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In the year Napoleon opened his campaign in Egypt, Thomas Rule promised his despairing family that he would say goodbye to his wayward past and settle down. No sooner said than he opened an oyster bar in Convent Garden. To the surprise and disbelief of his family, his enterprise proved to be not only successful but lasting.
Contemporary writers were soon singing the praises of Rules’ "porter, pies and oysters", and remarking on the "rakes, dandies and superior intelligences who comprise its clientele".
Rules still flourishes, the oldest restaurant in London and one of the most celebrated in the world.
In over 200 years, spanning the reigns of nine monarchs, it has been owned by only three families . . . just before The Great War, Charles Rule, a descendant of the founder, was thinking of moving to Paris; by sheer coincidence he met Tom Bell, a Briton who owned a Parisian restaurant called the Alhambra, and the two men decided to swap businesses. (During the war Tom Bell was an officer in the Royal Flying Corps, and left the running of the restaurant to Charlie, the Head Waiter, who had served Charles Rule for many years.)
In 1984 Tom Bell’s daughter sold Rules to John Mayhew, the present owner. Today Rules seats around 90 people and employs 90 staff .
Rules serves the traditional food of this country at its best – and at affordable prices. It specialises in classic game cookery, oysters, pies and puddings. Rules is fortunate in owning an estate in the High Pennines, “England’s last wilderness”, which supplies training in game management for the staff, exercising its own quality controls and determining how the game is treated.
Throughout its long history the tables of Rules have been crowded with writers, artists, lawyers, journalists and actors. As well as being frequented by great literary talents – including Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Galsworthy and H G Wells – Rules has also appeared in novels by Rosamond Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, John Le Carré, Dick Francis, Penelope Lively and Claire Rayner.
The actors and actresses who have passed through Rules are legion. Down the decades Rules has been an unofficial “green room” for the world of entertainment from Henry Irving to Laurence Olivier, and the history of the English stage adorns the walls. The sibling art of the cinema has contributed its own distinguished list of names including Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel, Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore
The past lives on at Rules and can be seen on the walls all around you – captured in literally hundreds of drawings, paintings and cartoons. The late John Betjeman, then Poet Laureate, described the ground floor interior as “unique and irreplaceable, and part of literary and theatrical London”.