What? A landmark restaurant on an iconic road. Open for 190 years. Synonymous with Churchill. Restaurants don’t get much more traditional than Simpson’s in the Strand. Or is it so set in its ways? Like an old aunt suddenly getting a face lift, last year it was given a new lease of life, with a refurbishment and updated menu. So, we headed over to see what had kept the restaurant going for so long and how it is faring its second wind.
New? In a city where restaurants open and close faster than the doors on the tube, it often comes as a surprise that some restaurants do stand the test of time, none more so than Simpson’s in the Strand which has been open in London across three centuries first opening its doors as chess and coffee house in 1828. Of course, we all need a little help here and there so in 2017 it underwent a refurb being restored to its former glory.
Where? The clue is in the name, you’ll find Simpson’s in the Strand at 100 Strand, WC2R 0EW, www.simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk
The Look: Stepping into the Grand Divan you can just imagine the different people dining there throughout the years; the men not talking to each other quietly playing chess, the chattering middle class fresh from a theatre, and a famous face or two, both real, regular Charlie Chaplin and fictional, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Redesigned last year by Robert Angell Design International, the room still boasts its impossibly high, ornate, original ceiling, it’s just been lightened a little. There’s that moment of awe and occasion as you enter but still with a smidge of stuffiness. Chandeliers, wooden panelling and red jewelled and bottle green banquettes, whilst impressive create an oppressive feeling. It would come into its own in the winter but in the summer, I can imagine it might be a little sparse. There are more subtle nods to its past too, mosaic floors and illustrations of octopuses, windmills and forks are inspired by chess and they’ve kept Winston Churchill’s table by the fireplace.
On the Menu: Opening at a time when you’d find the likes of mock turtle, transparent soup and larded oysters on elaborate dinner menus, the menu at Simpson’s in the Strand plays homage to its heritage and is a celebration of all things British. To start you’ll find wild wood pigeon with slow-roasted pumpkin, puffed seeds, parsley sponge and red wine reduction and leek and potato soup with crispy hen’s egg and chive crème fraiche; main courses include Simpson’s signatures like Blythburg pork belly and braised cheek and dishes from the grill and carving trolley, whilst puddings revolve around dark chocolate tarts, sticky toffee date puddings and set vanilla custard.
What We Ate: I can’t get enough of potted shrimps. Potted shrimps, Spam, corned beef, boiled eggs, ginger beer – I’m like a walking Enid Blyton cliché so of course I was going to be ordering the potted shrimps with mace butter and I eagerly piled them high on to the crisp toast. Perfection. Wild wood pigeon unfortunately played second fiddle to the slow-roasted pumpkin and parsley sponge that it accompanied it. Pigeon might not be the punchiest of flavours, but our pigeon was rather lacking.
It’s not often that you can effectively order a Sunday roast at 9pm on a Tuesday evening, but at Simpsons you can. Wheeled over on the carving trolleys that Simpsons are known for, the 28-day dry-aged Scottish beef was served with ginormous Yorkshire puddings, sweet slow roasted carrots, devilishly good beef fat roasted potatoes and a thick gravy with horseradish sauce. From the Simpson’s Signatures we ordered the smoked haddock and salmon pie and I’m going to put it out there, quite simply the best fish pie I’ve had. Creamy potato, chunky mouthfuls of haddock, salmon, mussels and prawns topped with plenty of golden molten Rebellion cheese. It was all I could do to not ask for a piece of bread to mop every last morsel up.
What We Drank: First of all, it must be said that our sommelier was truly excellent. We left it in his capable hands to choose the wines and we started with a glass of Ridgeview Cavendish, an English Sparkling wine from East Sussex. Accompanying the prawns was a glass of Maximin Grunhaus, a Riesling Monopol, whilst the pigeon was paired with a glass of Little Beauty, a Pinot Noir from Marlborough. Fish pie was matched with Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Narvaux and a glass of Château Siaurac, Lalande de Pomerol worked very well with the beef.
Go With: Expecting the restaurant to either be filled with happy snapping tourists or those who remembered 1828, I was surprised to see that actually it wasn’t filled with stuffy diners, but actually a pretty mixed crowd. Whilst you wouldn’t host a rowdy, drunken dinner here, you wouldn’t just take your grandparents or boss here either.
Final Word: Simpson’s in the Strand is part of London’s fabric, a London without it wouldn’t be quite the same – what would take its place? God forbid a giant All Bar One. It isn’t ground breaking, but it’s classic and couldn’t be more reassuringly British even if they stuck a bowler hat on it and called it Winston.
Simpson’s in the Strand: 100 Strand, WC2R 0EW