Given its history, the preconception of the venue ahead of our visit runs along the lines of a crusty, wood panelled gentlemen's club of old; we weren't disappointed. And if you think that after a few years your home has become a little 'busy' with knick-knacks, imagine what 200 years of collecting does; the walls are festooned with pictures, memorabilia and the preserved heads of dead animals.
And to top it all, for the Christmas season, out come the garlands, the lights and the baubles; even the deer heads get a scarf or a Santa hat. If you love Christmas, your inner child will giggle with delight, while if you're prone to 'humbug' you'll most likely do a runner at the first opportunity. Us? We love Christmas, and we loved being greeted inside the front door of Rules by a roaring log fire, and we loved the timelessness of it all.
Foodwise, it's not hard to guess where Rules positions itself, traditional British fare and meats, but the other delight of going at this time of the year is that Rules also specialises in game, and December is nicely placed within game season to enjoy both early season (Red Grouse) and late season (pheasant) game. What's more, the website for Rules is as busy as the walls of the dining room, and included within the content is a very useful guide to game. Here, not only do you learn that wild game contains 5% - 7% fat (lamb is 25%), but you also get a guide to the game season (where you learn that snipe is in season from 12th August to 31 January), and a descriptions of what's what (guiding you on the difference between teal and widgeon).
Nothing too exotic ordered on the starters with just a Caramelised Cox's apple salad with hazelnuts and Cropwell Bishop stilton, and a bowl of Cornish fish soup with crab and mullet. The soup bowl arrives empty with the soup then poured from its own pan at the table; Rules like doing things at the table it seems, more tradition. The fish soup was actually very good while the apple salad came with stilton as crusty as the restaurant and was enjoyed well enough also.
A medium sized wader with a long straight bill. Favours moist woodland with low cover and may be found throughout much of Britain. A dish fit for a king. Snipe and woodcock are rarely available over the counter or from game dealers so are highly prized.
Given that description, how could we resist? They also tell us that the bird is served with the head on, 'is that ok?' Why not. Another dish served at the table, it arrives in its own pan with crispy bacon, veg with lardons and parsnip chips. The bird sits on toasted brioche that has absorbed some of the bird's juices and is useful if you want to spread with the offal which is readily available inside the bird's carcass. Bread sauce and game sauce are brought to the table, and red currant sauce is also available if desired.
Not only is the Woodcock served with the head, but the head has been split down the middle offering up its brains for eating. Even its bill has been split down the middle and acts like a useful handle if you want to pick up the head and suck the brains out directly (I didn't). The woodcock meat itself is extremely gamey, I was amazed how much so in fact while the offal was twice as intense as the meat - wow. A sharper knife to help remove the meat from the bird would have been useful but I mostly got there in the end and it was great to enjoy something very different from the standard fare of most restaurants.
Rules has received plenty of bad reviews in its time. Kingsley Amis had little that was good to say about the place (Where disaster Rules) but even this is proudly displayed on the Rules website, after all, over the course of 200 years, Rules has outlived its critics and reviews, survived world wars, and emerged unscathed through every one of the many economic crises. And so Rules will undoubtedly be serving the best of British long after this critical-couple is fertilising soil, but for what it's worth, adding one more review to the pile, we loved it.
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