Lunchtime found me at Rules in Maiden Lane, an eating house in which I recall a Graham Greene character keeping assignations. (On consideration, it must have been two of Graham Greene’s characters). Rules has a meat trolley that is trundled hither and thence among the tables and beneath its shining silver dome there crouches a massive, succulent sirloin of beef, also a clutch of Yorkshire puddings and a basin of rich gravy, with carving knife and fork and sharpening steel in attendance.
This was my empire. “Beef on tables 30 and 34,” said the waitress. “Coming, ma’am,” said I, pushing the great silver vehicle towards its next port of call, raising the lid to display the wares. Before the war it was customary to tip the carver tuppence, and you tipped him before he started to carve so that you would get the right piece from the right end of the joint in the quantities you had in mind.
I carved; I asked my punters whether they would like their beef rare or medium, with bits of crispy fat from the outside. I sought their views on more or less gravy, placed the Yorkshire pudding on its base so that it lorded the plate…and no one tipped me a bean, though a couple from North Carolina appraised of my status – “Sorry we haven’t a chef with a tall white hat, we’re using this politician instead” – was nice enough to say they wished their own politicians would do something useful like carve Aberdeen Angus beef.