the Rib of Beef for Two, cooked absolutely perfectly and served with a spectacular 6" high Yorkshire Pudding. And of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to order the grouse again. I've gone on about this bird far too often already, so I'll just say this - it's probably the best thing I've ever eaten ever in my life. Let's leave it at that.
In the light of the recent "disclosure" controversies, and just to reassure anyone who doubts my own integrity (HA!), you can be sure this isn't any kind of PR-led fluff piece or freebie-fuelled reciprocation, because Rules doesn't employ a PR agency. It doesn't need one. It ticks over very nicely thank you very much, all year, without having to do anything other than carry on doing what they've been doing for the last 200+ years. The reason for Rules' astonishing success and longevity is hardly rocket science - the very best British ingredients, sensitively cooked with a respectful nod to history (it would be too much of a disservice to call the food at Rules "simple", as anyone who has ever tried to roast a grouse themselves and not have it end up inedibly tough will tell you) and with a superb bar upstairs manned by a handful of the best drinks makers in London. The perfect restaurant? As near as dammit.