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Getting an eyeful of an old bird's backside

Published 5 August 2007
News Review
733rd article



Here's a quiz for you. What London restaurant, which has been going since 1798, was frequented by Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, HG Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier and Graham Greene?

Not got it? Here's a clue, John Betjeman, when poet laureate, described the ground-floor room interior as a "unique and irreplaceable part of literary and theatrical London". No, it's not Moishe's fish and chip shop in Golders Green Road. That's a really stupid suggestion. It's Rules in Maiden Lane, situated behind the Adelphi theatre.

Since you did so miserably with my first question, here's another. What lady, known to you, performed as a dancer in the show Summer Song in her first of many West End appearances? Whoever said Mrs Thatcher is a moron. It was the ever lovely Geraldine Lynton-Edwards, ace Sunday Times photographer and fiancee of some absolute horror whose name I will not mention.

Ms GLE accompanied me on my first visit to Rules on a recent Saturday lunchtime. I looked in vain for a major literary figure (there being no mirrors, I couldn't see myself) or even a movie star or theatrical knight. Only a few bedraggled tourists sitting in what is indeed a stunningly preserved interior. Mind you, not preserved from 1798. The stuffed birds, stags' heads with antlers, and profusion of oil paintings and old prints look more Victorian to me.

We were met at the door by a man who might have been wearing a frock coat and who exuded old-fashioned charm. I said: "I've never been here before." He replied: "I've been here for ever." This turned out to be 19 years. He was Terry Wood, the maitre d'.

We settled at a table with a stuffed pheasant on a ledge above who was facing the doorway. So I had an uninterrupted view of its arse. The waitress said the mineral water was Irish. "Do you just have that one?" I asked. "Or from the Thames," was the reply. "Great sense of humour here," I dictated into my machine.

When it arrived it turned out the water was Scottish, not Irish. It was called Speyside Glenlivet premium Scottish quality. Not bad, not good, I noted.

It's an old-fashioned English menu. "Have you got any grouse today?" I asked Terry. "I haven't, it's not in season yet," he responded, thus putting me in my place. Some melba toast and white bread arrived. The white bread was beyond belief horrific. Chewy, sagging, horrible, horrible, horrible. One of my previous employers, the wonderful Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, told me: "You can always judge a restaurant by the bread." In that case Rules was stone dead.

Geraldine ordered foie gras terrine with smoked duck, rillettes and elderflower jelly, followed by hot wild Tay salmon with sorrel, morel mushrooms and roasted shallots. I took from "to-day's specials" stilton and watercress soup and then cottage pie with melted Montgomery cheddar.

I said to Terry: "When I rang to make a reservation the person who answered the phone said they'd have to check. And then came back and said, 'Yes'. What was all that about, you're practically empty?" Terry agreed it was odd.

My soup was British Rail 1953, which is no great insult as 1953 was a good year for British Rail soup. Geraldine pointed to her foie gras and said: "That's foie gras." It didn't look like roast pork to me. She liked it.

My shepherd's pie was okay, not as good as one I got at home a few days later.

Geraldine greatly enjoyed her salmon. For dessert I chose golden treacle sponge pudding with warm vanilla custard. It came also with clotted cream. It was pleasant but, as always, there wasn't enough golden treacle. I usually ask for extra in a jug, but on this occasion I forgot.

The service was very slow. The gap between starter and main course went on for ever. They advertise post-theatre suppers. "Just as well they don't do pre theatre suppers," I remarked, "if they did no one would get there until the intermission."

Geraldine saw some chips going by and said: "They look homemade." It turned out they were. That's rare today. For our photo I asked Terry to bring over a stuffed pheasant perched opposite us. He gave it a tug. "It's screwed down in case they fly away," he reported. So I settled for two stuffed snipe birds.

On the menu it said: "Complimentary soft drinks served, if you have a car and driver waiting for you. Please inform your waiter." I forgot to do that. Could have saved a bob or two on the mineral water. I guess it won't make a significant difference to my financial position.



Michael's missives

Surely expecting the sommelier to be interested in your Evian water (Winner's Dinners, last week) is like expecting a restaurant critic to be interested in your column.
James Hibbert, Nottingham

To escape Michael Winner I went to the Hotel Sacher, Salzburg. Among very talented people's photos in the foyer - shock horror - Michael Winner with three females. At least Bill Clinton only chose two! Where haven't you been? The readers need to know.
Paul Harman, Cornwall

While in Tuscany I visited one of your favourites, the Villa San Michele, near Florence. They charged E10.67 (Pounds 7.19) for one 75cl bottle of San Pellegrino. Surely the most expensive sparkling water in the world!
Malcolm Miller, London

Having studied the photo of you and the chef with David Mellor at Bibendum (Winner's Dinners, July 22) my theory is you are no longer with us on this planet. The Sunday Times replaced you with a wax model from Madame Tussauds. And Ken Dodd writes your reviews. Fish and chips from Bibendum indeed! What's wrong with Brian's in Headingley?
Leo Armitage, Sunderland

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