Rules Restaurant

London, England

Is Rules Restaurant London’s oldest restaurant?

Rules Restaurant 5
- James Petts

Discovering Rules Restaurant in London

Rules Restaurant in London’s Covent Garden, was established in 1798, making it only slightly younger than the United States. Since then, entrusted to the stewardship of just three families, it has outlasted nine British monarchs and is often referred to as London’s oldest restaurant.

Inside Rules, visitors are exposed to a rustic, old-world interior with framed paintings taking up every inch of the wall space and sumptuous red velvet, and dark wood furnishings.

Alongside its luxurious atmosphere, Rules has beckoned many celebrities over the years with its traditional British menu serving hearty pies, tender beef, and most famously, game dishes such as braised rabbit. Specialising in game dishes the restaurant sources their produce from their own estate, the Lartington Estate in Teesdale. Or, if it's a quiet drink in a stylish bar you’re after, head upstairs to the Winter Garden Cocktail Bar for a well-curated selection of spirits and cocktails!

Rules Restaurant 6
- James Petts

The History of Rules Restaurant

Established in 1798 by Thomas Rule, Rules Restaurant originated as a humble oyster bar catering to the Covent Garden market traders. Quickly garnering a reputation for its exceptional seafood – think freshly shucked oysters, lobster, and crab – and warm hospitality, the restaurant has evolved over the centuries to include more traditional British dishes.

However, the restaurant's history is not without controversy; Thomas Rule's involvement in a tragic incident led to his commitment to a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his wife, Isabella, and daughter, Elsie.

Despite this dark chapter, Rules remained in the Rule family's hands until World War I when Charles Rule exchanged businesses with Thomas Bell. Eventually, the restaurant found its way to the ownership of John Mayhew in 1984.

Rules Restaurant 4
- James Petts

Challenges were also posed by World War II, but thankfully the restaurant stood firm, withstanding the Blitz and continuing to serve its guests throughout. Even amidst wartime rationing, Rules managed to offer meals at five shillings apiece, alongside non-rationed game dishes such as rabbit, grouse, and pheasant, which remain staples on the menu to this day.

Rules Restaurant 2
- James Petts

Rules’ Famous Visitors

Throughout its existence Rules has established itself as an emblem of British culture, attracting many distinguished guests from actors like Henry Irving and Laurence Olivier to literary icons such as Charles Dickens and H.G. Wells. Alongside their general love of Rules, they knew (and highly esteemed guests continue to know) how discreet the staff are; heavily safeguarding and respecting their privacy.

Extending beyond the guest list, Rules has been depicted prominently in works of literature by celebrated authors like Graham Greene, Dick Francis, and Evelyn Waugh. This cultural significance has even transcended the written word, with Rules making memorable appearances in popular films such as James Bond's Spectre and several episodes of the acclaimed television series Downton Abbey.

Rules Restaurant
- Roger W

Adding to its silver screen performances, former head chef Rory Kennedy, known for his culinary prowess, found himself in a dramatic showdown on the television cooking series Iron Chef. Despite a valiant effort, Kennedy's life was cut short tragically after a fall from a flight of stairs following the competition.

Inside Rules Restaurant

Efforts to preserve the restaurant's original charm are evident in its decor, with collected Sketch Victorian artwork, oil paintings, and cartoons hanging in the main dining area and cocktail bar. Adorned with wood panelling and red leather chairs, Rules is charming and luxurious, ideal for a range of different events, from corporate dinners to wedding receptions.

Rules also features private dining rooms, which pay homage to the literary giants that once graced the establishment from Graham Greene to Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. The John Betjeman Room accommodates up to 8 guests for dining, while the Graham Greene Room comfortably seats up to 18 diners and hosts up to 25 for standing buffets and receptions.

The dedicated private dining team goes above and beyond to create bespoke menus and cocktails, provide place cards and printed menus, arrange fresh flowers, and ensure every event exceeds expectations.

Rules Restaurant 9
- Steve James

The Winter Garden Cocktail Bar at Rules

Upstairs, the newly-refurbished cocktail bar at Rules has plush red seating, hunting frieze, and a dark wood bar. With its own historical significance this elegant space was once a private dining spot for King Edward VII and his mistress, Lillie Langtry.

Today, guests can enjoy signature cocktails crafted by the legendary Brian Silva and his team. Among the favourites are "The Duchess of Cambridge," featuring pink pepper gin, vodka, and Lillet, and "The Duchess of Sussex," a blend of cognac, elderflower liqueur, and champagne nectar. And for those craving a taste of tradition, afternoon tea in the Winter Garden Cocktail Bar provides the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon of indulgence. After all, what sort of British restaurant would it be if you couldn't enjoy a spot of tea alongside your cocktails?

The Winter Garden Cocktail Bar has been recognised as one of London’s top bars, with the national press acknowledging its excellence in both drinks and service. For those looking to learn from the master, intimate Cocktail Masterclasses with Brian Silva are available for up to four people per class. These sessions provide a glimpse at basic bar techniques and the creation of classic cocktails. Participants also have the chance to craft their own bespoke drinks, making each class a personalised experience.

Rules Restaurant 1
- Steve James

Dining at Rules Restaurant

What once stood as a highly reputable seafood oyster bar has morphed into a culinary institution renowned for its focus on classic English-game cookery. Dishes like wild duck, grouse, and rabbit, sourced from Rules’ own Lartington Estate, served with traditional accompaniments like Cumberland sauce and game chips, keep patrons coming back time after time.

Despite its reputation for upmarket finery, Rules remains surprisingly affordable, offering iconic dishes such as steak-and-kidney pie for £21.95 and pan-roast breast of pheasant for £22.95. Vegetarians and vegans may find limited options, but for those seeking pheasant, partridge, hare, or venison, the menu delivers in abundance.

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- Sarah Stierch

When it comes to dessert, Rules stays true to tradition, serving up pure comfort in the form of sticky toffee pudding, golden syrup sponge, and apple and rhubarb crumble. All reminiscent of your mam’s classics.

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What you need to know

Rules Restaurant
35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden WC2E 7LB
51.510857, -0.123195
Official Website
Tips before you visit

Whilst suit and tie are not required, the restaurant prefers smart dress and anyone in sport wear will be turned away.