Restaurant review: Rules

Who goes to Rules on a summer Saturday night, I asked myself. The oldest restaurant in Britain, specialising in robust English cuisine, Rules is a draw, I guess, mainly for those wishing to impress a client from overseas with a long winter lunch. Nevertheless, when we visited some weeks ago it was fully booked - we got almost the last sitting, at 9.30pm. Maiden Lane in Covent Garden was drunk and disorderly; surveying the mayhem, Rules's facade looked doughty and prim. Inside, lacquered ceiling fans whirred amid a mixture of British and transatlantic accents.

The impressive menu reads like a map of the British Isles. Game, for which Rules is famous, comes from Lartington, the restaurant's estate in the High Pennines; lamb and crab from Devon; rabbit from Lincolnshire; oysters from the Duchy of Cornwall; fish from Scotland.

After a generously-sized glass of house champagne (which turned out, less generously at £8.50 a glass, to be Blanc de Blanc Brut by Michel Lorain), we dove into some retro starters - oysters mornay and smoked salmon. Both were perfectly decent, although my companion regretted he hadn't chosen Prince Charles's oysters au naturel, instead of smothered in a rich cheddar sauce. We washed this down with a sprightly but slightly too warm glass of Chapel Down Tenterden Estate, an English white we ordered despite our Polish waiter's disdain. He was quick to recommend the steak and ale pie though. My companion had roasted Hebridean salmon, with lobster mash. The pie was a nice size, with a decently browned crust and good thick gravy, although the carrots were greasy. The salmon was overcooked and the lobster mash congealed.

We debated whether we were too disappointed for dessert but, having agreed that it is often the best part of an English meal, found room for sticky date and toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. It was very good indeed.

With main courses between £16 and £24.40, Rules languishes in an awkward middle-ranking, above gastropubs and below fine dining. And while one has to take one's hat off to a place that has been serving British stodge for more than 200 years, Rules ought to watch out – there are plenty of others doing British cuisine better, and for less.

Rules, 35 Maiden Lane, London WC2E 7LB. Tel: +44 (0)20-7836 5314