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11 January 2016

Stepping into History at Rules Restaurant

Dinner at Rules after the opera at Covent Garden

Thanksgiving weekend, a friend watched my daughter while I went to the movies. This is rare for me these days - I love movies, but since my daughter was born I usually reserve nonwork babysitting for live performances. In fact the two movies I've seen without her have been the two most recent James Bond movies, Skyfall and, this November, Spectre.

I love spy stories of all types. I particularly love how the recent James Bond movies with Daniel Craig combine adventure with a quite nuanced look at the moral ambiguities of the spy game. As I sat happily engrossed in the movie, I was mentally finding parallels between James Bond's spy game and that played by my Regency-era protagonists Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. And then the two worlds collided when Q and Moneypenny went to see M dining at Rules Restaurant.

Dinner after Spectre at the very California Farm Shop
I instantly recognized Rules from that opening shot, well before they left and camera caught the name on the door. On a trip to London I dined at Rules after a wonderful La Cenerentola at Covent Garden. It's not often a writer whose novels are set two hundred years ago dines at a restaurant where she can also set a scene in her books. Rules is the oldest restaurant in London. The restaurant, located in Maiden Lane in Covent Garden, appears to go back to Thomas Rule establishing an oyster house in 1798. You can read more of the history on the restaurant's website here.  Through it's two hundred year history, it has only been owned by three families. Just before World War I, Charles Rule, a descendant of Thomas, swapped businesses with Tom Bell, an Englishman who owned a Paris restaurant called the Alhambra. During World War II, Rules was reinforced with thick wood and only open from 1:00 - 3:00 pm. They could only offer rationed meals at 3 shillings but could offer profuse servings of rabbit, grouse, and pheasant, which were not rationed. In an era when many women stepped into what had been traditionally male jobs, they had a female head waiter. In 1984, Tom Bell's daughter sold the restaurant to John Mayhew, the present owner.

I recently rewatched season 5 of Downton Abbey to get ready for season 6 and noticed that Mary, Edith, Tom, and Rose have lunch at Rules just before Rose's wedding (it is there that Rose gets the set up pictures of her fiancé at his stag party). In my WIP, London Gambit (which just went off to the copy editor) one of the characters gives a supper party at Rules after his actress wife opens in a new production of Measure for Measure.

I highly recommend Rules if you're in London. I had a lovely meal there and the priceless experience of stepping into history - not to mention into one of my novels.

Have you eaten at Rules? Or other restaurants that figure in your favorite books?

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5 Comments:

Blogger Helena said...

I love Rules, although it's quite a while since I ate there (I no longer live in London). One of the things I liked about it was the sense of history.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Betty Strohecker said...

One of the things I love about historical fiction is reading about real places that once existed or still do. It makes the story come alive and I can dream of going there one day. You do that so well, Tracy. Can't wait to read about Rules in London Gambit. I would love to eat at Rules.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

You can really feel the history when you eat there, can't you, Helena? My waiting was really nice about answering my questions and finding a good place to take a picture of me!

Betty, thanks for the nice words! I love visiting places and trying to bring them to life in my books. Rules is definitely worth a visit. Wonderful ambiance and I had a lovely meal there too!

6:59 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I've never eaten at Rules, Tracy, but I have had drinks there in the upstairs bar. I also poked around and looked at some of the private rooms. It reminded me very much of Keen's here in New York, another one of my favorite restaurants, even though I don't eat meat.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

I'm very late to this post, but I wanted to mention that I once ate at Gage and Tollner, a famous old Brooklyn restaurant, opened in 1879. It's gone now, and unfortunately so are all the old fixtures and beautiful interior woodwork. It was a very formal and deluxe dining experience, and I remember having a delicious lobster bisque.

6:43 AM  

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