Can we just take a moment to appreciate that Simpsons in the Strand is 190 years old. ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY. Just to put that into perspective, America celebrated its 242nd birthday this July. Rather understandably the iconic London restaurant underwent a major refurbishment in 2017, to bring the Grade II listed building lovingly up to date and we went to check it out.
It’s been the backdrop to historical meetings, literary debates and was once only open to men, so we were half expecting the dining room to be a little dark and dingy. However on arrival we marvelled at the lightness that has been brought to the ‘Grand Divan’ dining room, with the preservation of the original ceiling and wall panelling ensuring it retains its character. The original chequerboard mosaic entranceway is a nod to the heritage of Simpson’s as the home of British chess, while dark green banquettes and ruby red dining chairs are combined with mirrors and crystal chandeliers to create a truly impressive space.
The menu is still classic British through and through. You won’t find foams and jellies here (unless it’s in the trifle!) but that’s the appeal of this place. Noma it ain’t, but if you’re after a menu you can understand and food you can recognise, you’ll be thrilled. Except it’s not called a menu at Simpsons, it’s a ‘Bill of Fare’. We began our history lesson, I mean meal, with their iconic steak tartare. The oozy egg yolk has been replaced with a more firm, smoked version and the ‘gentleman’s relish’ (or anchovy paste to you and I) wasn’t the salty hit you’d expect, but a mild, slightly sweet seasoning. My dining partner for the evening, otherwise known as Dad, went for an elegant Dorset crab salad, topped with macerated granny smith apple slices and caramelised walnuts. A classic pairing that you can’t really argue with.
Simpson’s in the Strand is one of London’s only restaurants to employ a Master Carver, a centuries-old position that has been held by Manzil Diniz for fifteen years. During the founding years of Simpson’s as a chess club, meals were served beneath silver-domed cloches and silently wheeled to the table on an antique trolley for minimal disturbance to chess player’s concentration. Today, you can choose daily from 28-day dry roast rib of Scottish beef or Daphne’s Welsh lamb, carved at the table and served with slow roasted carrots, beef fat roasted potatoes, gravy, horseradish sauce and Yorkshire pudding. If you fancy wielding the knife yourself, Simpsons offer carving masterclasses, where you’ll learn how to carve meat in the traditional way, with tips on how to cook, select and present the finished meat. It includes a tour of the kitchens and culminates in a three course meal – the ultimate gift for Dad’s? We think so.
Mains still have a meat and two veg vibe, albeit a lighter, fresher version than they’ve been serving over the last 190 years. Our dover sole was a great example of great produce, cooked simply. Waiting staff couldn’t have done more to impress, seemingly glad to cast of the shackles of the past for a new wave of eager customers.
To finish Dad orders the knickerbocker glory on our waitresses recommendation. Looking like a child on Christmas Day, it’s gone in the time it takes me to finish an espresso martini. I joke that the kid from the table next to us has clocked it and will order the same. He does, despite it being bigger than him.
Part of the Savoy group, we finish our drinks and enquire as to whether the American Bar (currently number 1 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list) might have space for a couple of well-behaved cocktail lovers. Not only do they find us a table, a lovely young man walks us round the corner and all the way to our seat. Now that’s service – and that’s why Simpsons in the Strand is still worth a visit, 190 years on.