THOMAS Rule was committed to an asylum after murdering his wife and daughter, or so says Wikipedia, unusually, as an unattributed factoid. His oyster bar is first mentioned in 1798 and was taken over by his son or grandson Benjamin who married Hannah Green whose family came, propitiously, from the oyster estuary at Denge on the Blackwater in Essex. By 1828 he agreed a rent of £5/13s/9d. At the time Maiden Lane was a cut through from the market garden of Covent Garden to the abbey at Westminster and was haunt for all the traders, as it would be for notables such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray and later for the soon to be Edward VII who entertained his mistress Lily Langtry. Maiden Lane has its own history beyond its obvious links to the nearby theatres. Turner’s father’s babershop was a neighbour, the first offices of the nascent British Communist Party was here. And Europe’s first recording studio opened in 1898. All this weight of history is framed across the walls of the old building, as each generation since then has left its imprimatur in oils, graphics, cartoons, caricatures to the point that it is now so crowded there is hardly any room left for any generation X, Z or Y.
Over the years it has been all things to all people from Downton Abbey – this is where Michael takes Edith to discuss the magazine; there is an appearance in James Bond’s Spectre. The poet John Betjman led a campaign to save the old building from developers but that has not stopped other brands moving in and hunkering around the old lady as if hoping to share its allure, although how many of the mob handed tourists that rejoice in the local retail is moot.
Rules was one of very few restaurants that stayed open through the Blitz circumventing strict rationing laws by its contacts with the country estates, hence the jugged hare, the game that still feature on the menu. Lunch was £5.
These days the oysters are no longer from Essex, but from Jersey and Rossmore. Roast beef is £45 a head, minimum two people, so £90. For wine there is a leaning towards the Rhone.
All of which perhaps puts it beyond criticism. And if you stay with the pies and the traditional puddings, it remains there. Plus the starters are mainly ingredient led icons like Devon smoked eel, Dorset crab, smoked salmon from Lodge on the Hebrides, all impeccably sourced.
The chicken and mushroom and leek pie is dainty in its little paper casing, and a crumble of apple and blackcurrants served, of course with a salver of English custard, are both superb echoes of another era.
Other shoves towards modernity are not so accomplished. Sops to fashions like sourdough instead of toast seem rather gauche both in conception and execution. The lauded grouse succumbed to a laissez faire bowing down to the laws of mass tourism and the potted shrimp are now just potted mousse. You are forewarned. Enjoy the history. Btw…the glorious old bar takes walk ins, if you have not booked weeks ahead.