Simpson's in the Strand is unique. Here, if he wishes, the Briton may, for the small sum of half a dollar, stupefy himself with food. The God of Fatted Plenty has the place under his protection. Its keynote is solid comfort. It is a pleasant, soothing, hearty place – a restful temple of food. No strident orchestra forces the diner to bolt beef in ragtime. No long central aisle distracts his attention with its stream of new arrivals. There he sits, alone with his food, while white-robed priests, wheeling their smoking trucks, move to and fro, ever ready with fresh supplies.
That could have been written yesterday, ragtime notwithstanding. Because, 102 years after Wodehouse entered that pleasant and hearty stupor, Simpson’s in the Strand – the last relic of a sunnier era – has reopened its doors. The significance is not just literary. In a London dining scene more cosmopolitan, more mish-mash and more full of fusion, more specific and clever and small-plated than ever before, it takes a certain kind of wilful defiance to open a restaurant based on a singularly British and proudly old-fashioned cuisine. But Simpson’s has always been gutsy – in every sense of the word. Hosting Princess Diana’s staff Christmas party in 1993, and having the pleasure of Prince Charles dining here over the years – Simpson’s in the Strand has always oozed class.
How is the food?
The refurbished menu at the 189-year-old restaurant is fulsome and honest, with a reliance on locally sourced, well-reared ingredients that screams country house kitchen rather than Yuppie-whose-just-watched-Cowspiracy.
In its old incarnation, the food at Simpson’s had slipped, somewhere in the nineties, into gumless, school dinner territory (the Telegraph’s Stephen Bayley recalls one French guest pushing a “cruelly gravied slice about his plate”, before declaring “This…cannot be eaten”.) But things are back to their hearty, soothing and surprising best: the pan fried sea trout with Scottish mussels, samphire, cucumber, kelp broth, and beach herbs is an offering straight from Wodehouse’s restful temple of food. As you’d hope, there’s also an excellent steak tartar on offer – carved from Buccleuch Estate beef and dolloped with a whole smoked egg yolk and Gentleman’s Relish – and a peerless steamed suet steak and kidney pie.
Even the famous roasts, served from a jaunty and comforting side trolley that would once have reeked of liver spots and back copies of the Wisden Almanack, are smart, freshly-prepared, indulgent affairs that will please tourists (there are lots and lots in this part of town, after all) and lost countrymen alike.
The new decor, though trimmed and updated and enlivened neatly will do little to scare off the old ghosts that probably haunt the tables. The emerald green banquettes and stained glass window work beautifully below the original cornicing and columns.The oak walls and vast oil paintings of yore remain, lending a sense of ceremony to proceedings, but the whole place manages to feel fresh and lively and welcoming, with a cheery hubbub to match.
The powers-that-be have even preserved Winston Churchill’s favourite table in its rightful position by the far fireplace. The gutsome Commander in Chief prized that seat as the premier vantage point in London – from it he could see the town’s Who’s Who toing and froing, as the waiters and diary writers cooed and lowed. With a gooseberry trifle down my front, and that familiar torpor setting in, I imagine the old man would approve of the update.
Make sure to book your table for the utmost luxury experience by calling +44 (0)20 7420 2111 or visit their website for more information.
Interview ― 6 months ago