EATING OUT / Lessons from a professional: Rules

I suppose the high point of the evening, dramatically, came when Catherine, the French waitress at Rules, asked Sir Terence Conran if he'd enjoyed the Welsh rarebit.

Welsh rarebit was not on the menu; he'd asked for it specially just to test their adaptability and he said he had not enjoyed it. He said it with all the charm in the world, having taken a great liking to Catherine and practically offered her a job at Quaglino's, one of his own restaurants, but he told her he thought the Welsh rarebit was 'flabby'.

The word floored her for a bit - she had only recently arrived in England - so she went to fetch a more senior member of the staff, an elegant Englishwoman, who agreed abso-lutely. It was definitely flabby; she was going to discuss it with the cook. A few seconds later she was back. The cook had tasted it and said it was not only flabby, it was abso-lutely disgusting. Everyone roared with laughter and Terence said he thought they'd handled it all extremely well.

My purpose in dragging Sir Terence into this column, apart from wanting to have dinner with an old friend and hero, was to try and learn a bit more about the craft. I was recently congratulated by a professional commentator on food, rather ironically I thought at the time, on my work in the 'new naive school of restaurant criticism', and such compliments have a way of rankling.

I suggested that we should go to Rules because, when we were young, it represented the old tradition, an establishment founded in 1798 and with Edwardian brass escutcheons outside offering game and wine and cigars - still there today, almost worn away with years of polishing. Terence remembered eating in Rules as a real treat in the Fifties Since then the Revolution, in which he played such a leading part, has swept through, leaving the old citadels of traditional English food like Rules and Simpson's in the Strand re-examining their laurels.

Rules has, since a recent change in ownership, been subtly tarted up. The old cartoons and sporting prints still hang thick on the walls, the red velvet curtains and banquettes are still there, but post-Edwardian displays of dried flowers have now been introduced - one huge oval mirror is entirely framed in them - and the old single-sheet menu is encased in laminated plastic. Terence was appalled by the cutlery - stainless steel semi- ornate mock Edwardian and, according to him, the cheapest available - and Catherine, the French waitress, punched our order into a little hand-held computer.

This meant that when the food came the waiter had to ask who was having what: old-fashioned waiters, my guest explained, make a little map on their notebooks and then go and punch the order into a computer somewhere more discreet.

He ordered a dry martini before we started. Both Vicky, his radiant companion, and I agreed after taking a sip that it was a bit warm and watery and we got down to laughing at the menu. It offers Feathered Game, Furred Game, Freshwater & Sea Fish, all set in a bold Edwardian typeface, flanked rather incongruously by references to Credit Cards, Pre-Theatre Specials and a reminder that Game is 'Free Range, Low in Fat'.

Terence ordered half a dozen oysters and jugged hare, Vicky asked for potted shrimps and steak and kidney pudding and I had an un-Edwardian starter of mango and avocado salad - this was dismissed by my guest as 'sounding like Food from Hell' - followed by teal from the Feathered Game list. The wine list is short and very reasonably priced and I ordered a bottle of Fleurie at pounds 15.85.

When I asked the great restaurateur to taste the sauce on the double fan of mango and avocado he said it was sunflower oil put in a mixer along with something out of a tin. The oysters got a lukewarm response, unlike the battered stainless steel platter they came in, whose design appalled him, and the potted shrimps were passed as all right.

We then had a mild argument about behaviour in restaurants, my guest taking a more liberal line on exuberance than I expected. He warmly recalled a night long ago at the Meridiana, in the Fulham Road, when some slob of a television presenter, enthralling two lady guests, had inadvertently splashed an Italian mafioso with bolognese sauce and the Italian had emptied a bowl of seafood in the presenter's crutch. Terence had just got to his feet to demonstrate what one of the presenter's ladies had done to the Italian with a butter dish when the main courses arrived.

Surprisingly, the jugged hare got a good notice: even the steak and kidney pudding was good, though not as good, Vicky said loyally, as the steak and kidney pudding at Terence's own Chop House on Butler's Wharf. My teal, which came with a parsnip and potato puree, was very good indeed. The only thing that really drove Terence mad was the redcurrant sauce. It came, he was convinced, out of some vast plastic drum.

Then Vicky very nobly had a crack at the toffee pudding, which she put somewhere in the upper beta class. I ordered an apple charlotte, which I thought in my naive way was fine, and Terence asked for his Welsh rarebit. I notice from the bill that we then had two glasses of port.

We certainly talked for a long time very happily about the old days and Terence's early endeavour with the Soup Kitchens in the Fifties and how it had been the gays who had got the food revolution going in the first place and we rolled out into the street full of good cheer to go and look at the worn old brass escutcheons. I asked what he'd thought of it. 'In theatrical terms? Great set, wonderful performances, shame about the play.'

His dinner and mine, with the drinks, came to pounds 74.60 plus the tip.

Rules 35 Maiden Lane, London WC2 7LB. Tel: 071-836 5314 Open noon to midnight Monday to Saturday, noon to 10.30pm Sundays. Average price for lunch and dinner, without wine, pounds 27. American Express, Visa, Access

Suggested Topics
News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss