A REMOTE Teesdale hill farm is celebrating 17 years of supplying beef to London's oldest restaurant.

Rules of Covent Garden can trace its origins back to 1798 when "porter pies and oysters" were its main attraction.

Through four centuries and nine monarchs it has flourished, attracting famous writers, artists, lawyers and actors including Charles Dickens, H.G.Wells, Lawrence Olivier, Henry Irvin and Charlie Chaplin.

It has featured in novels by Evelyn Waugh and Graham Green and has appeared on more than one occasion in ITV's Downton Abbey.

It prides itself on serving the best traditional foods which includes beef from The Gilmonby herd of pedigree Belted Galloways which Paul Coppen established 30 years ago on his isolated upland farm near Barnard Castle.

The beef's excellent provenance and superb eating qualities sits comfortably with the restaurant's ethos. The key to the quality of the beef lies in the management of the herd with its adherence to practices that are natural and sustainable.

These are based on a low intensity regime of pastoral farming where the cattle are reared exclusively on a diet of grass and hay (or haylage) produced on the farm with no bought-in foodstuffs whatsoever.

The cattle are reared slowly and killed much later than normal at three to four years old.

Produced in this way the beef is mature, dark in colour and incorporates thin marbling layers of fat which impart excellent cooking and eating qualities including flavour, texture, succulence and tenderness.

Rules enhance these characteristics by hanging the beef for up to four weeks under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity.

Other aspects of the management of the Gilmonby herd which are consistent with the Rules' desire to serve high quality natural food includes the fact that no prophylactic medication or routine chemical worming is used.

Instead, the Belties natural immune defence system is relied upon to produce immunity.Welfare considerations are also a priority, with the aim of providing a stress free existence for the herd whenever possible.

If stressed at or before slaughter, meat quality can be compromised. To avoid this, animals are delivered to a family run abattoir just an hour away – avoiding long stressful journeys to factory style slaughter houses.

Currently the cattle are delivered to HC Airey & Sons' abattoir and processed by Lake District Farmers Ltd. in Cumbria before delivery to Rules in London.

Belted Galloway Beef from the Gilmonby herd is normally available in the restaurant during

January/February and Rules has a list of enthusiastic customers who are contacted when it arrives.

Mr Coppen said: "The restaurant manager tells me that over the past 17 years it has built up quite a following in London. One celebrated customer, with Royal connections, is Tom Parker-Bowles who published an article about the restaurant in a week-end supplement last year.

"This included the following passage - 'We had come for the famed Belted Galloway beef. Now, rare breed alone doesn't guarantee a nice slab of cow. But when properly fed, finished, slaughtered and hung (as they are here) this is serious beef, up there with the best in the land.'"