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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
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.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why