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'i've been behaving very well", announces the Marquess of Blandford when he arrives, clearly harassed and only an hour and five minutes late, for lunch at Rules, the Covent Garden game emporium. apparently, the Marquess had a little difficulty with the mode of transport he refers to as 'the subway", which explains his unfashionable late arrival.
It is not the only thing about Rules that's unfashionable: if Granita in Islington is New Labour made flesh, then Rules is the forces of Conservatism roasted with game chips and bread sauce. Where Granita serves sun-dried tomato bread, Rules has slices of Ryvita in its breadbasket. What's more, there are very few restaurants where you can find a subsection of the menu comprised solely of "feathered or furred" animals and, thank the lord (or indeed the Marquess), there's no other establishment that I know of where the diners have to eat under an "allegorical" oil-painting of a suspender-wearing Mrs Thatcher as Britannia. Still, if its wigeon, ptarmigan or pochard (the three musketeers of the feathered game world) you're after, then this is the place.
Or not, as it turns out. "Monkeys in the West end is undoubtedly the best place in London for game," says Jamie Blandford. "We supply them with venison," he adds proudly. This is almost a Royal "we" because Jamie is referring to Blenheim, the family seat where his father, the 11th Duke of Marlborough, presides. Built in 1704 and in the family ever since, Blenheim has a rich and colourful history. So, of course, does Jamie, of whom it was once said that he was born with a silver spoon under his nose, so legendary was his appetite for Colombia's most famous export. But that's all more than five years behind him now: he found his salvationin true love and now his cheery, pop-eyed countenance betrays only signs of a life well-lived. He is interesting, companianable and funny, and is truly the finest Marquess I have ever met.
I first encountered him at a dinner party at the American ambassador's house; afterwards he took me to a drinking den in Chelsea which seemed to be run by the Vietcong. We swapped stories deep into the night - he told me about growing up at Blenheim, I countered with tales about my own estate in Manchester - and vowed to keep in touch.